Today I went to walk along the beach and swim laps in the ocean, on the north shore of the Hawaiian island, where I am currently living. Several people had their dogs running around on the west part of the beach, so instead of walking from one side to the other, as I had wanted to do, I walked in shorter segments, where there were no dogs. The law in this area states that dogs are not allowed on the beaches, period, but of course dogs are frequently on the beach, and typically without a leash.
I’ve been walking on the sand daily, because it helps strengthen my ankles, which were badly injured a little over a decade ago. For three years following, I was unable to walk – either at all, or else beyond a severely limited distance. To give you some perspective, days where I could walk four blocks were exceptional days and cause for popping the bubbly.
While living in Israel, I had an intuitive hit that I should try walking on the beach. Indeed, doing so each day healed my ankles. When I came back to the USA, I was able to walk around the block on cement, then a few blocks, then a mile, building up over the course of years. It was arduous work, and scary, because I never knew how long my ankles would last – ie, could I make it back to where I started from, or would I end up stranded? Hiking in nature was especially daunting, for that reason.
Since moving to Seattle a couple of years ago, I became able to walk as many as three miles, and even began jogging on and off, for stretches of my walk. Suffice it to say, I was elated.
Still, my ankles are one of the most sensitive parts of my body, given the history of injury and severely limited mobility. In addition, the old injuries were activated during a massage, shortly before leaving on my travel adventure in early July. It’s been challenging to overcome the pain and limited mobility, but I have been doing just that, successfully.
Today, after walking and swimming, I went back to the car and brought my drum to the beach. I randomly encountered a woman I had met at an Ecstatic Dance gathering a few weeks prior, and she and her friends came back to the beach with me, dancing around while I drummed. It was a total high. In addition, it started to rain, and there was a rainbow, and the energy just got higher and higher.
At one point, a woman with an umbrella and a small dog (off-leash, of course) started dancing at the outer edge. I considered asking her to be sure to keep the dog away from me, but 1) it’s downright exhausting to micro-manage my environment constantly, 2) I’m trying to let go and relax as much as possible, as part of my journey healing from cancer, 3) I was in the musical groove and didn’t want to stop, and 4) I observed that the dog was staying close to the woman.
For all these reasons, I said nothing and kept on drumming. I even managed to stop thinking about the dog and completely bliss out in the music and dance.
Then, out of nowhere, the dog came running at me. I immediately stopped drumming and yelled, “Get away from me!” three times before the dog owner called the dog to come back to her. Meanwhile I was bracing my drum with my body, anxious about the dog getting its hair on it, which – given the materials of the drum – would be challenging to get off. When the dog owner finally responded and called her dog over to her, the dog ran on top of some of my belongings, effectively contaminating them.
Suffice it to say, the incident was a total buzz kill, and the music and dance abruptly stopped.
What people without allergies may not understand is that there is a chain reaction of challenges and micro-details that need to be considered, when something that makes you allergic comes into contact with your body or belongings: First, you have to figure out how to get it off of you and your belongings. What if it’s on your clothes, and you don’t have a change of clothing? What if you have to wash it off, but you have nothing to wash it with?
Let’s say you somehow manage to successfully transport it to your house, without it contaminating your car (assuming you have one). Throwing it in the wash, if that’s possible, may get rid of the contaminants for the most part, but may also leave a trace not only on the material, but also in the machine. In this regard, cat dander is particularly difficult to get rid of. The more severe the allergy, the higher the stakes.
To the outside observer, the person with the allergy may seem to be making a mountain out of a molehill. That’s because they don’t have allergies and therefore have no understanding of what is involved in attempting to prevent an allergy attack or the chain reaction of circumstances that follow.
The bottom line is that it’s a pain in the ass to come into contact with allergens, and it’s best to avoid them. Trying to avoid a dog, however, involves resistance to a dog – ie, jerking away from it. When a dog comes at me abruptly, her movements in and of themselves set off a cascade of micro-movements in my body, in turn triggering pain – which can last anywhere from hours to weeks. Attempting not only to stay away from a dog but also to protect my belongings from that dog simply exacerbate matters.
Case in point: It is now five hours since the drum and dance circle. My right ankle is jammed, and both my ankles and one of my knees is in pain (I had been sitting cross legged when the dog came at me, so things got a little twisty). I feel incredibly frustrated and angry that all my hard work of self-care and healing from the past month came unraveled in five seconds flat, and why? Because someone couldn’t be bothered to keep her dog under control, laws and courtesy be damned.
Fortunately I had the ocean to wash off my belongings, and more fortunately, they were materials that could be washed. Meanwhile, I am pretty certain that the dog owner was entirely confused by my distress, especially considering that her dog was small. Dog owners seem to have one and only one point of reference for why someone would not be into their precious pooch – namely, if the dog was big and dangerous. Even there, dog owners seem to have distorted thinking. Just because their dog is nice to them, the owners assume the dog is nice to everyone.
Case in point: One month ago, when swimming with a friend in the ocean at sunset, a mean-looking dog ran into the water and chased after us – in the water!- for 20 minutes straight. (Dogs in Hawaii, it turns out, are incredible swimmers.) We splashed copious amounts of ocean water in its face, nonstop, while yelling “No!” at it repeatedly, but it just would not quit. For all we knew, it was a rabid dog. It certainly was crazy. When the irresponsible owners finally surfaced, they chirped the universal dog-owner refrain, “Oh don’t worry, he’s friendly!”
As a general rule, I do not feel like explaining to every dog owner why it careless of them to leave their dog off leash, and exactly how their doing so affects me. Half the time, I have discovered, dog owners could not care less anyhow. I, meanwhile, am not interested in confrontations, especially when they are incessant and regarding the same damn thing, simply with different people each time. And law enforcement – at least in Seattle, WA, where I lived for the past two years – does little or nothing to enforce leash laws, leaving me entirely powerless and at the mercy of dog owners.
I feel hurt, angry, and incredibly frustrated.