So does my black shelter dog Pip, now four years old. People don’t want to call him a Pit Bull, because he is usually so sweet, but a Pit Bull he is, maybe with a little something else mixed in. People who know Pit Bulls, of course, recognize the prejudice and know these terrific dogs for what they are: loyal, highly intelligent, energetic, sometimes stubborn.
Pip and I are out almost every morning on the trails that wind through the mountains here, before I get down to the business of being a writer. It is his favorite part of the day, and often it is my favorite, too.
But the situation on the trails has changed dramatically in the past few years. Our outdoors has been heavily marketed, as the town has been, and the result is a monstrous increase in use. Our dry, stony trails are heavily eroded, and with only volunteer maintenance, heroic for sure, there is no way to prevent deep crevices and steep declivities from forming. Add mountain bikes thundering down, and dogs on all hands, and you have what any even slightly conservation-minded inhabitant would call a crisis.
But it is all, still, too beautiful, and we are all, still, too intent on our own use—and misuse.
This brings me to the dogs.
Yesterday when Pip and I were out on one of our favorite trails along Little Tesuque Creek, the number of cars parked along the road—there is no trailhead parking lot—gave me pause. But it was early and I hoped most of them had gone much further than we intended to go.
No such luck.
Pip, walking ahead of me, saw a large, noble-looking yellow dog, stationed in the middle of the trail and staring at him fixedly, no owner in sight. Pip is smart enough to know that a dog guarding a trail may be trouble, so he approached cautiously, head and tail down. But then, suddenly, by a miracle of communication known only to dogs, they understood that it was playtime. The big dog turned and darted off, with Pip in hot pursuit. They disappeared, flying up the trail, then turned and bolted back again, then repeated the manoeuver.
I heard a shout far ahead. As the pair of dogs rushed past me again, I walked forward into a scrum of dogs. I think there were four, of all sizes and colors, some leashed, some unleashed. The three women hovering over them were alternately laughing, shouting, and trying to disentangle the scrum.
Pip happily joined in and was soon in the midst of it. Meanwhile, the women’s male companion, looking highly displeased, stood gloomily apart. He wore the expression of a man who wants to smack his brat but knows his wife would kill him.
I got Pip away without too much difficulty, complimenting the women on their unruly dog congregation. Of course there is a posted rule here that all dogs must be on leashes, but we who live here often let our relatively well-behaved dogs run free. I doubted if these owners, or their dogs, were aware of any rule.
At the end of the rest of my peaceful walk, Pip and I turned back. Then I heard a yell at some distance from the trail, and saw a woman struggling in the underbrush with two huge dogs, collared and leashed, fiercely growling and lunging. Pip knows trouble when he sees it, but curiosity moved him toward the terrifying pair. Meanwhile, the woman was heaving on the leashes with all her strength, shouting at me, “They’re not friendly!” A warning I hardly needed.
I retrieved Pip, leashed him, and walked on, as the woman, still struggling, apologized behind me. I said something soothing, although I longed to shout, “Why in the name of God don’t you get some training for your dogs?” If she had lost her grip on their leashes, as she seemed about to do, I don’t know what would have happened.
But it would have done no good. We love dogs, we spoil dogs, sometimes we give dogs the love we can no longer afford to give human beings, after so many losses and disappointments.
How do you discipline the dog of your dreams?