I shouldn’t do it. It’s illegal, I guess. But I do it anyway. My wife says I’m a risk taker. Not really. I just tend to push the envelope sometimes. But I love to see Sam run, the freedom she exudes, it’s refreshing and makes me smile. So, I do it, even when things don’t go well.
Early morning. It is the best time for letting Sam off the leash in the park. Few people, if any are here. And on this morning, there is no one. The ground is soaked. There had been a great deal of heavy rain recently and the small pond has overflowed onto the soccer field and near the playground. I knew Sam would run through it, and knew she’d be trashed when it was all over. I let her go, anyway. How much fun would that be?
She bolts for the ducks in the now expanded pond, splashing her way through the soaked field, dirty water spraying up behind her. The ducks fly off and Sam stands knee deep in the water watching them escape. She sees me on the asphalt trail and barrels toward me, runs past me, stops and quickly observes her surrounding, then zips off again toward a row of trees, mud at their trunks. And Sam slops and jumps and finds a stick. She carries it in her mouth, high and proud, and prances to the edge of the water again, water droplets flashing off her long ears.
For fifteen minutes, she romps. Sam is happy, free, and soon tired. The tongue hangs long. On the far side of the playground, I now see an older woman with two Beagles, I think, on two separate leashes. She is watching me, watching Sam. It’s an accusatory watch. She’s judging me, this man with no leash on his wild and crazy dog. I call for Sam. She turns momentarily to catch my voice, and then dismisses it for another run toward the ducks. I call again. This time, she ignores me completely. Sam has done this before, so I do what I’ve done before. I start to walk away from her, up the walkway and toward to the street. Sam has always followed, fearing, I assume, she would be not find me again. And, like before, she comes running. But when I reach out with the hook of the leash, she freezes. Oh no, no, no. I’m not doing that, she is certainly saying. “Come on, Sam,” I demand. “Let’s go.” Sam’s eyes are wild, wide. She steps back to avoid my reach. “Damn it, Sam.” I see the woman with the Beagles, her eyes still on me; the criminal that I am. Sam takes off. She runs toward the playground, up the hill, through a big puddle, and then stops to watch me. I walk away again, fifty yards from her. Sam eyes me, waits for a moment, then gallops toward me and follows behind, just out of reach. “On the leash,” I say, “Right now.” I think I heard her say, screw you. Yes, that’s exactly what she said. What a defiant little bitch. I’m mad. But yet, inside I’m giggling. I don’t want Sam to know this, of course. But, this has become rather comical, owner and dog, dancing around in the mud, the dog playing a little catch-me-if-you-can, a freedom dance. Freedom—such a good thing, being carefree and limitless. Still, considering my own so-called risk taking, everyone needs a few boundaries to get along in the world. And Sam needs boundaries. There are consequences to her choices now. Freedom’s consequences.
I decide to stop trying to leash Sam and start walking home along the sidewalk. She’ll come, I say to myself, the little shit. Sam follows, yes, but again, just out of reach, a slow and methodical walk. I shake the leash in front of her nose, thinking she might try to catch it in her teeth and I can snatch her forward and grab the collar. But she’s not falling for it. I keep walking, up the small hill to the other side of the street, one block and then two. I shake the leash again. Nothing. I call her with an angry voice and she stands back and stares. Maybe if I get to her level, eye to eye, appear less of an authority figure, she’ll come close. I drop to the sidewalk and cross my legs. “Come here, girl,” I coo. “Come on, it’s all good.” She stands two arms length away. Insubordinate. Calculated. I offer the leash. Nothing.
A half a block away, I see a woman standing near her home’s driveway, watching me. Please go away, I think. She must be judging me, my dog, my pet owner responsibilities, just like the lady with the Beagles. I got this, lady. But of course, I don’t.
“Did she get off the leash?” the woman asks, calling out.
“Sort of,” I say, standing now. “I let her off sometimes. She’s usually good.” I walk toward the woman, pretending to have things reasonably under control. “Maybe she’ll come to you?”
The woman, smiling now, says, “Hello, cutie. Come on. Come on.”
Sam watches the woman, but stands still. Sam knows what’s up. I walk toward the woman and now see her dog—a big, boxy chocolate Lab behind a fence. The dog barks and Sam notices. This is it, I think.
“Ah” the woman says, “I think you’ve got it now.”
Sam moves toward the fence to see her new friend, and sticks her snout between the bars. “Gotcha!” I grab Sam’s collar and yank her toward me. “You little shit.”
The woman laughs. I laugh. Sam snorts. The great escape is over.
I snap the leash, thank the woman, and return to walking home. And while I grumble, Sam steps in silence, sullen and sorry.