Thursday, July 23, 2009

A spontaneous game of pickup

This is Marley, a Weimaraner, but not one of the ones I saw riding in the pickup truck. Photos courtesy of his dad Seth Goldberg.

I was already an hour late on my way to pick up an out-of-town friend in Vancouver when I happened upon a distraction that was too distressing for me to turn a blind eye.

I was about to turn into the gas station near my home when a woman pulled out driving a battered white GMC pickup truck.

She wasn’t traveling solo. In my community, it’s illegal to drive with a dog loose in the back of a pickup truck. They must be crated or tethered. But she didn’t have one loose dog.

She had three.

In big cities, responsible people usually wouldn’t consider engaging in this high-risk behavior. But in the rural area where I reside, this is common practice. It’s so prevalent that I drive with pen and pad on the dashboard’s ledge to write down the pertinent information. Then I email the shelter with the infraction: license plate, type of vehicle and type of dogs, date and time of day, location. The offender gets a warning letter in the mail.

This time -- because I was astounded by the three dogs bobbing and swaying loose in the back -- I diverted from my standard procedure. Instead, I decided to take chase.

Granted, it was a slow chase. She wasn’t driving like a maniac or anything, coasting slightly below the 35-mph speed limit. But no matter how carefully she was driving, her maneuver wasn’t safe. Besides the danger of flying debris hitting the dogs in the eyes -- pebbles, litter, bits of blown-out tires -- there is also the possibility of animals being dislodged from the back, and subsequently rolling around in traffic.

A sudden stop by her, or a careless rear-end accident caused by someone else; it’s not uncommon for dogs to be launched into the path of traffic. Even if you aren’t an animal lover, this is dangerous to people, too. Just imagine. What would you do you saw a dog propelled in front of your vehicle in traffic? Instinctively slam on the brakes, of course. And the domino effect of a multi-car pile-up begins there.

I drove for several miles, further and further out of my comfort zone, before we ended up at her house.

When I crept my vehicle up behind hers in her long private driveway, I was made. She knew she was being followed. She stepped out of her truck already in a defensive body stance. And she was burning mad.

To give her a wide berth, I stopped several car lengths behind her vehicle and got out, declaring my intentions weren’t nefarious. I smiled in the hopes of disarming her, and told her how beautiful her dogs were. That I was here to deliver a message.

But she didn’t wait to hear it.

The moment she started yelling at me, her Weimaraners jumped off the truck bed, and a few more bolted out of the house. They surrounded me, barking and growling. They had picked up on her agitated state, and they were there to protect. They were doing their jobs.

I wasn’t scared. There isn’t an animal on the planet who frightens me more than the average human being.

I got down on bended knee and stretched out my right hand, cooing to the lead dog to disarm the pack.

It worked.

The dogs started to lick my hand. But she wasn’t so hospitable.

Ordering me off the property, she screamed at me as my car inched down her long driveway. I went, but not before explaining that it wasn’t her driving that was the problem.

It's the others who follow. Not paying attention, perhaps sending a text.

She yelled that people aren’t supposed to text while they’re driving.

What they are “supposed” to do isn’t relevant. When you are the guardian of a helpless animal, it doesn’t matter what people are supposed to do.

It’s up to you to anticipate what people will do, and act accordingly to keep your animal safe.

It’s not just the animals who rely on it. Those of us out on the road with you depend on it, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another important message delivered here - most of us have seen what you saw, felt what you felt, and feared what you feared. But that's where it usually ends. In my case, I always have pencil and paper ready in my vehicle and the number of the local police. And then I hope I get someone who cares about animals. Whilst my instinct would be to give chase, I feel offenders may tend to pay more attention to someone in uniform. We hope. In your case, we hope that woman slept fitfully and despite her protests, thought about what you so rightly pointed out. And maybe, just maybe, she may see the light.