From the biggest issues to the smallest, the majority no longer rules in America. Anyone with an axe to grind can force a much larger population into an unpopular compromise. This cautionary tale isn’t about the Senate and the filibuster rule, or the Tea Party reading the Constitution aloud in the House of Representatives. It is about the park in my neighborhood. Over the past month, I’ve come to the conclusion that our little park, and the two dozen people who walk dogs there every morning, are a microcosm of something that’s happening in America.
Most of the people who live in the neighborhood and walk their dogs in the park (which is half a mile long, with an open space at each end and olive trees in the center) have lived there for a while, and all know each other because we’re out there between 6:30 and 7:30 every day come rain or come shine, dragged there by our impatient canines. We know each other’s dogs; all the dogs know each other. Although sometimes off leash, the dogs trot behind us in a group, and we’re never far away from them. They are all under voice control. They are all large enough to need running room off a leash.
Most of the dogs are rescues, and some owners even volunteer at shelters. The dogs are trained. We are professional people: attorneys, firefighters, consultants, software engineers, and business developers. We’re part of the economy of Phoenix Arizona, and we’ve all been through hell during the past two years, which has bonded us. We’ve lost our jobs, our clients, our properties, our retirements, and our self-respect. But we are still there, discussing politics, health care, the economy, and how best to bring up dogs. The morning walk is a therapy group for the humans, as much as exercise for the dogs.
About a month ago, a new couple began coming to the park. They have two dogs, small, that they walk on long retractable leashes. In fact, their dogs appear to be walking them. One morning, the woman began yelling across the park at us to “get your dogs on a leash, you’re breaking the law.” At first, we ignored her and went to the other end of the park. But she somehow managed to turn up there, yelling about how we were breaking the law, and one morning there was a shouting match between one of our group and this woman while the rest of us stood by. The woman had quite a mouth. The man just stood by. We were pretty stunned. No one talks like that in the park.
Things devolved, the woman threatened to call the police and animal control, she did, and they dutifully if reluctantly appeared. We asked them what we could do to find a convenient way to exercise our dogs, and someone pointed out a part of the City of Phoenix leash law that says any dog certified by the American Kennel Club as a canine good citizen is allowed off a leash in a park for training and sports. This law, probably invented for upscale, full-breed dogs getting ready for a show, could apply to our motley group of rescued orphans. Wanting to preserve peace in the park, we began doing research.
In the mean time,the couple came to the park again, screamed at us from across the park again, and when one of the men in our group, a firefighter, tried to talk to the man about his wife’s tongue, the man tapped his pants pocket and angrily said he had a gun.When the police appeared this time, the firefighter told them the man had threatened him with a gun, and the police called the couple over. However, the man told them he was a retired police officer and the police did nothing. This frightened us. The last thing I expected was to be threatened with a gun in my neighborhood park.
We decided not to argue, but to get in compliance with the law, and just before Christmas, we hired a trainer, gathered my my back yard, and had twelve dogs certified as canine good citizens. At the end of the training, we each received a certificate for each dog that passed. Everybody passed. Everybody had been well-behaved to begin with. But it was well worth the time and effort.
We showed up at the park the next morning “armed” with our certificates. Three attorneys in our group had even read the entire ordinance with which we were now in compliance. It didn’t matter. Again the police came, animal control came, and this time the woman threatened to shoot our dogs. The woman had been emailing the mayor, and the mayor had decreed this problem be solved.
The police showed up again, took all our certificates and recorded them. By this time, the police officer knew all of us, who we were, who the dogs were, and how the dogs behaved in the park. The police officer and his supervisor had now read the ordinance themselves and were convinced we were in compliance with the law.
But here’s where it all breaks down. The other couple isn’t breaking the law either. We are the majority of dog owners. They are a minority of two who tell the police they are afraid of our dogs and want only to be able to walk their dogs. No one is “at fault,” and the majority does not rule. As long as this woman keeps emailing the mayor, and her companion keeps carrying a gun, the issue is still on the table.
This important matter, which has consumed the time of at least three police officers, fifteen people, a park ranger, and two representatives from animal control, is still not solved. It’s heading for a compromise. Sound familiar?