Walking on the Wild Side

Our house is almost exactly on the border between two very different neighbourhoods. One that is very new and very suburban, and one that is much older and – how to put this nicely – a little sketchy. Everything above a certain street, a street we live only five or six houses up from, is visually so much nicer than everything on the other side. It’s kind of the dividing line.

Given that I walk my dog over two hours a day, I spend a lot of time on both sides. My practically husband doesn’t always like it when I travel around on the “other side” but I never worry. When we lived in Calgary we also lived in a reputedly bad part of town and I never had trouble. Not even when walking home late at night from the train station. Maybe it’s naïve, but I believe most criminals keep to themselves. If I leave them alone, they will leave me alone. Since I am not comfortable chatting with strangers anyway, I feel secure enough to go on my way.

Now that I have a dog, I worry even less. Shiva may not be a giant rottweiler but she appears just strong enough, just crazy enough, that most people won’t want to risk setting her off. And if I get a bad feeling about someone, you can bet I won’t stop her from her bark and lunge routine. Shiva also has a very loud bark. Given this neighbourhood has such a poor reputation, there is always a police vehicle only a few blocks away. I doubt any would be attacker would be dumb enough to mess with my dog. Furthermore, I only ever walk in this area in the very early morning, when the coke-heads are crashing after a long night. Or, in the early evening, when the crazies with knives have left their apartments in search of trouble elsewhere.

What I think is interesting, is that I have had more problems while walking in the nicer neighbourhoods. On the better part of town, people like to talk to me. They are always coming up to us, wanting to pet Shiva, wanting to ask questions. They tend to have dogs of their own, frequently off-leash, that they feel have a right to say hello to my dog. They have less respect for my boundaries. More importantly, they have less respect for my dog’s boundaries. If she barks, they give me the stink-eye and act like I have a vicious monster at the end of my leash.

In the neighbourhood with the negative stereotypes, where there have been too many murders already this year, people leave us alone. There are less people walking dogs. And when they are, they remain in their own space and are always on a leash. They don’t expect my dog to say hello and if she barks they barely glance over. The people respect my boundaries. Even when we exchange pleasantries they continue on their way. They don’t expect me to drop everything to answer their questions.

Obviously I am generalizing, but it is something I have noticed. There is a lot going on here to be sure and there are a number of reasons these neighbourhoods have the reputations they do. I am not going to get into that here as it’s not what this blog is about. All I will say is that sometimes, I prefer it on the wrong side of the tracks.

45 thoughts on “Walking on the Wild Side

  1. I teach in an urban school district, and I must say I prefer the kids from the projects to the kids from the mansions. They are more down to earth, respectful, and less entitled. I could never teach in a suburban high school!

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  2. I lived for ten years next to a crack house. My city (Philadelphia) routinely had over 300 murders a year. For context, Canada reported 610 murders for the entire country in 2009.

    And yet I miss it. Addicts have family too. They like dogs. They joke around with their friends. And most neighbors had never done anything wrong except being poor. (At least many Americans seem to think that’s a crime.) I think it’s good for everyone to get out of their comfort zone a little bit and see “how the other half” really lives.

    And I noticed similar things with the dogs. For years, I was the only person on my block with “pet” dogs (as opposed to potential weapons; although we knew the local pibbles were very sweet and not the threat their people wanted them to be). I was never harassed. And I never had problems with any other dog harassing mine.

    Now, I live in a very nice neighborhood with friendly, chatty people. And my dogs were attacked by the same neighborhood dog 3x! The last time it happened, the owner just kept repeating “but she’s been doing so good; she stays right by my side” as her unleashed dog ran out into the street after Agatha.

    I hope you’ll continue to see good things about the “sketchy” side of town.

    Oh, one last thing–I once read about a woman who taught her dog to bark and snarl when she used the cue “calm down, Killer, he won’t hurt you.” Hilarious, huh?

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    • Heh, the wide differences in our crimes rates isn’t news to me. But having only ever lived in Canada, the amount of murders my city has had in the last seven months, violent crime is up 7.5 %, are a little discomforting. Nothing compared to Calgary, but per capita, Halifax has a lot more violent crime than some of the larger Canadian cities. Generally gang and drug-related, however, so unless you are involved, you are still fairly safe. At least, in my opinion.

      For the most part, it’s poverty that scares people. They see people living in squalor, barely getting by, with their rented unit falling down around them because the landlords of these buildings just don’t care, and they assume the people are just as bad inside as they look outside. Kind of like pit bulls.

      That trick is awesome! I’ve toyed with the idea of teaching Shiva to bark on command, but snarling is a new one for sure.

