Muzzling Molly



W 100th St & Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

Not until we took custody of Molly, seven years old more or less, more or less cocker spaniel, did I become aware how bountiful were the sidewalks of New York, at least along the several Upper West Side blocks Molly now calls home.

It’s no surprise that New Yorkers litter the streets with their candy wrappers and matchbooks and newspapers, but until you walk a dog you don’t realize how much waste food is strewn casually about the sidewalks like so much potluck supper.

Molly has learned to hug the building line of any block we walk because that’s where the food tends to wash up. She walks purposefully with head down, nose to the concrete, all business. I don’t know how she would do in a field trial against a good bird dog but on her own turf she can scent a chicken wing at ten paces.

Broadway is a veritable buffet, especially around the doorways of the fast-food and take-out joints that seem to occupy every other storefront. A French fry here, half a hot dog there, sometimes the remains of a burrito. I once had to drag Molly off an open-face cheeseburger someone had deposited on Amsterdam Avenue. It’s like a canine tapas bar out there, always open, always something new and appetizing on the menu. I eyeball the sidewalk ahead of her and keep a tight lead, steering her away from temptation. But sometimes I miss the bit of discarded bagel; Molly never does. When I yank the leash to bring her head up, passersby glare accusingly. When she does snatch the odd pizza crust, I do my best to prize open her jaws before she wolfs it down; for a few moments we tussle over the treasure and then I look for something to wipe my hands on.

My wife, Audree, once fought Molly on her knees for a pork chop on Amsterdam and 100th. A woman stopped and watched the struggle in disbelief. I told Audree she should have pretended to gnaw on the bone herself once she had won possession.

From the door of our building near West End Avenue the feast lies east, so Molly invariably turns in that direction, Broadway bound, when one of us takes her out. Lately I’ve been turning her west, toward Riverside and the park where provender is sparse, but usually against Molly’s will (more disapproving looks). Yes, there are squirrels to challenge in the park but that’s a sucker’s game. The barbecued rib left on the sidewalk of Columbus doesn’t escape by climbing a tree. And a few days ago when Audree took her for a late-night walk Molly picked up a chicken bone, a drumstick, before Audree could intervene. Chicken bones are probably the most commonly discarded edible; people chew off the flesh and (why do they do that?) toss the bone aside. Chicken bones are hazardous, splintering into jagged edges that could pierce a dog’s throat.

Audree wrestled Molly down and got a hand in her jaws. But the bone snapped and Molly’s jaws closed over Audree’s hands, causing two puncture wounds. Audree got half the bone, Molly the other half. Happily, neither has suffered any ill effects.

But enough. Since we won’t cure New Yorkers of seasoning the sidewalks with scraps, and we’re unable to break Molly of the habit of eating them, we will muzzle her. She can’t graze if she can’t work her jaws. So if you should see a sweet, small, more-or-less-spaniel on the Upper West Side muzzled like some pit bull, don’t think she’s vicious. We just want to keep her from spoiling her appetite for the dinner that’s sure to be waiting at home.

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