I’m a law-breaking dog walker.
The dog in question is Viggo, a 10-year old rough collie. Think Lassie minus the revenue stream.
Unlike his owner, Viggo is smart, good-looking and friendly. He’s convinced that all creatures love him. He’s usually right.
A decade ago, Viggo and I attended dog obedience school together down on Center Street in Tacoma, where we learned the ultimate in dog training: walking off leash. Viggo’s mostly good at it.
In Tacoma, walking a dog off leash is against the law. I know this. I was fully aware of my wanton disregard for the law when I took Viggo for a leash-free walk a week ago. My 20-year-old son, Abel, happened to be home that day and came along.
We were four blocks from our house when we saw a bald man walking toward us on the sidewalk. I reached down and grabbed Viggo by the collar, not because I thought Viggo would attack the man — he wouldn’t — but because I know that dogs make some people nervous.
The bald man said, “Can you let him go? I’d love to pet him.” I hesitated. The bald man said, “Please?” So I let go.
At that precise moment, a white-haired woman stepped out of the nearest front door, about ten feet from me. She had a Jack Russell terrier on a long leash. The Jack Russell ran for Viggo. Viggo ran for the Jack Russell. They barked happily.
The white-haired woman barked — not happily. “Get your @#$% dog! There’s a @#$% leash law in this town and you’d better follow it!” The white-haired woman yelled and cursed while I grabbed Viggo by the collar again and walked past the bald man.
“Sorry,” whispered the bald man. Abel laughed.
A few blocks later, Viggo was walking free again when a car pulled up beside us. The woman inside rolled down her window. I waited for another lecture, but the car woman said, “Your dog is beautiful. What’s his name?”
I thanked her and answered her question. She told me she had a couple of shelties and we exchanged dog-hair horror stories. When she drove off, she wished a nice day to Abel and me and shouted, “Goodbye, Viggo!”
Viggo wagged his tail. We walked on.
A few blocks later, Abel, who, unlike his father, is smart and good-looking, said, “So that first lady — the white-haired lady — she told you to get your @#$% dog, but what she was really saying was, ‘I’m not happy! I don’t like myself!’ ”
I laughed. Abel continued: “Yeah. She was really saying, ‘I always wanted to be a ballerina! Why did I end up as a data processor?’ And that other woman — the one in the car — she was really saying, “I’m generally OK with the world. It’s not perfect, but I’m basically happy.”
We walked on while I silently reveled in my son’s insightfulness.
Life serves up so many variables: an off-leash dog, a bit of bad service in a restaurant, maybe even a U.S. president. We say what we say. But the way we respond often sends a bigger message than the actual words we use.
Viggo interrupted my reverie by running through an open gate into someone’s backyard. I followed. The homeowner, a man with an intense look in his eyes, stepped out of his back door. Calmly, he told me to get my dog and leave his property.
I’m pretty sure he meant what he said.
Tom Llewellyn of Tacoma is a content marketing director and children’s novelist. He is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org