“My daughter has a dog like yours,” the man said as he sat down on the park bench next to me. He held his hand out for Louie to sniff. “Hers barks . . . a lot.”
I laughed. “Don’t all schnauzers?”
“You should be glad,” he said.
Only an hour before, I’d sat at my desk struggling with rewrites of my new novel. Louie lay at my feet, his upturned eyes pleading for a walk. I stared at the October sky. A red tailed hawk circled overhead. What did he see? I saw yellow leaves barely clinging to the ancient silver maple, the gnarled branches of the mulberry tree, the hundred year old cedars swaying in the breeze.
“Ok,” I said to the dog. I clicked save and closed my computer. “Let’s go.”
I clipped on his ‘gentle leader,’ a type of leash that allows good control. He hates it but he wants to walk so he stands still while I adjust it. I grabbed my keys, sunglasses, a jacket and off we went.
We usually hike a mile or so, cutting through the park. The playground there is perfect, part sun and part shade, rubber flooring, good strong equipment, great sandbox filled with toys. Sometimes we sit and watch the kids play. Louie loves it when they pet him, especially the little ones. The moms are less enthusiastic, usually asking if it’s okay, but Louie stands reassuringly still while little hands touch him.
This day, the park was filled with children but I noticed all the mothers seemed more wary than usual. They whispered to each other and stuck closer to their kids. The man who sat next to me pointed out his little granddaughter playing nearby. She wore white tights and a long sleeved pink dress.
“She’s adorable,” I said. “How old is she?”
“Three going on four,” he said. “Hadn’t been for that damn yappy dog of theirs, we might have lost her.” Without taking his eyes off the child, he scratched Louie’s ears.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You know, you can tell them over and over not to talk to strangers but . . . well . . . they’re young and they forget.”
“I know,” I said, remembering my own admonitions and gut wrenching fears.
“We live just down the street, “he said, “and Tiffany loves this park. Yesterday, her mother sent her out to play. Joan, my daughter, meant to keep an eye on her but got distracted. Tiffany had been out in front for only a little while when Daisy, that’s the dog, began yapping. Joan tried to hush her but Daisy wouldn’t shut up. Then, Joan looked out the window. A man she didn’t know had Tiffany by the hand and they seemed headed for the park. Joan rushed outside yelling. The man let go of Tiffany, ran to a nearby car and took off. “
My mouth fell open. “Oh My God! “I’ve lived in this neighborhood for a long time and have never heard of anything like that happening before. “
He stood up, his white hair ruffled by the breeze. “Just thought I’d warn everyone,” he said. “White guy. Clean shaven. My age. Black car with a Missouri tag. That’s all we got.”
My heart wouldn’t stop pounding. “Did you call the police?”
“Oh sure but not much to go on. They’ll be watching though. Police chief’s a friend of mine.”
Tiffany called him from the swing. “Grandpa, push me.”
He went to her. Louie and I sat there for a few more minutes, watching. As we left the park, I saw ‘Grandpa’ talking to another woman who, with her child, had just arrived.
On the way home I wondered if I should carry a pepper spray. Should I walk where there was little traffic or stay on the main thoroughfare? One thing for sure: We would never discourage Louie from alerting us to someone in the driveway.