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About a year ago, while walking my two dogs around the neighborhood, I noticed a black-and-white husky behind a fence. He had a peephole about a foot long and five inches high near the bottom of the wooden structure. He lay there all day on his concrete driveway watching people pass by. It seemed only natural to start offering the guy a dog treat whenever I passed by.
At first, the dog, whose name I would soon learn is Maxie, would snatch the cookie out of my hand like a savage panda-werewolf hybrid. But he learned very quickly that I wouldn’t give him the cookie unless he showed more manners. Soon he was taking the treat as gently as an old man gumming a Nilla Wafer.
It became a little ritual. Once a day as I passed by with my dogs, I’d reach through Maxie’s peephole and rub his nose, then give him his cookie. He’d get so excited after eating his cookie that he’d run around the back of his house to the other side of his yard and bark as I passed. I interpreted it as a combination of, “Thank you/Don’t go/Give me another cookie!”
Whenever a member of the sweet immigrant family saw me giving Maxie a cookie, they would say, “Thank you, thank you” or “He was waiting for you.” Indeed, I came to suspect that getting his cookie was the highpoint of Maxie’s day.
One day a few weeks ago, when I was walking down the short driveway after giving Maxie his cookie, an older lady in a white Prius stopped in the street in front of the house.
“Why do you always do that?” she asked.
“Give Max a cookie?” I asked, puzzled.
“Do you know those people?” she demanded.
“Yes,” I said.
“It upsets all the dogs in the neighborhood,” she said, frowning.
“All the dogs?” I said, listening for outraged barking and hearing just birds chirping.
“Well, my dog. I live next door,” she said.
“Your dog,” I said, “has a screw loose.”
She drove off, huffy-style.
I knew all about Grumpy Old Lady’s dog -- the dog who puts the “mad” in Maddie. She'd been given to the couple by their daughter after Maddie had tried to kill her cat. A gray standard poodle mix, she once burst out the elderly couple’s front door and tried to attack my female pitbull as we were walking past. The elderly male owner couldn’t get ahold of her; a neighbor ran across the street to help as I screamed. He couldn’t contain the dog either. Finally, I gave my dog’s leash just a little slack. She got in Maddie’s face and said, “ROWR!” Maddie said, “Yip!” turned tail and ran back into her house.
She barks like a maniac whenever I walk my dogs past her house, I imagine trying to save face for that show of cowardice. We just try to ignore her, even though her owners like to leave their front door open with the screen door latched.
I figured that would be the end of the issue after I let Maddie’s owner know that I was aware of her dog’s loose screw. I assumed she’d be a little ashamed and embarrassed. But no. It was only the beginning.
The elderly owners apparently left town, because an odd-looking pair showed up at their house. The woman looked like a middle-aged Renaissance Faire wench, with a round red face and frizzy orange hair, gray at the roots. The man was a little bit younger and scruffy, unshaven.
Every time I stopped to give Maxie his cookie, they came out on their front porch and glared at me. Once the man yelled from the doorway, “Not your dog, lady!”
It all came to a head after a couple days of this. After giving Maxie his cookie one morning, I saw the scruffy-looking guy run out of the house, get in his car, and begin following me down the street.
He trailed me around the corner, parked in front of my house, and sat there. I went up to the passenger window and asked, “Is there a problem? Do you need something?”
He let loose with, “You’re a fucking bitch!”
“Why are you following me?” I asked.
“I’ve never seen you before in my life! I’m just putting on my sneakers!” he said, reaching for a pair of red sneakers in his back seat.
“Did I not just see you come out of the house on XX St., get in your car and follow me?” I asked.
“I came out of that house, but I’m not following you! It’s a public street, I’m allowed to park here,” he said.
“I think the people in that house don’t like me giving cookies to the dog next door,” I mused.
“Maybe you’re bothering them,” he said.
“That’s nuts,” I said.
I walked on, but on my way to work, drove down his street to see if his car was parked back in front of the house. It was; an Animal Control truck was also parked there, and Scruffy Guy (who, it turns out, is the son of the older couple who live there) and the Renaissance Faire lady were speaking animatedly to the driver.
