Errant Dog: A Real-Life Allegory

I went to take out the trash this morning, only to find a rather large dog standing in the courtyard outside my little apartment complex. It stood there looking at me as I opened the door, like it was guarding what passes for my front yard.

I closed the door and went back inside.

The complex doesn’t allow pets, and while I know that rule’s been violated at least once before by a neighbor who’s since moved away, I was reasonably sure the dog didn’t belong to the tenants of the other three apartments. I thought that maybe I’d seen the dog before at a house across the street, but I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t see a collar, but I wasn’t going to get close enough to really look.

Don’t get me wrong; I love dogs. I’m very much a dog person, and in my experience dogs love me too. The vast majority of dogs I’ve met have been friendly, cheerful mutts who were perfectly harmless. But I didn’t know this dog, and I knew that not all dogs are harmless. I could have assumed that this dog was, like most dogs, perfectly harmless. But if I turned out to be wrong, I would have been in real danger. Much safer to assume the dog was harmful, despite the lower probability, because turning out to be wrong would have no serious consequence.

I’ve never been attacked by a dog, but I have read about what to do. Obviously I try not to put myself in dangerous situations with dogs; I don’t approach strange dogs or stick my fingers through chain-link fences or anything. But I also know not to run away or make sudden movements around strange dogs, to keep my fingers curled into fists, and if possible, to get on top of something like a car or van to escape. Sometimes when I’m out walking, I scout out cars or other escape routes, just in case. Sometimes when I meet a new dog in a more friendly situation, I still keep my fingers protected as I reach to pet it. Just in case.

I watched the dog for awhile, feeling a little silly as it did normal dog stuff. Once I closed the door, it relaxed. It lay down in the grass. It stood up, walked around in a circle a couple of times, and lay down again. It was a cute dog doing typical cute-dog stuff. And yet I wasn’t going to go outside and chance that it would suddenly do something less cute.

My wife and I kept checking the window, watching the dog on and off for about fifteen minutes, until I finally decided to call the police. It’s not that the dog had done anything, but it certainly could have, and it seemed far better to call for help and have it taken care of before any potential harm had occurred. As it turns out, the police had already been called about a stray dog, and I suspect it was probably the same one.

I again felt kind of silly calling about the dog, but the police took the concern seriously, and an officer was here pretty quickly. The dog ended up running off, but the officer assured me that he was going to try to catch it, and that Animal Control was on their way as well. I saw the officer a few more times over the course of the morning, and I never found out if the dog was ever caught. But at least I didn’t see the dog again.

I feel bad for the dog. I feel bad assuming that it was a bad dog, just because it was in the wrong place, just because it was a big dog defending its new territory. I feel bad that I can’t tell, just from looking, whether or not a dog is likely to attack. I feel bad that I have to assume the worst to ensure my safety. But I’m glad that I can call on people who will take my safety concern seriously and act swiftly to prevent any unfortunate incidents from occurring.

If only every problem were so easily solved.

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