Among the hunted

The first time I noticed it was at a stoplight on my way home from work. A nondescript white truck slowly pulled up behind me. As I turned the corner, it turned too, and in my rear-view mirror, I caught a glimpse of the three words that strike fear in dog owners’ hearts everywhere: “Durango Animal Protection.” Maybe it was my imagination, but the vehicle seemed to be trailing me, or more precisely, the canine in my passenger seat who was unabashedly sampling the evening breeze on his snout. As I turned off the main drag to my street, the white truck turned too, following us the next three blocks to my house. Panic set in as I realized I had no leash with which to transport my dog Bilbo the 10 feet from car to property line. I parked and tried to casually stall while the truck came to a crawl and slowly slinked around the corner. When I thought the coast was clear, we made the mad dash from car to home, where I knew we would be safe.

But the victory was short-lived. The white marauder returned for one last go-around before dark and was one of the first people I saw the next morning – except this time the white truck had been traded in for a gold one. Over the course of the next 48 hours, I saw the white or gold doggy swat team no fewer than a half dozen times. And, quite frankly, I was beginning to take it personally.

“When did this town become so uptight?” a friend of mine vented the next day after an unidentified woman tried to make a citizens arrest of her unleashed dog on a nearby trail. “What ever happened to man’s best friend?”

It was true. Seemingly overnight, our furry, faithful companions had become public enemy No. 1. Durango’s new canine martial law had gone into effect. And while I know it’s meant to keep me or my loved ones from becoming a human Scooby Snack, I couldn’t help but feel a little, well, hounded.

I mean, the West wouldn’t be the West without dogs – from the humble rez dog, to the hearty ranch dog, to the steadfast hunting dog to the ultra-olfactoried avalanche dog. Practically every one I know has a dog, and one of my neighbors has enough small dogs to open her own petting zoo.

Even that most revered of Southwestern icons that adorns T-shirts and coffee mugs up and down Main Avenue, the coyote, is a close relative of the domesticated dog. Apparently, it’s OK to advertise or wear the howling canine, just don’t try tying one up to the parking meter while you run in to get a cup of coffee, or that’ll be $40, thank you very much.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not in total disagreement with the whole canine code. For example, I wholeheartedly agree that haphazard, amorous animal encounters should be discouraged. The last thing the world needs is another bull mastiff-shitzu mix (although I can’t help but snicker at the name they’d come up to describe such a breed.) I also heartily agree that one should not be subject to listen to the incessant yapping of a nearby dog, particularly if it’s on a Saturday morning and said individual happens to be nursing a throbbing headache from the previous night’s activities. It’s also a wise idea to keep Fido away from any large public gatherings where raw meat will be on hand and could be mistaken, say, for a human limb. Oh, and never, under any circumstance, allow your dog to take a bite out of another person, unless said person happens to be making off with the family jewels or brandishing a loaded weapon. If it’s just the Sunday paper, let it go.

But excuse me, isn’t this common sense? Sure, dogs can be an unpredictable lot. But the good thing about their unpredictability is its predictability. Take my dog, for example. Although typically comatose, just one shot from the nail gun sends him darting for the nearest exit like a thoroughbred at the Kentucky Derby. Sure, I never know whether it will be through a window, the screen door or by clawing a hole in the drywall, but I can always bet he’ll bolt. Same with thunder, fireworks, back-firing cars or the sound of a grease trap being emptied on Main Avenue. So, as such, I try to mitigate his response as best I can, which has led to the ruin of many a window blind. OK, maybe just occasionally, my mitigation measures don’t work, and I get a call from, say, the Season’s patio asking me to please come and pick up my dog who is camped out under one of the tables eating scraps of filet mignon. At least he has good taste.

All right, so maybe I’ve divulged too much here. The point is not to give dog owners a bad name … or maybe just a few. See, as in all strata of life, there are a few steaming land mines, and pet owners are no different. But, I am a staunch believer that the rest of us leash-law-abiding, poop-bagging citizens should not be punished if our senile, toothless, arthritic and extremely docile and obedient (*see above exception) dogs want to enjoy one of their last moments on this earth enjoying the sunshine on the front porch without a 50-pound steel chain wrapped around their necks. (If you think I’m playing the sympathy card, you’re absolutely right.) Yes, I understand that every once in a while there comes along a dog that enjoys lunging at passersby. But what ever happened to personal responsibility? I say, if your dog takes a bite out of someone, then be prepared to have an even bigger bite taken out of you – either financially or judicially. And all that money spent stalking the good citizens of Durango on their morning pooch poop missions could be spent on other things, like obedience classes, dog parks, canine corrals, spay and neuter programs, or maybe something we really need, more poop pick-up bags.

I know, my time to officially speak my mind on the topic has come and gone, relegating me to the officious role of armchair vigilante – the worst kind. But perhaps my initial apathy was borne of naivete, thinking that never in a million years would I see the day that the sight of a silly little white truck would send my heart racing and my adrenaline pumping – unless it happened to be the ice cream man. Unfortunately, there’s no Good Humor here, just the uncomfortable feeling that I’m being kept on a very short leash.

– Missy Votel



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Vintage bikes get their day to shine with upcoming swap and sale