Be a Citizen!

My lower back twinged with pain. I’d tweaked earlier in the morning doing household chores. Still, I knew I had to get Elmer the maniacal husky out for his second walk or he would be totally nuts for the rest of the day.

We were walking along a trail in a forested park that was strictly a dogs-on-leash area; an off leash park was a quarter mile away.

Since adopting Elmer three months ago, I regularly visit this on-leash park and regularly encounter dogs running wild and occasionally harassing me and Elmer on our strolls. Elmer is almost impossible to control when one of these off leash dogs approaches us. I had yet to say anything to the owners of these dogs, typically because they were nowhere to be seen or to far away for conversation.

One man in particular had vexed me. His two dogs are the worst offenders and they’ve harassed us a half dozen times. The man, who I have only seen from a distance and never his face, makes no attempt to restrain his brown mutts.

Elmer was tugging a bit on the leash, and ever pull sent a spasm through my back. But I knew the best way to lick the pain was to keep moving.

I looked to my right and I saw one of the brown mutts racing toward us. Elmer saw him and lunged so hard he nearly toppled me over.

The pain was searing. I got Elmer under control and here came the other mutt. More Elmer jumping up and down. More pain.

Their owner appeared. He was older, bundled in grimy layers and exuded an unmistakable vibe of being homeless.

Homeless people walk their dogs in parks all the time, so this wasn’t anything unusual.

“Hey man,” I called out to him. “You need to leash your dogs! I tweaked my back today and my husky pulling is killing me. Be a citizen!”

Be a citizen! I had no idea where that came from but I said it vigorously nonetheless and the man heard me.

“I’m trying,” he said softly. I saw him say it but he wasn’t trying very hard.

His dogs darted away and Elmer calmed down a bit.

I turned toward the man and called out. “Practice some citizenship!”

He said nothing.

I stewed all the way back to the parking lot. I had absolutely no regrets about demanding to his face a homeless man practice citizenship. If more of them did, more of the public could establish rapprochement with them and perhaps solve problems and build more community.

In other words, citizens don’t run a loud generator all night in their RVs parked in front of someone’s home (happens all the time); citizens throw their garbage away where it’s supposed to be thrown away; citizens bury their mounds; citizens don’t zig zag their bicycles in the middle of traffic; and so forth and so on.

You can be homeless and still be a citizen. Mark and members of the Old Crow Book Club taught me that. Several even vote!

Back in the parking lot, I saw a battered 40-year old Toyota Land Cruiser. No license plates on front. Expired tags on back. I checked out its interior. Front seat—domicile. Rest of the rig—glorified dog bed where all three of them probably slept every night.

At least they had each other and took care of one another. And the homeless man got his dogs out in a park where they are totally out of control and disturbing people.

Such are the juxtapositions and contradictions in my encounters with the homeless. They are probably not all that different from people living in homes.