Downtown View: Lessons from Leo

For the past two weeks I’ve had a dog.

Leo is a year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, with exactly the temperment (calm) he is supposed to have. Dog owners always want to know the breed and the dog’s name, as I now know, so that’s why I’m giving you this information. He has made me change my views on dog owners in the city—for the worse.

He’s on loan. Or, I should say, our daughter foisted him on us when her family left town. This is a warning to parents of young children: you never dispense with the obligations of parenthood. You will be babysitting for children and pets the rest of your life, and almost always you will love it.

Leo is a country dog, used to long lanes with little traffic and few other dogs, so city streets are exciting for him. So many lamp posts to smell. So many dogs’ noses to touch. So many noises and lights and people. At our house he seems bored. My husband’s ball tossing doesn’t make up for having two school-aged children to roll around with.

We have enjoyed Leo for many reasons. Within a day he had bonded with us, trusting us completely, a nice trait we know dogs have. We like his cleverness in that he understands the word “walkies” and “sit.” His is a warm body while we’re watching a movie or sleeping at night—not that we need another body in our just-big-enough bed. He gets me up from my computer and onto the street four times a day. (My husband takes the late night shift.) And he has introduced me to a number of people, some of whom can’t pass a dog without putting out a hand.

I get why people like dogs. Dogs make people feel safer—not that we’re in much danger in downtown Boston. But if someone got into the house at night, Leo would bark before we would hear the intruder.

They add to one’s social life. It’s hard to avoid other dog owners and soon you get to know people (and the names and breeds of their dogs) that you otherwise wouldn’t know.

And they’re just cute. Leo, especially. But that’s also how dog owners are—their dogs are the best.

Leo has taught me how easy it is to be a responsible dog owner. People are most bothered by owners whose dogs pee in the flowers or on the tree, who don’t pick up after their dogs, and who don’t control their dogs in crowds.

Each of these matters is so easy to manage that I am now even more disgusted with irresponsible dog owners.

Peeing on the plants is bad for the plants. Just lead your dog to lamp posts, which are plentiful in our neighborhoods. After a couple of tries with a small bottle of Fabreze, I filled a middle-sized spray bottle with water. Now I hose down after Leo relieves himself, diluting what can be an overpowering smell on a hot summer day.

I once thought it was good that the Parks Department installed those plastic bag dispensers. Now I think what dog owner is so dumb that they can’t carry bags with them? My daughter’s leash has an attachment that holds bags so they are always with me. I now know for sure there is no excuse for not picking up after your dog. And the spray bottle works for this spot too. I’m thinking of adding a squirt of soap to the bottle.

I’m better at controlling Leo than I was at first. Leo is small and he isn’t the biting type. But all owners say their dogs don’t bite. So I keep him on a short leash when children pass by. I’m surprised at the many parents who ask if their children can pat Leo. We had a rule when our children were young that you don’t pat strange dogs. So far, though, so good. I see that most dogs probably won’t bite and that they love encountering kids.

But I still don’t trust other dogs, especially big ones. We cross to the other side of the street when they approach. They could take off Leo’s head. Pre-schoolers’ faces are level with some breeds’ mouths. Dog owners, especially owners of big dogs, should keep them close when walking down narrow sidewalks.

I still haven’t mastered some things. How do I tie him up safely if I go into a shop? I can’t imagine that shop owners want dogs’ mouths and tails flitting around their merchandise. And if I tie him up, will someone steal him?

Leo will soon go back to the country, but I will have learned that even I can manage a dog responsibly. If you can’t do it, don’t inflict us with your dog.

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at

3 Replies to “Downtown View: Lessons from Leo

    1. Message to Leo (great name): Welcome to the neighborhood! It is a great place for walks. I take many~~maybe we’ll meet and introduce ourselves. My name is Leo also. I am a Tiny Toy Poodle

  1. I consider myself a responsible, city dwelling dog owner. I keep my dogs under control, always dispose of poop, and don’t let them urinate on private property. But carrying a water bottle to spray off a little pee is ridiculous. You can’t really expect people to do this. And getting angry at dog owners for allowing their dog to pee on (gasp) trees! Absurd. You think Febreze is OK for plants (chemicals?), but not a little organic pee? The tone of this article is self righteous and condescending; you are not an expert on dog ownership because you babysat a dog for two weeks.

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