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  3. When I was delivering newspapers as a 12-yr old in Holland, the custom is at New Year to ring the doorbell and you get a little tip. I walked a “very bad” neighborhood but got a lot of tips that year. The next year the paper moved me to a “good” neighborhood and I was looking fwd to New Years. I was so disappointed, I made almost nothing on tips. At one house lived a lung doctor and he gave me a 5-minute speech about working hard in life and how to come forward, after which he gave me ONE CENT !!! I was so pi**ed I made sure from that day he always would get his paper the last. Of course I lost in the end, as he complained to the newspaper and got me fired 🙂

    What have our stories in common? People that feel better than others, have a habit of judging other people, because that makes them feel even better 🙂

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    • Very true. During Halloween trick or treating, people usually hit up the pricey neighbourhoods, assuming they’ll have the best candy. But I find it’s the ones with less money that actually open their doors.
      When I worked as a restaurant server, I never found the rich tipped any better, but they sure as heck made me earn every cent.

      Again, I don’t want to be blamed for reverse snobbery. There are lots of very generous, very kind wealthy people as well.

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  4. I’ve definitely run into a fair number of people who think “I have dog, you have dog… dogs will be friends!”, but I guess I’m lucky in my area, that most people check with you first. Possibly because we’ve got a few dogs in the area that are more than just barky-aggressive towards other dogs. However, my sister and I were walking my neighbours very very dog-unfriendly beagle, and, even after saying, “He’ll bite… he has bitten dogs before, he draws blood, and it doesn’t matter how friendly your puppy is, keep your dog away”, we basically had to pick the beagle up and run up to someone’s porch to make the guy leave us alone. BAFFLING! what part of “my dog will maim your dog, physically, and probably mentally” makes you want to let them interact anyways?

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    • That IS baffling!

      I didn’t want to start telling people that my dog would bite in order to scare them away because the dangerous dog laws in this city are so vague. All it takes is a phone call by a neighbour and my dog will be slapped with a muzzle order, or worse. More often I tried to use the “she is really nervous around other dogs” or “she is in training.” If those didn’t work I’d just be rude and walk away.

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  5. Interesting observation. We now live in a nicer area and both of my dogs have been attacked by the same dogs! But we had not problems in the sketchier area.

    Most people in my ‘hood’ walk their dogs in the park and most dogs are off leash so it is expected for them to meet and greet each other. When dogs are on leash, I am very clear that Delilah “DOES NOT DO WELL WITH DOGS ON LEASH”. Of course with her snarling and lunging at the end of the line, they usually have the picture. 😉 If their dog approaches, then they do so at their own risk.

    As a dog person myself, I would never approach someone’s dog without asking.

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    • Me neither. Unless the other person makes it very obvious they are okay with our two dogs meeting, I work really hard to keep Shiva by my side. Even if it means going up a driveway or crossing the street. I’ve been there and I don’t want to put someone else through that stress.

      And sometimes even if they do make it obvious, I still choose to prevent Shiva from saying hello. She needs to learn self-control in this area, big-time!

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  6. I only ever walk in this area in the very early morning, when the coke-heads are crashing after a long night. Or, in the early evening, when the crazies with knives have left their apartments in search of trouble elsewhere.

    I love your reasoning behind how it’s safe for you to walk there, lol. I think it’s funny that Nemo is probably the meanest looking dog that we have, but his bark is the most pathetic thing ever. I really need to record it sometime because the noise that comes out of him is just hilarious. It’s like the bark you’d expect from a yorkie, haha. Shiva probably sounds like the incredible Hulk in comparison 🙂

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    • LOL. Poor Nemo. Or maybe it’s a good thing? Maybe once the discrimminators hear him bark they will start to see him as just another sweet dog?

      I’d love to hear a recording! I don’t know if I’ve ever recorded Shiva’s bark either. Maybe I’ll pull the camera out the next time we order pizza. 😛

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  7. I agree with Cyndi a walk on the wild side is way more fun, but having lived in a very dodgy area a few years ago without a dog, I think I would be more comfy with a dog like Shiva – not at all scary looking but a great size!

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    • It definitely feels safer with a dog by your side. Especially one you know will freak out if need be. 🙂

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  8. The boundaries issue is my pet peeve. My parent’s dog does not like strangers. He is a rescue and has some long standing fear aggression. He loves his walk but doesn’t want random strangers standing over him patting his head. All people see is an adorable 10lb fluffy white dog. I have repeatedly had people approach and I tell them “no petting, he is fear aggressive of new people”. Response “oh but dogs love me” cue Stitch barking his head off and snarling. Stupid people usually continue to try to move towards us. At which point I usually turn around and walk away with a very unhappy dog. Of course I always hear them muttering behind me that I am rude and all they wanted to do was pet the dog. Ugh!

