Last week the weather in NYC had finally (and briefly) climbed above freezing, and I had Charlotte and Mercury outside for our morning walk. We live in a busy mixed business and residential neighborhood in Brooklyn, and morning sidewalks are bustling with families getting kids to daycare and school, young professionals heading off to work, and of course folks like me walking our dogs.
Because we live in the city and anytime my dogs go outside we’re in a public place, their training has included various sidewalk manners. They know to stop and sit at intersections, to relieve themselves on the curb or in the street, and they know when we’re passing someone on a crowded sidewalk and I say “single file” that Charlotte is to go in front of me and Mercury to drop behind me to allow us to pass by others to give room to others to pass us.
Anyway, so it was a normal morning, and I was out with the dogs for their first walk of the day before I headed to work. Coming toward us down the sidewalk was a man with two little kids, I didn’t think much of it other than to tell the dogs “single file” and move us as close to the curb as possible so that we could all pass each other on the sidewalk.
The youngest child -– a little girl about two years old — made “bang bang” pretend shooting noises at my dogs, who ignored her. I didn’t think anything about them; kids make all kinds of obnoxious noises at my dogs, who are both very desensitized to this behavior. I thought we were past them and was about to pull the dogs out of our single-file formation when I heard Mercury scream. I whipped around and saw that the older child, a boy about five years old, had kicked Mercury in the ribs. Mercury, for reference, is a 12-year-old Chihuahua mix who weighs about 12 pounds; he’s completely bombproof unfazed by dogs, children, fire trucks, parades, you name it — this dog is emotionally solid. I can guarantee he probably hadn’t even looked at the kid let alone do anything to provoke an attack.
Immediately I started to tend to my dog — I was worried that Mercury had been hurt — but thankfully he seemed (understandably) surprised and confused but not actually injured. Charlotte, bless her silly self, was completely oblivious to what had happened. As I was making sure Mercury was OK the father had grabbed his son and much to my shock began beating the kid right there on the sidewalk. It was an awful moment, the whole thing was horrible, I was actually in shock. Once I knew my dog was OK I left. The dogs and I started walking down the sidewalk, and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do or say that would make any part of this situation actually OK. The father, seemingly done beating on his child, yelled after me, “Sorry, Miss.” I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing.
The whole situation on the Brooklyn sidewalk was awful. I of course feel angry and upset for little Mercury, who did nothing to warrant being kicked, but I also feel horrible for that little boy who kicked my dog. When I’m not writing stories or wrangling dogs, I can be found managing programs for homeless teenagers, so I’m no stranger to abused kids. I was an abused kid before I was a runaway as a teen.
Abuse is learned behavior; the father’s actions upon seeing his child kick my dog prove to me that violence is not uncommon in that home, and so it’s no wonder that this child reenacted that violence against someone less powerful than himself –- little Mercury. But having this larger understanding of abuse and violence and learned behavior didn’t make processing what was happening in front of me on the sidewalk any easier, and now I’m a lot more nervous whenever the dogs and I walk past kids.
What would you do if you were out walking and a kid kicked your dog? How would you react? Let me know in the comments.
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About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and the editor of two anthologies and one novel. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. She lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, two bossy cats, and a kitten. She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. Learn more at her website