Have you ever seen a dog that has been beaten, repeatedly? They develop an expression on their faces that looks like confusion and fear and acquiescence all at once, because they want nothing more than to please us. If you raise your hand they’ll cower from fear, but often they’ll stand there and take whatever we give them.
That look has been haunting me all weekend. I saw a picture once of a dog who had been beaten, and it was so upsetting to me that I’ve never forgotten it. Dogs are such loving, trusting creatures. They rely on us for so much, but they give back more than they ever receive.
This last Friday I was in Herring Run Park with my dogs, Thor and Molly. We ran into my friend Sue and her two standard poodles, Hattie and Pepper. We were just coming through the tunnel below Harford Road. Sue was a bit ahead of me & I heard her tell someone that she had an extra plastic bag that they could have to pick up after their dog. What I heard next was an explosion of anger from the owner of the dog. His reaction caused Sue to call him a name. It wouldn’t have mattered, though what anyone said at that point, we had somehow breached this guy’s level of tolerance, and we would surely regret that.
The man became so disproportionately enraged that he began to pace back and forth in front of us, over to his car, down the path and back again, over and over, all the while screaming every imaginable obscenity at us, pulling his daughter after him. The little girl was about four or five years old, and for us, she changed the equation completely. Yes, her father was a complete asshole, but saying that, or really anything at that point would only enrage him further. The guy had eased into his stride. The little girl knew it, the man’s dogs clearly knew it, and we were being made aware in short order.
At some point his dogs, two big pit bulls, walked over to where I was standing with my dogs. I looked down at them, worried that the rage they were seeing would somehow provoke them, and cause them to hurt us. But instead of aggression there was confusion on both of their faces. They were only too aware of the rage their owner exhibited. They’d seen him explode before and they were wary, but afraid to show fear, so they tried to look happy, but that wasn’t right either. It’s a panicked expression, a grasping at straws. It was painfully clear that this man’s anger would end with someone being hurt.
Just then, at the peak of the chaos, a man drove into the parking lot where we stood & waited for us to move so he could turn his car around. Sue went over to him and asked him if he would stay until the man calmed down. He got out of his car and was instantly greeted with a whole new set of insults. We had received mostly sexually explicit insults, attacks on our attractiveness and questions about our womanhood. Our new friend, a black man, was instantly dubbed “boy,” and the ever popular N_ word.
This man, Mr. Barnes, had a cell phone and, ironically enough, was a candidate for city council. He called the police and stood with us as we waited. The man came very close to my face, an inch or so away from me. He never stopped screaming the entire time. A helicopter flew overhead and began to circle. The man took his daughter by the hand and charged off into the woods. His dogs, trusting souls that they were, followed him down the path.
Soon three police cruisers were there in the lot with us, and two more officers came from the other side of the park. Within 15 minutes or so they brought the man back. A friend of mine was at the park an hour or so after we left, and told us that the police still had the guy, but it looked like they let him go because he hadn’t hurt anyone.
So I’m left with these images of a man completely out of control. I have wondered what what I might do if I saw him again. Would I turn away? would I attempt to somehow express my disgust? Is it that important to me to let him know what I think of him? No. His daughter never once looked scared as all hell was breaking loose around her. She knew just what to expect, and just how to behave. And so did the dogs, with those sad, goofy looks on their faces.