Saturday, August 27, 2011

If the dog hadn’t caught my eye would anything be different? The Butterfly Effect v. the Leash

No sense wishing it hadn’t happenedThere’s no Butterfly Effect effect. I can’t change the past to alter the future. If I tried to change anything that led to the accident, then something else would pop up, like a Whac-a-Mole, and the accident happens just the same. The Self-Consistency Principal trumps the Butterfly Effect.
A dog like Lady, before
the accident

In other words, you can’t get the shit back in the donkey.

Except when you can. There were two moments that mattered. Change either and the accident doesn't happen. First, there's the lynchpin. Without it, everything falls apart. The other moment that mattered was the Point of No Return. Take either one away and nothing happens. But it's too late now.

We were walking north on Shore Drive in Winthrop, Jody and I, when we noticed the woman and the dog playing fetch on the beach with sticks washed up from the last storm. It was going to be our last walk for a few days. Hurricane Irene was coming. We saw a heavy cloudbank.  Jody said it was only the outermost edge of the storm system. We watched the two play fetch for a few minutes and then walked on. If we hadn't stopped, would the accident have happened? 

The dog’s name was Lady, a young adult Staffordshire terrier with a gray coat, a curious gaze and a non-threatening face. She stood about fourteen inches at the withers, solid, maybe sixty, sixty five pounds. I like solid dogs. I like Staffies. I don't like prong collars, though, and Lady wore one.

Lady shook her stick back and forth, a display of canine pride and pleasure. She looked happy on the beach. But the woman lacked Lady’s stamina or maybe she had something else to do and she headed for the sidewalk. Maybe she knew that the Animal Control Officer would write a ticket if he saw them—there’s a “No dogs on the beach” sign that neither the woman nor Lady could have missed. Two tickets if Lady didn’t have a current license. The lynchpin event had just taken place, but it still go either way for Lady.

The woman was on the beach when Lady bolted. She ran onto the sidewalk and toward Jody and me. The woman yelled in an overly loud voice, “She’s friendly." The Point of No Return loomed closer, but the accident wasn't yet a fait acompli.

I wanted to engage Lady until the woman could reach her. I wouldn't take her collar, though. She was a strange dog who might react to me reaching toward her head. Then there was the prong collar.

Lady’s inventory—mouth, ears, head, torso and tail showed no sign of aggression. I squatted down to be a lower, non-threatening figure, and positioned my body at a 45 degree angle from Lady. Dogs consider an indirect posture to be a sign of respect and manners. I hoped she recognized my good breeding.

The woman caught up with Lady. That was the Point of No Return. She leaned over the dog, shook her finger and shouted, “Lady, sit!” Lady edged back. The woman advanced, shaking her index finger like a salt shaker, demanding that the dog sit, right now. Lady wasn't listening.

The Toyota's driver wore a freshly pressed white shirt. Maybe she was heading to work. I don’t think she’d been speeding because she stopped at the point of impact, where the headlight's rubble was piled. I thought for a moment that she was wearing a stocking over her head like a convenience store robber. I looked again and saw that it was her hands covering her face. Adrenaline can do that, make a perfectly ordinary gesture look menacing.

The sound a dog makes when struck by a car is invariably described as a ‘sickening thump’ as if this particular whoomp comes only in the vertiginous variety. Then came Lady’s high-pitched, sharp cry of pain and betrayal.
A Corolla weighs 2800 pounds and Lady,
 about 65. Toyota calls this color, "Barcelona Red"

Luck was with Lady, not counting being hit by a car, because she bounced away instead of going under the wheels. She did three end-over-end rolls on the pavement and then ran back to the beach. I didn't see any injury but shock can temporarily deaden pain. She whined when I approached and shied away from me. I wasn't surprised. I was Lady’s last experience before the woman loomed  and shouted and it all turned bad. The Point of No Return.

I fear that for the rest of her life, something will remind Lady of me, maybe a baseball cap or sunglasses. When that happens, Lady’s flight-or-fight instinct will fire. I don’t know if the woman will think, "she associates that hat with the day she ran into a car. I'd best be extra careful right now." More likely, she'll blame the breed if Lady reacts. The potential for Bad is high.

The woman finally leashed the dog. The leash was the lynchpin, the ingredient without which the accident could not have happened. Leashed, Lady doesn't bolt, the Toyota keeps its headlight intact, and none of us two-legs end up horrified at the sight of a dog running into traffic.

Jody and I left as the woman was snapping a lead on Lady. We didn’t want to be there. I was angry and upset. I wanted to yell at the woman, to scream that her body posture had been menacing, that shouting and prong collars are as appropriate to a dog as they are to a two year old child. I wanted to rub the woman’s nose in the mess, to smack her with a rolled up newspaper.

But I didn’t. Those reactions don't work for people any better than they do for dogs. I'd rack up bad karma or an assault charge.  

Besides, I don’t subscribe to the Butterfly Effect, not even in my fantasies.


  1. Mary Ann here. What an idiot. You are definitely better than me.

  2. "A non-threatening face?" Why would you feel compelled to point this out? Did you see a black person on your walk home who "didn't look like they'd mug you at all?" You're really only perpetuating the stereotypes dogs like Lady suffer under.

  3. Something in me wishes you *had* smacked her with a newspaper.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I pointed out that the dog had a non-threatening face as a narrative tool--to portray the dog's vulnerability, in anticipation of her being threatened by her handler and then struck by a car.
    August 31, 2011 4:23 PM