It was Saturday, February 21, 2009. We came across Harper, known then as Lizzy, late one Saturday afternoon while shopping at Petco on North Oak. We had no intention of adopting a dog when we went into the store, but her sad eyes and involuntary flinching created a fire in us both to see that this beautiful, gentle soul found a soft place to land in this world. We snagged the essentials (collar, lead, food, and crate) and arrived home to an evening of coaxing her up on the couch to watch TV with us.
The folks at FOPAS, from whom we adopted Harper, didn't know much about her background. She was about 1.5 years old, they guessed. It was clear from her body language that she had suffered at the hands of her previous owner. She had been found by the Platte County sheriff's department wandering around a back road. Her ribs were prominent in her frail body. At first, she couldn't be coaxed into rooms with linoleum or tile floors or through a door where someone stood, as though she feared she might be kicked. She wouldn't even look at us directly, turning her head as if anticipating a blow to the face or head. Her movements were a giant flinch waiting to happen. It was heart breaking.
A family tragedy struck that week, forcing my partner to make an unexpected trip to St. Louis on Harper's first full weekend with us. We had talked about taking Harper to a local off-leash park to get some much needed exercise and socialization. My partner feared how she might react. I was anxious, as well, but I had to try it at least once. I decided to go when I thought no one else would be there.
Harper and I at the park about 7:00 am. She carefully inspected the perimeter while avoiding the lone man walking with his italian greyhounds, the only other park patrons. I sat at the picnic table under a distant tree. Harper wandered close by me, also avoiding contact with the crowd slowly forming at the center of the park. A man with two dogs came and sat with me, coaxing me into the main group. I was surprised that Harper followed, still uneasy, but cautiously interacting with the other dogs. I met several people that morning and the following days who, over the course of many months, have been interested in Harper's progress - kind, supportive, and encouraging of her as she has emerged from her shell of mistrust and fear. Every Saturday and Sunday morning and many random weekday afternoons, my partner and I make our way to the park - coffee cups, tennis ball flingers, frisbee, and gallon jug of water in hand. I have even designated one of my beloved sling bags as my "dog park bag" stocked with doggie wipes, hand sanitizer, sun screen, and bug spray. On days when our usual park is unavailable, we make the long drive to another area dog park. Harper loves romping through the fields and forest, and will even venture into the water sometimes. The rule is now that Harper may not be in the house for more than 24 hours without a trip to the park or a full day at a local daycare. She is one very social animal, 8 months later.
Harper remains cautious about new people, often swerving to avoid the outstretched hands of those with whom she is unfamiliar at the park. Those she does know are more and more often favoured with the opportuinty to pet her. Unfortunately, once in a while she will bark at someone she doesn't know when they arrive at the park. Of course I am always right there, ordering her away and apologizing for her rude behavior. So, why am I telling you all of this? Because this past Saturday, an incident occured that left me reeling.
We had been at the park for over an hour when a man arrived and Harper began barking at him. I ran over to get her, apologized, and was stunned to hear him say, "You better get that dog away from me, because I'll kick it." I remarked that his threat seemed harsh, extreme, and wholly inappropriate. He repeated his threat again, telling me that my dog did not belong in the park, was not socialized, and again assured me that my dog was about to receive the force of his foot if she came any closer. Disgusted, I threw up my hands and walked away after explaining that if he kicked my dog, I would call the police. He yelled after me to argue that he would be jusitifed kicking Harper if she bit him. I agreed that if she bit him, kicking the dog may be justifiable, but that was not what he had threatened Harper with the first 3 times. He told me to shut up and get my dog out of the park, repeating that she was not suited to be there. I asked for his name but he refused to tell me. With an attitude like his, it's no suprise that Harper or any dog would bark at him.
I was able to get his license plate number and the make and model of his car. I'll edit the post to include that later. Anyway, I was disgusted and trembling in fury. Luckily, two of my long-time dog park friends showed up as I was leaving, so I felt comfortable returning to the park with Harper. She did not bark at the man, and he did not approach me to continue the argument. I wonder though, what would you have done?