Today I took my three dogs to the park, like I always do. It’s a fully enclosed park with a train track on one side, and creeks on two others. The only homes are the ones along the dead end street that dumps into the entrance of the park. I’ve been coming here for 10 years with my dogs, and 99% of the time, the park is completely empty but for us. When there are people, we respectfully pass by them at a safe distance in case they’re not dog people, and go to the back of the park – some 200+ yards from the entrance. At the back of the park we let the dogs off leash to play Frisbee and chase tennis balls. Lots of people do this and it’s never been an issue. As dog people go, we’re very respectful of each other at this park.
So today I was throwing various toys to the dogs while on a business call when I noticed a CMPD Animal Control van pull up behind my truck, near the entrance. Before I could get off the phone, two male officers were on the path walking very briskly back to where I was located. They were coming for me and my dogs – bucket poles drawn. It was like a scene out of a Disney movie. The men stopped a few feet away. My dogs, who were on leash, then started to bark frantically at them – after all, there are usually no men in dark fatigues wearing sunglasses and holding long metal poles with ominous metal loops at the end, at the park. I asked the officers what I could do for them and then they proceeded to interrogate me for ten minutes. Didn’t I understand the leash law? Were my dogs registered? Are they aggressive? With each question, the men took small advances in my direction, and my dogs would bark louder. I could barely hear anything the officers were saying. Then Sammy (a 12-pound, one-eyed pug we rescued from CMPD two summers ago) wiggled out of his collar and took off across the park toward another dog that had come in with his owner. “You’re welcome to arrest him.” I said in an attempt to lighten the moment. The officers didn’t laugh.
The two men watched Sammy race on little legs toward the dog he recognized as a friend he sees often. “Is he going to attack that other dog, sir?” The officer who looked like Tom Berenger in Platoon asked.
“No. I don’t think so. He’s pretty small. SAMMY!!” Meanwhile my other dogs wanted to go greet their friend and began pulling at the leashes
“So you say you’ve been coming out here ten years, is that right?” The younger man who looked like the PC guy from the Apple commercials said.
“Yes. And I’ve never had a problem.”
“And do you always let them off leash?” He continued.
At this point I knew he was setting me up. The whole ‘reason’ they were even down at this obscure park is because they were ‘investigating’ a ‘barking disturbance.’ When they were turning around on the dead end street they saw a black dog run across the back of the (empty) park. They thought it was a ‘wild dog.’ They said they didn’t see me until they were halfway back. Now you’ve got to understand something – this park is wide open. There are no hills, no major foliage, no nothing to obscure a view from the front entrance to the very back of this long, narrow park. These guys were not here by accident. They’d been told that people come here and let their dogs off leash to play. Only, my dogs were now all on leash. All except Sammy, who had finally made his way back to me. These guys never really saw my dogs off leash.
“Well officer, considering that my dogs are actually on leash, you’re implying that I let them off leash when I come here. And I’m not going to indict myself.” I responded to the inquisitive PC guy.
At this point they reiterated that they both saw one of my black dogs running across the park (as the result of me throwing a Frisbee) wild and unleashed. I didn’t feel like challenging them by asking for proof, so I finally said, “Look – I appreciate you boys taking the time out to let me know how the leash laws work, but I’m going to leave now. It feels like you’re trying to taunt my animals into breaking free and coming after you. If you want to arrest me, fine – but I’m taking my dogs back to the truck.” And I did. And the two officers walked right behind me all the way up. They didn’t give me a ticket. They couldn’t.
With the dogs safely loaded in the truck, the officers got into their van and drove up the street a bit and parked – just far enough to keep an eye on me in case I felt like letting them off leash again. I talked for a few minutes with the other guy who’d arrived with is dog and together we berated the Gestapoesque Animal Control cops.
As I left the park, I pulled behind the van, parked, walked up to the driver’s open window and asked the officers for their cards. Not that I had anything in mind, nor did these guys do anything wrong – I simply wanted to send a signal that I thought they handled this scenario poorly and wanted them to think I had an ace up my sleeve. They handed me their cards and I tapped them on edge of the van’s window, smiled and said, “You boys have a nice day.” Then I winked. And I immediately wished I hadn’t winked, but I did and I had to pretend that I was ok with it. Anyway, for a split second, I felt like I had turned the tables. There’s nothing worse than a composed, articulate person with a little fire in their eyes who looks like they know something you don’t.
Ultimately, I believe that I was set up. No way were these cops just randomly driving the neighborhood. This was a mini-sting intended to scare me from going back there. Which won’t work. If anything, what I learned from today is that you cannot play Frisbee with your dog in Charlotte unless it’s in your yard, or at one of the three designated dog parks that are usually crowded with other dogs, and not exactly the best place for a Frisbee dog to work.
In 2001, after learning about how many animals they put down every year, I created a media campaign for the CMPD called adoptcharlotte.org designed to help reduce Charlotte’s disgusting euthanasia rate. And it worked. But I realized back then that as compared with many other cities I’ve lived, Charlotte wasn’t a very friendly dog town. After what happened to me today, I’m not sure it ever will be.