    I live in a nice suburban neighborhood. But when I first got Sophie we lived in an apt in an ok part of a city. She got big pretty fast. Nothing like a big black dog who has a deep bark (even if it is a greeting) to deter people from approaching.

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    • Argh! How annoying! I had that all the time as well.

      Me: I’m sorry, she is very scared of strangers and will probably bark if you come any closer.
      Dog-lover: But she is looking right at me! I love dogs, she won’t be scared of me!
      Me: She really doesn’t like to be pet by strangers.
      Dog-lover: I’m not a stranger, am I sweetie?
      Shiva: Bark! Bark! Bark!
      Dog-lover: Eeeee! What a scary beast you have!

      It’s better if you just walk away. Being polite helps no one, unfortunately, least of all your dog. I learned that the hard way.

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  9. I’ve had the same experience. We have moved A LOT since adopting Chick and we always have more trouble from unruly kids and dogs in the “nicer” and “friendlier” neighborhoods that we’ve lived in than the more urban or poorer ones. Thanks for reminding people to think outside their box a little 🙂

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    • I don’t know if it’s that the kids in the sketchier neigbhourhoods just have more to be afraid of so they learn to be more cautious? It’s hard to say why there is a difference. But since I am not the only person to notice it, there is obviously some correlation anyway.

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  10. I have the same kind of neighborhood. I walk Maggie on the “bad” side where there are less dogs being walked and her leash aggression issues are less likely to be an issue. But I walk Sadie on the “good” side because on the “bad” side, there are more outdoor cats that she will try to chase.

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  11. I live in a really small town, and I like that it’s very laid back and old-fashioned in a way. People still expect common sense. I work in a large city, though, and the school I teach at is Title I, which means that 70% or more of our student population has to be at or below the poverty level. I’ve found that it seems to even out — I run into about the same percentage of jerks in both walks of life, but in both groups, most of the people I encounter are quite pleasant. I guess I tend to expect the best of people, and accept them at where they are.

    The one thing that does amuse me, though, is the difference between walking in the same place with Bunny as opposed to with Morgan. If you really want to see what people are made of, test their biases against certain breeds!

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    • I absolutely agree with you in that there are an equal amount of jerks on both sides. It’s just that I find the jerks on the sketchier side tend to leave me alone a little more. Of course, if I were to push them, I have no doubt they’d push back tenfold.

      On the whole, I do believe most people are nice and considerate and full of good intentions. It’s unfortunate that the human brain tends to remember the jerks a lot more than the every day nice people.

      I have no doubt! Because Shiva looks just pit bull enough for some people I have gotten some evil glares. In both neighbourhoods, actually.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  12. Since I have a 75 pound black dog, people tend to shy away from us no matter where we walk! (it also helps that she barks at every dog she sees . . ) I always say that she is just announcing herself, but maybe she really is just trying to keep people out of her/our space!

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  13. I wrote something like this once, too. Not so much about good and bad neighbourhoods, but about feeling safe walking Jack at night – and I am paranoid and never go out at night, but I have a lot more confidence when Jack is with me.

    But then, I basically live in the ‘hood, so… 😉

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    • Well, I technically live in the ‘hood as well. Or at least, across the street from the ‘hood. Two streets down has seen at least three stabbings in the last month. Four streets down has had gunshots fired over four times in the last week. Yet two streets up in the other direction, the homes are all brand new and ridiculously expensive. I like living in the borderlands. 🙂

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  14. We used to live in a similar no-mans land. A slowly gentrifying Chicago neighborhood leading to two distinct populations. Recent immigrants on one end, yuppies on the other.
    Problems on both sides. On the recent immigrant side, many loose dogs. Based on where/how I grew up, I think this is a cultural thing. On the yuppie side, first time dog owners who think all doggies should be BFFs.

    Either way our personal space got invaded. I grumbled about having trained the Queen Bitch to be civilized. Maybe if she put on a show people would leave us alone?

    We’ve moved to a different neighborhood. More older peope and families, more experience. People are friendly, but also respect boundaries.

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    • I guess it’s difficult no matter where you live. People are people, and will behave according to how they were brought up. Kind of like dogs, I guess.

