No animals were harmed in writing this post

My husband Stephen and I live in a dog friendly neighbourhood, which works out well because we have a dog. So friendly is it that a local coffee shop doesn’t just leave a water bowl outside for thirsty pups but serves it on an antique silver platter with a vase of fresh flowers. Presentation is, after all, a crucial element of any dining experience as any top chef will tell you.

With so much foot traffic, at any given time, dogs are sitting patiently outside shops waiting for their owners and enjoying the attention of passersby in the meantime. Admittedly, this practice worried me at first. It was certainly a lot easier for me to get groceries and run other errands while walking the dog than to make another trip after his lengthy romp in the park, but I was too scared to leave him unattended for even a moment. Maybe other people had no trouble leaving their dogs because theirs weren’t as lovable. Our cockapoo, Diego, with his little, white Wolf Blitzer beard, is obviously the cutest dog in the neighbourhood so naturally someone might want to snatch him. Even if no one took him home, I worried about something happening to him while I was gone. What if someone stepped on his paw? Or a scary dog barked at him while walking past? Or he broke free from his leash and ran into oncoming traffic? Or he fell into a pothole? Or got struck by lightning? Or the earth began to split leaving him on one side and me on the other, like in that first scene of The Land Before Time? (I swear, I wasn’t crying. I just got some popcorn in my eye when I saw that movie. I’m a messy eater). These were all likely scenarios that I couldn’t bear to consider.

Even-Stephen, however, was able to persuade me otherwise. He reasoned with me that I need to live my life and that I can’t allow the mere possibility of bad things happening to hijack my life. Of course he’s right. Bad things can always happen and if I were to start adjusting my life around all my worries I probably wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Unless I started worrying about bedsores.

After Stephen’s triumphant speech about rising above life’s uncertainties, Diego and I started a happy routine of walking to the grocery store every evening together to get dinner. The store we go to is in this open courtyard called Carrot Common. With so many stores and its central location, the Common is a gathering place for the neighbourhood.   While sitting on a bench waiting for me to shop as fast as I could, Diego would watch people go by, often enjoying a cookie from his favourite grocery clerk. Other times he played with the kids also waiting for their parents to return.

I came outside the other day laden with groceries to find Diego sitting on his usual bench and a man standing beside him with his arms crossed.

“Is this your dog?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said proudly, waiting for him to ask about Diego’s age and breed or to comment on the likeness of his facial hair to a CNN newscaster’s.

He didn’t say any of those things though. “I’m a volunteer with the Humane Society,” he said, “And you should be ashamed of yourself. Who do you think you are leaving your poor, innocent dog like this while you go off shopping? Do you know it takes thirty seconds to steal a dog? Do you know how many dogs get stolen in a single day? Do you want your dog to be stolen? DO YOU?”

He was screaming now, pointing, as the entirety of the courtyard turned to look at me, with eyes that said ‘animal abuser! animal abuser!’ He began fawning over Diego, leaning over him and telling him in a tone of voice reserved for babies and pets, what a “poor, little boy” he was.

I took Diego’s leash and quickly turned to leave, my face hot with embarrassed attention. He walked after me.

“Do you know what people do when they steal dogs? Do you know they sell them to laboratories for medical tests? Do you know that they cut them open? While they’re awake? Do you want your dog cut into pieces? DO YOU?”

Given that Diego sleeps exclusively on a leather couch and had a Grade A steak for dinner the previous night for his birthday while I ate stale cereal, I thought this was a rhetorical question.  But still he stood, breathing heavily, waiting for an answer.

“What’s going on?” I thought I could hear one woman whisper. “I don’t know,” said another, “something about how this animal abuser, abuses animals. That’s her abused dog there.”

I was paralyzed, shocked that someone felt they could speak to me this way, that my understated presence was interpreted as permission. There was so much I wanted to tell this man. I wanted to tell him that I am a caring, nurturing and attentive dog owner and that it was he who scared Diego by raising his voice. I wanted to tell him that unlike him I would never treat another person, or animal, with such disrespect. I wanted to tell him that he had no right to tell me how to live my life. I wanted to tell him that while his concern for my dog might be valid, he had no right to speak to me the way he did, to raise his voice at me, to scream at me and publicly embarrass me. I wanted to tell him that my whole life I’ve let people talk to me this way, that my whole life I have swallowed my anger caring for other people’s feelings more than my own. I wanted to tell him I wasn’t taking it anymore. I wanted to tell him to get the hell out of my face.

And so, finally, with years worth of pent up anger and upset coursing through, I turned to face the man ready to stand my ground. I looked him straight in the eye, open my mouth and squeaked: “Thanks for the public service announcement!”

I hope he knew I meant it sarcastically.