At least once a week, something happens at the dog park that makes me swear I am never going to go back there again.
Turns out, today was the day for this week.
I met a friend there this morning, and we were chatting away while her sweet shepherd mix snuggled into my armpit. She is new to Prescott, and I was telling her about my love/less than relationship with the dog park.
I haven’t had a bad experience here, she told me.
Not two minutes later, an aussie with an attitude began attacking her dog. She ran up and gave it a little kick.
The aussie’s owner, a verbally aggressive (to put it mildly) older man in a tye-dye t-shirt came quickly swaggering over, voice raised, calling out, Don’t you dare kick my dog. He walked right up to her until he was nearly touching his chest to her and repeated his threat.
She pushed him away from her. He forcefully pushed her back.
At this point, I think my eyes may have bugged out of my face while a heated altercation ensued between the two.
They were well matched, heightwise, and certainly my friend was not someone to roll over in the face of abuse.
What was so interesting was how other people involved themselves. A tall, stout man in a hat with a veterans patch on it and a red polo shirt stretched taut over a protruding belly stood behind my friend, a kind of protective barrier.
Another older man in a grey t-shirt (so many old, cranky men at this place) came up to keep other people from getting involved. A young man had started walking up to help protect my friend, and the older grey t-shirted man yelled at him to stay out of it and Let them work it out.
The young man returned to his seat on a table in the shade. He turned to me and said something about not being able to stand by and watch someone Hit a woman. Despite my own feminist tendencies, I had to admit that I agreed. There was something stomach lurching watching Tye-Dye shirt man push my friend.
I had been sitting watching the scene, uncertain as to whether to involve myself, but I felt that I should be supporting my new friend. So, I stood up and walked over. At this point, tye-dye t-shirt man had begun to apologize. I heard the words Vietnam Vet and PTSD and decided to stay out of immediate involvement and just be nearby.
Red t-shirt man told me he was there for protection. I explained that I should have warned my friend about the group that tye-dye shirt belonged to. They are a group of older folks who visit the park at the same time each day. They sit on the plastic chairs (you know, the ones dogs pee on regularly) and form a kind of bulwark of presence. I have witnessed the grey t-shirt man regularly bully people who come into the park.
Up until today, I have been in grey t-shirt man’s good graces because I have a husky, and he and his wife bring their three huskies every day. But after word spread about my comments of their bullying (I might have said something about intense crazy republicans as well), he proceeded to give me a death stare from his seat for the remainder of my time at the park.
As I sensed the immediate urgency begin to dwindle, I returned to my seat in the shade. Red t-shirt man walked over and began to talk with me, possibly about his valiant protection efforts, but I can’t say that I recall with any real detail how the conservation got started.
I said jokingly that perhaps I should just bring a bunch of non-violent communication books and spread them around the park for visitors to read.
What are you, one of them Prescott College students? Red t-shirt man asked me accusingly.
I’m an alum, I responded, wondering why it was that only someone affiliated with the small liberal arts college should be interested in getting along with other human beings in a peaceful way? I also could not figure out why it would be negative to be interested in peaceful communication.
I mentioned that I thought it was neat that the dog park in Sedona had a box of books for people to read.
Is that some kind of white privilege? he responded.
I figuratively scratched my head and looked at him with a puzzled expression.
You know, in Australia there are 24 million people, he continued.
Eh? A voice in my mind responded. I couldn’t figure out why the conversation had shifted to Australia.
Do they not have white privilege in Australia, I asked sardonically. He did not seem to get the joke and responded quite seriously,
No. They don’t.
In Australia, there are 24 million people, and only 11 million people work. I instantly wondered where he had retrieved his statistics, but he did not offer a citation.
If an immigrant lands there from a boat and stays six months, they get free health insurance for themselves and their children.
That’s great, I responded. I really had no idea where this thought had come from and where it was headed.
I never found out (not too much disappointment there) because my friend had wandered back and I turned to her for the debrief.
She described their conversation and that she had offered to perform Reiki on tye-dye t-shirt man’s dog, who she described as having some serious issues, likely brought on from the man’s own energy. No surprise there. I had heard him cuss out another woman who sat with their group every day for claiming to know everything because she was an f’ing songwriter.
Tye-dye t-shirt man eventually walked over to apologize to her once again, while keeping blinders on to myself and the young fellow who had so nobly wished to defend a woman in distress.
I looked over periodically to the plastic chair group, and noticed grey t-shirt man glaring at me and others talking and pointing our way. I had flashbacks to moments in middle and high school. Be they in my own life or in movies, there was something disturbingly similar to events that take place during adolescence. Yet, the members of the plastic chair group were all quite far removed from adolescence.
I have known for a long time that age does not always come with wisdom and maturity, but I find this kind of behavior both alarming and incredibly disturbing. It makes me want to avoid this place and never return, but I may simply avoid the negative energy that clouds this group of bullies by staying away from the dog park between 9-11am each morning.
While these kinds of episodes provide fabulous fodder for writing, I would prefer that people recall the lessons they learn from kindergarten about respect and kindness. There is far too much suffering in the world for this kind of bullshit.
I did leave feeling disappointed that I had stooped to their level by making a few comments about their caliber. They were not without truth, but I wished I had refrained from saying anything just the same.
The moment I arrived home, I threw my clothing in the washing machine and took a shower before sitting down to write. It can be difficult to cleanse this kind of negative, icky energy.
How I wish people could be kinder to one another. My friend told me that at least tye-dye man had learned about Reiki, which he had never heard of before. Perhaps, there is hope after all.
I am not going to hold my breath, but I am going to continue to my efforts to be kind and to avoid bullies as often as possible.