      I’m surprised we don’t have more loose dogs than we do. Most people follow leash laws. The dogs let off leash tend to be small and nasty though, which concerns me much more than the large friendly dogs I see running loose in the country. If my dog were to get in a fight with a little dog, we all know who’d be in trouble with the law, no matter who started it.

      But I digress…

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  15. You lived in Forest Lawn?!

    Yeah, I can see where you’re coming from with this. In the suburban neighbourhoods (where we live), there is a certain sense of ‘community’ that crosses boundaries and allows people to think your dog is public property for fondling.

    Downtown, or other less ‘friendly’ neighbourhoods, people keep to themselves. And as I prefer to keep to myself all the time, I like it better that way. Which is why I enjoy walking downtown or through the beltline. Or late at night in our neighbourhood when fewer people are out. Having a big dog beside me gives me lots of comfort and security to walk in more unusual places at irregular hours.

    Although, even though Moses is big, I’m not sure I’d be ballsy enough to walk him through Forest Lawn at midnight. Some people are wary based on his size alone, but he’s got a friendly face and rarely barks, and I have found myself wishing more people were scared of him than really are. Of course, I would venture to guess he’s a risk a criminal probably wouldn’t take, but I’m very far from a hardened criminal and shouldn’t begin to speculate.

    Now if I could teach him to bark/growl on command… problem solved.

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    • Absolutely! I used to walk home from Franklin train station late at night, sans dog, and never had one single issue. People can say what they want about Forest Lawn, but we had the best view of the city up there on that hill.
      Besides, Ogden is much, much worse. That is one area I would not want to live in, and I don’t scare easily.

      But then, I just don’t want to live in Calgary anymore period. It’s not a place I was ever very happy in. Maybe I had a death wish and that’s why I took the risks I did?

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      • Haha – maybe you just did it to spice up boring ol’ Cowtown?

        I will heed your warning about Ogden – especially coming from a former Forest Lawn resident 😉

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  16. We’re about to move to a new house where there are definitely two different types of neighborhoods. A quick walk and we won’t be in the nice part of town. My experience shows that in the daytime things are normally fine. Although walking with a tough dog would make me feel better. 😉

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    • Daytime is usually safe enough, especially with a dog. I think a dog any size is helpful as even a little dog can attract a lot of attention!

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  17. LOL, you cracked me up when I read about the knife wielding crazies! You paint such a vivid picture. Sounds similar to our neighborhood, only the “good area” is filled with spoiled, rich kids who think they be thuggin’. These kids get into far more BS than the kids from the so-called sketchy part of town. You’re far safer amongst the nice honest criminals and drug addicts than these rich kids with a chip on their shoulder and a lot to prove.

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  18. I don’t walk around the streets in my town very often and while we do have a small area of poorer people the only reason I wouldn’t walk there is because it isn’t well lit. Neither is my street! I stick to the main road purely for the lighting. I honestly don’t think Frankie would protect me if I needed him to (I know Beryl wouldn’t!) but I don’t want to put him to the test!

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  19. I have ZERO boundary issues in my neighborhood! While walking Jersey I have had;
    -people jump into the bushes to get away from my dog
    -run away as fast as they could from my dog
    -freeze in one spot because they are so scared of my dog
    -yell, from a distance, at my dog
    -cross the street to get away from my dog

    There is a large population of certain religious followers that consider dogs unclean/forbidden/evil, so as a general rule, I am left alone.

    Works for me 🙂

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  20. I found your article describing the “good” neighborhood versus the “bad” one rather interesting because I too am experiencing similar situations.

    When daily walking my little Shih Tzu, we pass upper middle class neighborhoods as well as lower class housing developments about which I’m constantly being warned about. While the obviously poorer areas are rather quiet during the mid-morning hours, their more affluent counterparts are humming with activity such as gardeners mowing pristine lawns, fancy cars pulling in and out of manicured driveways and well dressed individuals walking their highly groomed dogs.

    Needless to say, the distractions in the better part of town are disconcerting to me and my dog, so we really prefer the quietness of the ill reputed parts.

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  21. Funny, I also live on a boundary line between fancy and crack house. One block east the property taxes more than double, and two blocks west the mayor once made a “show” of staying in one of the buildings overnight to show solidarity with the masses. The dog park lies in the rich side of town, but is open to all.

    I have to be honest and say that with so many kids in our neighbourhood (literally hundreds in a few square blocks) I could never have a dog that others can’t approach. One nip and that dog would be toast. So I have a friendly dog that loves people and being petted, but the neighbours still cross the street to avoid him. And when I walk him at night, I’ve had grown men– scary-looking men– do the same. It’s an awesome feeling. 🙂

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