There is a dog on my runs who doesn’t like me. He lives on an Amish farm one and a quarter miles from my house. I take Bake Oven Hill Road to Middlecreek Road and can get in a moderately challenging run out and back as long as I’m staying under six miles. It is gorgeous and pleasant and has a mild hill and runs along the creek for a while. But that dog though. He’s the worst.
The road splits his farm in two, like so often is the case around here in rural Pennsylvania, with the house and barn on one side and the pasture on the other. He lays in the barn yard, a beautiful white shepherd with black patches, eyes closed, head held up in reverence to the sun, acting as if I don’t exist. Then I cross the line between the neighbor’s modern house and his property. He’s up, running onto the shoulder of the road, barking and pulling back his lips to show me his teeth. It’s jarring.
The very first time it happened, I was literally smiling at him, admiring what a peaceful view he was as he enjoyed himself settled in the grass and all. Then BAM! he was up and at me. I ran across the road, speeding up. I’m pretty sure I even swore at him. Damn dog.
I take my long runs on Sunday afternoons, so I only encountered this dog once a week. I realized the second or third time around that he didn’t lift his tail or really leave his yard. That’s dog language for “I’m all bark and no bite.” We settled into a rhythm. I’d approach, take the earbud out of my ear towards him and yell “Here I come, puppy boy,” and he’d throw me some shade. After a few weeks he’d stand up and come to the road but wouldn’t bark. Sometimes he wouldn’t stand up, but just barked instead and I’d say “yeah yeah, I know, bark bark bark.” We were all good.
Very rarely did I ever drive on the dog’s road. It didn’t really go anyplace I’d want to get to. But then things changed in my life, as they often do, and it turns out to be a short cut to someplace I need to be twice a week.
Don’t you know that damn dog doesn’t care when a car passes through. He stays in the grass, soaking up that sun, eyes closed the whole time.
I’ve noticed every now and then that he will be standing by the time my car comes to pass, pacing back and forth as he squints across the road. What the hell is that about? Then I figured out what it’s about; he’s herding the cows across the road! He’s keeping an eye on them, moving around to signal where they need to go, his uncontrollable herding instincts kicking in. What an ass! What kind of a dog herds cows in a fenced-in pasture? From across the road?!?!
Kind of reminds me of a sister-in-law I have. And one mother in a playgroup I’ve joined. And my dad to some extent. We all have a lot of people in our life who are like this dog. People who use various means to control others from afar in very ineffective ways. Maybe it’s Facebook or out-of-the-blue texts or snide remarks to the side or gossiping with people you know will report back to intended target. The medium doesn’t really matter because the results are always the same. Must be maddening to set yourself up for failure so obviously.
It always takes you a while to realize that’s what’s happening. At first, and often for a long time, you just see the angry dog barking at you, threatening you in an immediate and crazy way. You can’t make sense of it. But if you try to look at what they’re doing from some other vantage point, you literally see it differently. It is this simple act, this compassion to look again at someone, to see them fresh, that’s a gift to them.
It is gifts like this that we must remind ourselves to give. Give them generously, give them silently, and get on with your own life already.