February 19, 2009

Dog Walking – A Perilous Pursuit

The newest addition to my morning routine: walking the children to school and taking along the dog. This sounds like a wonderful, relaxing family outing and a healthy start to one’s day - especially when the weather is ideal. Crisp sunny mornings are a February specialty here in Israel.

But first let me define the terms.

Every school day, we wake up early. But no matter how early we get up, the clock seems to race faster than us. I am always scrambling to find socks, shoes, put lunches in school bags, find the house key and Shaya is somehow always finishing his homework (a real stress additive). By the time I look at my watch, it is actually time to be at school and not to be leaving for school.

I look at our dog happily sleeping on the couch, his head propped on a pillow, his legs sprawled open. I think to myself, do I really want to wake him from his blissful morning nap? Do I really want the added time he will take away from our race to school when he has to lift his leg on every tree and bush he sees? But of course I give in; what’s a walk without the dog? It’s like going to the beach and not eating an ice cream.

Today I jingle the leash and he flies off the couch, gallops across the room and practically flings his neck into the contraption. This is actually his second walk of the day and he can’t believe his luck. We all squeeze out the door at once: children, huge backpacks on wheels, myself and a hyperventilating 60 pound golden retriever.

We live on the first floor of an apartment building, one steep set of stairs from the ground floor. TJ is strong enough to drag a sled across the Arctic Circle so we are careful to pull on his leash and hope he does not make a mad dash down. Otherwise we would start our day in a big tangled heap at the foot of the stairs. TJ starts to pant but stays with the program. Yet once outside, he makes a mad dash for the first peeing apparatus he can see.

Dog Walking
Since our family is far from normal and we like to live on the wild side, we have made dog walking an extreme sport. Holding a leash on one’s side is far too boring for us. We place the leash around the kids’ waist and then they use their body weight to control the dog. It feels a bit like water skiing without the waves.

This morning, Shaya is at the helm. I fasten the leash around his waist and off he goes, flying ahead of us. We catch up at the next pee stop and then off he goes, flying down the sidewalk. Tilly finds this very amusing and laughs the whole way to school, her sky blue Skeechers trotting along in tandem. All is well, although we are now painfully late. I try to run faster than the dog so he will overtake me and thus place Shaya back up front. (Shaya must be part turtle-part Rastafarian as he is not naturally inclined to rush anywhere, no matter how pressing.)

We get to a busy road with a pedestrian crossing, one of the main intersections in our town. It is eight o’çlock and peak traffic time. This intersection is quite beautiful with a palm-lined median separating the two lanes. It is bursting in color with freshly planted purple and pink cyclamen.

Pedestrian CrossingsNow pedestrian crossings are a tricky business in Israel. Drivers do not stop for pedestrians no matter how thick the white lines on the road. They do not discriminate between age, size or height. Most walkers are resigned to simply wait at pedestrian crossings until the traffic clears.

I actually find this behaviour to be very strange. Israel is a country where people are generally assertive and where everyone wants to go first. Why don’t Israeli pedestrians take back the pedestrian crossings for themselves? I guess a few tons of hurtling metal will put down any form of rebellion.

Emigrating from a country where people uphold the laws of the road and respect pedestrians, I am the decidedly assertive pedestrian. Each time we approach a crossing, I give my kids a play by play. “Put your foot out and make eye contact with the driver. Wait until the car stops and then go!”

On this particular morning, I bark out my commands. A woman driver stops. I shout, “Go.” I herd my troupe across the intersection. We make it half way across – to the botanical oasis in the centre. I face a second lane of traffic and a car stops for us. Tilly comes across with me and I look back only to see the dog is running in circles, madly doing his pre-poo dance, chasing his tail and doing aerobatics with his snout. Meanwhile, the traffic is piled up and honking. Tilly is across the road, I am now in the middle, shouting at Shaya. And Shaya is attached to a dog that is trying to find the most perfect cyclamen to dump on. The horns are honking.

I quickly realize that the dogs wins and I return to his paradisiacal toilet of choice, poop bag in hand, waiting for his highness to finish up. Cars are filing by slowly, watching my dog desecrate their gardens. In Israel, everyone has to give you their opinion, especially when you don’t ask for it. And of course, an old man honks his horn at me and shakes his head in disgust. If he had the time, I am sure he would have stopped traffic to get out of his car and lecture me about how vile animals are.

In fact, I have a nasty neighbour who one night passed my and my dog on the street. TJ was having a harmless yet good old sniff in the plants. The neighbour slowed down, rolled down her window and told me that my dog should not pee in the street because his urine poisons the plants. Once I realized the insanity of her comment, I did not act in a composed way. I ran after her car, waving my poop bag at her and calling her crazy. She delighted in the fact that she infuriated me. She simply rolled up her window and sped away. I must have made her day.

I am seriously working hard on being more composed but life’s events happen so quickly, they often take my by surprise.

With composure I tried to clean up after my dog,shuffling the dirt around to look like a good citizen. Why my dog should choose such a place and time is beyond reason. He had his choice of gardens and flowering bushes, all down a quiet, private street. But no, it had to be here – in the centre of town.

Needless to say, we were late for school. We were flustered and sweaty. Shaya was all tied up in the leash and Tilly was tired of laughing. As for TJ, he was grinning from floppy ear to floppy ear.

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