By Aja Barber
There is no dog that I hate. I love most dogs. There are no bad dogs, only bad owners. And there’s a dog owner I loathe. She’s a neighbor; a white woman whose outrageous behavior and rule-breaking comes easy to her.
Some backstory: I live in the suburbs and my backyard opens up to a scenic public path. Neighborhood rules restrict me from having a fence. A canopy of green, many people walk along this path, and as they do I often feel my presence is a reminder of the diverse dreams Reston was built upon. My family has been the only black mainstays in the neighborhood for 33 years.
As a part-time dog caretaker of Piper, my sister’s shih zhu, one of the first things I learned is that it doesn’t matter if you think the dog is cute and harmless if someone is ultimately afraid of your dog. Piper is a harmless dog, but I always put her leash on when she’s around others. Because I am Black, and I know it’s easy for my actions to be seen as something threatening to a white person, even if it’s just my dog jumping all over them. And, besides, it’s good manners.
Last summer, my Mother and I were in the backyard weeding and mulching when we “met” Harvey. I was covered in sweat with wild allergies and suddenly there’s a strange dog staring me in the eye. In my yard. I slowly stood up and looked around wondering if this was a prank. Harvey’s owner stood on the path and smiled in an overly saccharine manner. My mother – who is fearful of dogs – had stopped weeding and frowned.
“You want to get your dog?” I said in a calm determined voice.
“Oh, he’s just saying hello,” she replied.
“But that doesn’t matter, I don’t want him in my yard.”
She stood there and pretended that she didn’t hear us.
For most of my life, my mother would tell us she didn’t “like” dogs, which was always said cloaked in fear. As a child of the rural South, she was chased by a dog on more than one occasion, and grew up watching the police on the news terrorize black protesters with dogs as the Civil Rights movement marched on. Her life with us meant she has had to steadily overcome her fear, even going so far to love our Piper as much as I do. One time she even went on a trip and left the dog a note. But just because she’s overcome her fear of “some” dogs doesn’t mean she enjoys strange dogs jumping up on her.
To have someone’s dog thrust upon you while you’re standing on your own property is disrespectful, and this particular rudeness is what white entitlement allows for. And let’s also remember that the US has a loooooooooong history of terrorizing black people with dogs, even to this day.
A few months later, I was at a summer party a neighbor hosted and I helped plan. The back door was open and as we socialized, I saw the head of a corgi come straight through the open screen door. I almost dropped my plate of food on my party dress in absolute disbelief and disgust.
“Not this fucking dog,” I muttered.
Here’s Harvey! And that’s not all. In walks Harvey’s owner like the guest star of the White Privilege Show. Into someone else’s house. Because the door was open, I guess?
She then has a mock conversation with the damn dog about how “you can’t just walk into other people’s houses, Harvey!” (But it’s okay if it’s a black person’s backyard and they’ve asked you repeatedly not to, apparently.)
The joke fell entirely flat. We all just stood there horrified by her rudeness that she would let her dog come so far up into a stranger’s yard and come indoors.
But remember that black women get shot for banging on a person’s door to ask for help after a car accident.
Can you imagine what would happen if I chased down Piper and let myself into someone’s house? The cause of death would be “breaking and entering” not “gunshot wound.”
Of course I’ve had more interactions with Harvey and his owner. I have told her on several occasions that her dog really needs to be on a leash because, well … there are leash laws. She continues to ignore me and has made it her goal to parade her leashless dog past the house as often as possible.
But the minute I raise my voice at her, then I become “the mean black person.” That’s how this story works.
Her unbearable white privilege makes my blood boil.
In such a liberal neighborhood, not a single person feels it’s their responsibility to call out the bad behavior of a fellow white person even though everyone knows it’s out of control. I’ve actually heard a neighbor congratulate me on calling out nonsense while admitting he doesn’t feel comfortable doing it. Well, thanks for putting the onus on me – on black women.
When my parents first moved into the neighborhood, the front and back of our house looked like a dog toilet. But after years of vigilance, the behavior has curbed only for us to now see an uptick again. Harvey urinates on the hostas and his owner doesn’t always pick up his poop. There are other dog owners that don’t always walk their dogs on a leash, but this doesn’t actually bother me because their dogs never leave their side and don’t go into stranger’s houses. Harvey and his owner ruin it for everyone.
Turning a blind eye to leashless, well-behaved dogs is minding my own business. You don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.
But the minute you come into yards and houses that no one’s invited you into, that’s when it does become my business.
Not to mention, her careless behavior also puts Harvey in danger. A bigger dog could attack him and kill him. And if that dog belonged to a black person, we know how that story goes.
I’m generally not a hard and fast stickler for the rules, but I’ve reached my breaking point with this white woman’s callous disregard of two black women asking her to remove her animal from our property as one has a fear of dogs.
And the weekend following the Women’s March in DC, I happened to catch her strolling her leashless poorly behaved dog through the neighborhood while proudly sporting her Women’s March t-shirt. Typical.
Aja Barber is a writer (and sometimes television producer) who is living in the Washington DC area while occasionally living out of a suitcase in London. She is passionate about fashion, ballet, books, social justice and destroying white supremacy. She likes earl grey and almost every dog she meets. You can find her writing all over the internet and if you follow her on Racebook, you can tune into a daily video chat which covers most of her passions.