Thursday, August 27, 2009

My First Act of Activism: The Great Leash Law Debacle

Lassie sat quietly, tongue hanging out in the Texas heat in the St. Augustine grass that covered our yard in the East Texas town of Tyler. The road in front of our house was a blend of oil and tar mixed with dirt. It would be paved in another year or two. Running across it as fast as we could, the tarry mix would continue to burn for a few minutes after crossing in our bare feet. All the children had black soles on their feet, the price for going barefoot on our block. The collie-shepherd mix sniffed my leg, then wagging her tail gave me a big juicy slurp on the lips while we sat beneath the pecan tree trying to catch a cool breeze.

"They are what? That is just wrong. Lassie is used to running free!" How many other children had dogs named Lassie in the mid fifties when Lassie was the hottest show on television. I leaned into Lassie, giving her a big hug. "Don't worry Lassie, I'm not putting any leash on you.

Hank nodded. "My dog is a roamer. It would kill her to have to stay tied up or in a fence."

"What can we do? They have to know this is just wrong."

Hank said, "maybe we can call somebody?" Into the house we rushed, looking for the phone book, searching for the number for someone with the city. Finally we found it, and I began dialing a number for the city manager.

A woman answered the phone. "May I help you?"

"Yes ma'am. We need to speak to the city manager."

"Whatever for? How old are you?"

"About the proposed leash law ma'am. It's just plain wrong and unfair to the dogs. I'm 9 years old but I'm a citizen too!"

She was laughing now, and I was getting irritated. "Well he isn't in right now, but I'll leave a message for him."

"Can he call me back?"

"Oh I don't know. Here what is your number."

I gave her my phone number and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally I called back. "Oh he is so busy right now. I'm sorry." No she wasn't. It was clear to me this guy wasn't calling back at all. So I called my friend.

"Hank, they are blowing us off. What next?"

C'mon over and let's talk about it." Out the door I ran, screen door slamming behind me. Hank lived the next block over, so I cut through the back yards and moments later was knocking on his door.

"C'mere, I've got an idea," he said. "Look what I found. Something I had put away in my closet."
It was a tiny printing press with type that could be laid out for mass production. A toy he had gotten for Christmas.

We were busy little bees the next few days, printing up thousands of little leaflets proclaiming

(we had an image of a dog below that)

All over town we traveled, sticking them in mailboxes, on telephone poles, on store fronts, anyplace people might see them. If someone was outside, we would approach and explain what it was all about. Some laughed, but some applauded us. "Most grownups don't know what's going on with city hall. Good for you two."

Well they say you can't beat city hall. We sure didn't. The leash law passed. In the spirit of our founding fathers and mothers, with characteristic revolutionary zeal, we refused to honor the law, and our dogs ran free. We had to watch them more closely though to ensure the evil animal control people didn't snatch them. Four years later, I would be passing out literature for John F. Kennedy's bid for president. In another ten years, I would be marching in protest of a war in far away Vietnam. But it all began sitting under a pecan tree in front of our red brick house in Tyler, Texas. Years later I can still see those hydrangeas and rose bushes in the beds nearby, feel the gnats as we swatted them away. And of course Lassie, running to knock me down, then showering me with nuzzles and licks, then lying down beside, her head resting in my lap. I've come to appreciate how precious a gift memory can be.

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