I know. This is a weird entry during this holiday season. To tell the truth, I never would have predicted it, but I’ve got to write about it.
Izzy and I see the same people on our walks every day, the same people walking the same dogs. Some of them are our friends; others make me turn around and go the other way. That was the case with the kindly old man who owns the small red pit bull mix.
I first met the old man shortly after he had a stroke. At the time, Izzy was still young and hadn’t become friendly with anyone. The old guy took it as a challenge to befriend my little guy. His dog, an old Schipperke, was almost blind and so heavyset that she waddled rather than walked. She could barely see before her, but she smelled my little guy and let Izzy do his puppy bows in front of her, trying to entice her to play. Beset with arthritis, she did her best, but her best usually consisted of wagging her tail a bit more vigorously.
The old man would watch out his apartment window and come out to greet us with Lacey when we walked by at lunchtime. Often I had to remind him that I needed to go back to work, but he would continue talking to my little guy, trying to get Izzy to relax enough to be patted, but Izzy wasn’t ready for that yet.
Sometimes we would see him during the early morning hours on our walk before I went to work. He’d try to bend down to pat Izzy who would back off, still not ready to trust humans.
When Lacey passed away, the old man came out and stood on the lawn in front of his apartment building, tears running down his lined cheeks, telling me how much he missed his “little girl.” Again, he’d try to pat Izzy, and finally Izzy sniffed his hand. Still, the man watched out the window for us, and even though he didn’t have a dog, he’d come out and say hello to us. It was as if he wanted a “puppy fix.” Izzy finally understood and let the man pat him. It was a breakthrough for us, and I remember going home that day feeling like Izzy might finally stop barking at human beings and become more normal.
A couple of weeks later, the old man came out of the apartment building with another dog. The same size as Lacey, the dog was reddish brown and all muscle. She pulled at the leash and seemed almost frantic. With the pointed ears of a pit bull, her face was small, her eyes like red stones. She sniffed at Izzy, who wanted to play, as he usually does with dogs.
The old man told me this dog had been tied up in a yard and left for days. His son lived nearby and felt bad for the dog so took her and gave her to the old man. “She’s not Lacey,” he said, “but I can train her.”
I wondered if that would be true when I saw him struggle to hold her while they walked down the street, his cane tapping in time with his footsteps.
Over the next couple of weeks, we continued to see the old man and his new dog, but each day, the dog seemed disinterested in becoming friends, and I worried that the old man wasn’t training her.
Then my friend Deb and I were walking Izzy one late summer afternoon and we met the old man and his dog. This time, the old man bent to pat Izzy, and his dog decided that wasn’t acceptable. She growled and snapped, ready to attack. This wasn’t a playful animal. The old man scolded her and held on tight. Deb and I turned and practically ran the other way.
Over the months, the dog seemed to become more violent. No matter how far away we walked, the dog charged and pulled at the leash, growling and barking whenever he saw Izzy. He did the same with my friend Peggy’s little Maltese, and with the pug that moved in on the corner. The dog wanted to attack, and the old man had to use all his strength to control his now out-of-control animal.
I could envision the man losing the dog’s leash and the reddish animal bolting across the street to rip my little Izzy in half. In short, the dog terrified me.
I began turning and walking the other way whenever I saw them coming from a distance. I tuned my hearing into the tapping of his cane and invented new routes to take so that we wouldn’t see them.
Then one morning I realized I hadn’t seen the old man for quite a while. My walks had become more peaceful as a result of not being vigilant, not having to turn around and avoid the man and his dog. Several weeks went by, and I started wondering what happened.
In a small town, one cannot hide, and the local newspaper reports everything from traffic tickets to domestic violence. One weekend, there was a spate of arrests. A local “drug ring.” The newspaper published the photos of those who were arrested. I was shocked. The old man’s photo joined a group of much younger dealers. Seventy-one years old, and he had been arrested for drug dealing.
I wondered what kind of drugs he’d been selling and whether those pills that he must have received to relieve the pain of his stroke were sold so that he could keep a roof over his head or feed his dog. Then I wondered what happened to the dog. I knew his wife couldn’t care for the animal. And there were few people who could have handled the strong little animal.
Every morning when Izzy and I walk, I still listen for the click-click-click of the old man’s cane, and I wonder whether he’s in some jail, cold and trying to bend his arthritic legs. But I don’t miss that dog.