Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Dismal Situation

The dismal Situation waste and wilde,
A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round 
As one great Furnace flam'd, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv'd onely to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed
With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum'd:
Such place Eternal Justice had prepar'd
For those rebellious, here thir Prison ordain'd
In utter darkness, and thir portion set
As far remov'd from God and light of Heav'n
As from the Center thrice to th' utmost Pole.

Thus spaketh Milton in Paradise Lost.

My Bad Dog--I don't even know how to talk about her. I may be projecting, but sometimes I feel as if at least a few of my friends think about My Bad Dog as they would were I living with an abusive spouse. I respond as I imagine an abused woman might: by making excuses for My Bad Dog. It's humiliating.

Maybe it is just me judging myself, as I well might have judged a Not-Me someone in the same circumstance. The pragmatic voice in my nature tells me that there is a slim likelihood that I will succeed in reforming My Bad Dog. And yet, I love this dog and so I have to try.

Life with My Bad Dog is never dull. Completing an ordinary walk in an uneventful fashion floods my soul with joy and goodwill to all. For people who smile at us and pet My Bad Dog, who treat her as if she is My Good Dog, I feel an upwelling of tender affection.

Such walks, as the one we had yesterday, lure me into complacency.

And then there is a walk like the one we had the day before yesterday, during which My Bad Dog unexpectedly bolted. My daughter had been holding the leash loosely, as My Bad Dog seemed to be behaving well, but she dropped it for a second. What happened next was shocking: My Bad Dog ran into the four-lane street in pursuit of a transit bus. Three cars had to stop to avoid hitting her as she zigzagged in traffic. We ran after her, then I told my daughter to stay put, and I ran across the street and called My Bad Dog. The dog stopped, and then turned around and ran straight back to me.

On that same walk, we encountered three different mail carriers. My Bad Dog reacts to mail carriers (and their trucks) in three ways:
1. Through some miracle, she doesn't quite register their evil presence and we keep walking. This is unusual enough that when it happens, we speak about it as divine intervention.
2. There is just a momentary lunge and a growl before we get My Bad Dog's attention back. This is not quite as rare as #1, but is much rarer than #3.
3. My Bad Dog becomes fixated on the evil presence of the mail carrier (or the mail carrier's truck) and her crazy comes upon her. Truly, it can be terrifying to see the lunging and leaping, the raised hackles and bared teeth.

On that walk, we experienced all three reactions.

This morning, we experienced all three reactions in this sequence:
1. A mail carrier drove toward us as we walked on the sidewalk. My Bad Dog growled and lunged, but once the truck passed, I got her focused back on walking forward.
2. Wouldn't you know it, that mail carrier had gone up and made a U turn. So when My Bad Dog and I were walking home, I saw the mail carrier's truck a block ahead. I employed a diversionary tactic, allowing My Bad Dog free sniffing time in the shrubbery in front of a convalescent hospital, and proceeding only when the mail carrier was safe in her truck and once again driving toward us. My Bad Dog barely noticed the truck as it passed.
3. Before I had time to congratulate myself on our escape, I saw a different mail carrier driving toward us and then he parked. Right in front of us. My Bad Dog gave vent to fury that you would have to see to believe, fury so vigorously expressed that an elderly woman in whom curiosity overrode prudence, wandered onto the sidewalk in her housecoat and slippers to watch the show. (I understand how curiosity may override not just common sense, but good manners--and yet, it is so horrible to be on the receiving end of that nakedly avid interest, especially when one is working with all one's might to avert bloodshed.) The mail carrier waved to me with both hands, gesturing that I should keep walking past him. I don't understand how he could have thought that was a good idea. My Bad Dog barked and growled and leaped and lunged with all her strength. I even had a quick stumble and fall in the tussle. It seemed like an eternity in hell, but it was probably less than a minute before I got her turned around and we went home another way.

We moved to this neighborhood in November. In our last neighborhood, there was one mail carrier, and we knew what time to stay off the street to avoid encounters. But here--the mail carriers are legion, their routines unpredictable. There's an army of mail carriers. It's like being in a horror movie of psychotic mail carriers, or a nightmare in which a malevolently grinning mail carrier pops up at every corner.

At home, we're making significant progress: I'm allowing My Bad Dog to do what she perceives is her sworn duty to protect and serve by giving warning barks about passing strangers on the street, odd noises, or dogs barking in the distance. I ask her to stop once she's alerted me to the potential for danger.

With the mail carrier, I try to be alert enough to escort My Bad Dog into my room before her crazy comes upon her, and then I stay with her until the mail carrier has long since disappeared.

But with mail carriers in public, I still don't quite know what to do. In this, what seems to be the natural habitat of a diverse and thriving population of mail carriers, the only way to avoid them is to walk in utter darkness--that is, stay off the street 8-5 Monday through Saturday. It may come to that.

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