I approached the truck, saying, “I’m probably the person they are talking about. They don’t like me giving cookies to the dog next door. Has the world gone mad?” I sputtered. “I love dogs. I like to give them cookies."
I turned to the woman and said "Maybe your dog needs a cookie. Does your dog want a cookie?”
“She’s not my dog. I’m just housesitting,” she said.
“It’s not your dog. It’s not your house. Why is it even your business?” I asked. “Don’t you think this Animal Control officer has something better to do? You know, maybe investigate someone being mean to dogs? Someone giving a dog cookies is not something to be upset about! If you want to be upset about something, be upset about Ebola!”
For some reason that comment blew Scruffy Guy’s fuse.
“You’re a fucking bitch,” he said. I could tell he was getting ready to spit out the worst word he could think of. “You’re a … cunt,” he said. He got right in my face: “You’re a fucking cunt.”
He ran into the house, much like the dog, Maddie, had turned tail on my pitbull.
I drove straight to the cops to file an incident report about the guy following me in his car and shouting expletives. The officer kept a straight face for about 30 seconds. Then the eye-rolling began.
“I’ll go talk to him,” he said. “That guy needs to relax. Maybe he needs a cookie.”
A few days later, I gave Maxie his cookie and walked by Psycho Maddie’s house. As usual, she threw herself at the screen door in a tizzy. This time, her elderly owner, whose name happens to be Dick, came out and stood on the front porch. I felt him glaring at my back and turned around.
“Do you know what happened here while you were gone?” I asked.
“I know some of it,” he said.
I waited for the apology.
“You are creating a public nuisance,” he said. “I will take steps.”
“I’m creating a public nuisance by giving a lonely dog cookies?” I said.
“He’s not so lonely,” he groused.
“I’m not going to stop giving him cookies,” I said. “Besides, she barks because I walk by your house, not because I give Maxie cookies. If you don’t like your dog barking, why don’t you keep your front door closed?”
“What, and suffocate in here?” he said. “You shouldn’t walk your dogs past my house. You should take another route.”
“You’re saying I shouldn’t walk past your house because it upsets your dog?” I asked.
“It doesn’t just upset the dog. It upsets my wife. It upsets me,” he said.
“Your position is completely unreasonable,” I said. “You can’t ask someone to stop walking by your house because it makes your dog bark and insist on keeping your front door open. You can’t have it both ways.”
At this point his grumpy wife emerged in her full-length, zip-front mumu. “We don’t like to argue with people!” she said, and turned to her husband. “Come in and get your dinner!”
Out of curiosity, I looked Dick up on Facebook when I got home. He writes people notes like this, and accidentally posts them to his own wall, publicly:
Mr. Cooper: On this evenings telecast your on the spot reporter Deborah Feyerrick was giving you an account of what happened in a court room during a trial (I didn't catch the begining of the story but apparently a clergyman whispering to someone and she repeatedly referred to him as the Reverend with no name (apparently she was unable to learn his name). Well, reverend with or without a capital R is an adjective not a noun and it was obvious that she was using it as a noun. He might have been referred to as a clergyman, Father, Minister, a gentle of the cloth. Reverend, in this context, was definitely incorrect, in any case and should be noted by the Press as it is often misused in the media.
Certifiable Grumpy Old Man.
The next time I walked by the house, Maddie leaped to the front door barking. I heard Dick yell, “Shut the door!”
The old woman screamed, “I’m trying!” Then, SLAM!
Now, I get that this dog is a handful and that she stresses out her owners. And if you have a big, unpredictable, animal-aggressive dog, handing her off to your elderly parents is probably not the best solution. But when you possess what my own grandmother would call the “unmitigated gall” to cop a hostile attitude toward neighbors for walking by your house on a public sidewalk or giving a cookie to the dog next door because it “upsets” your dog, my sympathy must bid you a not overly fond “adieu.” I’ll take “Not My Problem” for 200, Alex.
The sad part of this story is that Maxie doesn’t get his cookie as often anymore. Certainly not every day. Because as much as I feel I am in the right, morally and legally, it’s not worth the anxiety of the confrontations with this couple who begrudge a dog a cookie because it disturbs their peace for one minute out of the 1,440 minutes in a day.
It’s a doggone shame.