A few weeks ago, John and I spent a long Saturday morning pulling weeds and mulching our front garden. My sister offered to hang with Violet so we could get it done, and I think we were approximately 432 percent more efficient than we would’ve been had she been outside with us.
I listened to a podcast while John listened to his book. About an hour into the job, John went inside to grab us waters. Down the block, I saw a woman walking toward us on the opposite side of the street with an adorable, tiny JRT. He strutted at the end of his leash like he was King. I smiled as he puffed his chest to mark the mailbox on the corner.
John came outside, and I pointed the dog out to him. “He’s so tiny and cocky,” we laughed. She saw us looking, I think, and as she reached the midpoint of our yard, she yelled across the road, “What are you doing?”
I took out my headphones. “Pulling weeds,” I yelled back.
“I need to see what you’re doing,” she shouted as she dragged her little dog across the street and up our yard.
Thus began a 45-minute long, unceasing cascade of words. She asked us a million questions, but just as one of us would start to answer, she’d barrel into the next topic or talk over our response or simply provide her answer to what she’d asked us. After a handful of minutes, we both just sort of sat on the ground, looking up at her and nodding periodically as she kept going. John spent a good 10 minutes scratching her dog.
We learned about all the people who live in every nook and cranny up and down our block. We learned about all the troubles she’s had with the trees in her backyard. We learned all about the neighborhood HOA meetings and who does and doesn’t pay their dues.
And then Cooper barked.
From somewhere inside the house, he barked. Her dog perked up. She suggested we bring him outside, I suppose to meet her little dog.
“Cooper is a wonderful dog,” I said, “but he doesn’t like to meet other dogs on leash.”
We then learned about her friend who bought a German shepherd who was so dog aggressive that if it had been her dog she would’ve demanded her money back.
She paused. “Is your dog a rescue?” she asked in that pitying tone often used to explain away bad behavior.
“Yes, but that doesn’t have anything to do with his issues. He’s fearful and reactive,” I said.
Before I could say anything else, she jumped in. “He probably just needs to meet more dogs.”
I took a deep, steadying breath. “Well, he actually loves playing with other dogs at our house and at doggy daycare. He just can’t meet them on leash, especially out in front of our house like this. He’d go crazy.”
She looked me in the eye and asked, “Have you ever considered training him?”
OMG! NO! That never occurred to me! Train my dog?!? Are you SERIOUS?!
Kidding aside, clearly this woman doesn’t know us from a stranger in line at the coffee shop, so how could she possibly know how much time, energy, effort, expense, etc. etc. we’ve poured into this beloved dog of ours? She couldn’t, of course.
She knew superficial stuff about all the people up and down the street (“she’s a single mom and goes to school,” “she used to babysit kids in this neighborhood as a kid herself,” “he switched cable providers three times last year alone,” and so on) but she doesn’t really, truly know who they are or what their struggles are.
Just like she doesn’t know us and has no clue all we’ve done for Coops.
My point isn’t to be indignant–this isn’t a how dare she?!?!–but rather, it served as a solid reminder that you just never know. You never know someone’s whole story. You never know someone’s struggles.
You never know.
So, since you don’t know and I don’t know and she doesn’t know… why not make an effort to assume the best about someone instead of the worst? Or offer support instead–a simple “Can I help?” doesn’t hurt.
When it comes to our dogs, we do our best. We do what we think is our best, anyway. We try our hardest. No, sometimes our best and our hardest isn’t good enough, but ultimately it’s all any of us can do.
I didn’t feel indignant about her question, but I did feel indignant on behalf of Coopsie.
He. tries. his. best.
Every single day, even when it’s really, really hard for him, he tries. Sometimes he fails. Oftentimes, actually. I fail, too. It’s more important that we work hard and we work together.
My lesson in that conversation came down to this: When you make an assumption about someone, you have two choices. You can assume the best or you can assume the worst. Neither takes more or less time or energy than the other, so why not assume the best? It’s the kinder route for both parties, I think.
I’ll defend Cooper every day of the week, but who knows… that woman who lives down the block and around the corner, well, I’m going to assume that she really, truly cares about the people and pets on her street. It’s easy to assume she’s just another suburban Gladys Kravitz, but you don’t snoop unless you care, right?
Plus, her dog really was super cute.
Read more: What I wish you knew about my reactive dog…