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Holinger: Dog ownership an awesome responsibility

Late fall. Dusk. You walk down a familiar subdivision sidewalk with Trixie, your leashed puddle of fur, trotting from parkway to lawn; she’s happily doing her thing.

Suddenly, from the shadows of a house, a ferocious, stentorian barking erupts. Startled, adrenaline cascading, you see a monster truck of a dog, let’s call him Bluto, accelerating toward you across mowed turf.

Although scared and shaken at the threat, you think, “This is the Tri-Cities; we’re good,” believing an invisible fence, cops or God will stop the dog.

In fact, none do. You stare, horrified, as Bluto bounds onto the sidewalk and fixes his fangs into Trixie’s neck like a rawhide chewy substitute. She cowers and shrieks. You pull her leash. Bluto hangs on. Exasperated, you try to wedge between the mismatched gladiators.

Which is when Bluto turns his attention on you. His mouth goes after an ankle as if wrapped in a grilled and seasoned Lady Gaga meat sock. You instinctively reach down to bat him away, and he bites the offending hand.

Just then, someone calls from the house, “Bluto! Good dog! C’mere, boy!” or some such nonsense. The dog, frustrated as a 2-year-old instructed that he can’t eat sand, relents.

You walk home and check your wounds. Skin has been broken. You go back and ask if the dog’s had his shots. You call the police. They drive up and impound the dog for the mandatory 10 days. It’s the least they can do.

This incident, as the movies say, is based on a real event. It happened to a neighbor of mine. He said the dog was not wearing his invisible fence collar, rendering the fence not only invisible but useless.

I hate invisible fences, even when they work. On walks
with our dog, Chewball, I’ll be listening to Jackson Browne beneath fall foliage, or over packed snow, when a leash-less, hairy Godzilla races toward us, roaring like we’d stolen his steak bone, nothing between us and knifelike ivory canines but hope. How do I know if a small electric shock will reign him in?

If the owner does appear (next to never), he’ll coo something like, “Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite,” an assurance I take as lightly as a promise not to invade Poland.

Owning a dog is like owning a gun – it’s legal, but it’s also an awesome responsibility. It can, literally, be deadly. Just ask the family of the South Side Chicago man killed last year by his own pit bull.

Careful, it might be loaded.

Most communities invite backyard wood or plastic fencing. If that’s not enough acreage for your precious Bluto, get off your butt and take the poor animal for a walk. Don’t let him goosestep your lawn while salaciously waiting to terrorize innocent locals out for a stroll or jog on what’s expected to be a quiet, safe sidewalk.

Either that, or do us all a favor and downsize. Buy a cat.

• Rick Holinger lives in the Fox Valley where he’s taught high school since 1979. His poetry, fiction, essays, criticism and book reviews have appeared in many literary journals. He founded and facilitates the St. Charles Writers Group, and has a Ph.D. in creative writing from UIC. Contact him at

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