My life as a dog stalker

Last year, we lost our dog. Wait: Don’t run away! This isn’t another sad dog story. Although we don’t have another one yet, embarrassingly, we’ve become “those people” who are constantly on the hunt to pet other people’s dogs. We began by cruising places like Fort Mason, Washington Square Park, and the Marina, where we once took our little guy, and fortunately, people were incredibly sympathetic to us, allowing us to take our time while ogling their pups.

Us: “Hey, cutie pie! Yes, YOU! Oh, look at YOU! You.Are.So.Cute! You.Are.So.Cute!”

Virtually everyone was very nice — and tolerant — of our pathetic behavior for the first six months after our Charlie’s passing. Even the dog walkers who were hustling to round up their charges at Crissy Field for a trip back to the truck took the time to let us get our dog on, so to speak.

But then suddenly, seemingly overnight, my husband and I apparently crossed an invisible line, and our little habit started to become not so sweet, not so touching, but rather more like An Annoyance. Like when we found a dog particularly endearing (OK, every dog), and we found ourselves keeping just a slight yet visibly unnoticeable grip on the dog’s body while fawning over him or her so there was no chance for bolting until we were finished smothering him or her with love. Or was it desperation?

Dog: That’s nice. I feel for ya losing your dog and all. But could you please let go of my leg so I can go chase that Lab with the big stick?

Owner: “Oh, that’s sweet, but I think my dog wants to go chase that Lab with the big stick!”

We’d become “those people” — you know, like smokers who rarely buy their own cigarettes and are continuously bumming them from acquaintances and perfect strangers on a daily, no, hourly basis. And eventually, those acquaintances and strangers get sick and tired of the smokers and send them on their merry way with a simple air-slapping wave of the hand. Just like that, we had crossed over the line to becoming the poor slob bumming the cigarette.

It’s not like people run away when they see us. I think some of them still like the fact that we find their dog so compelling.

Dog: I know: It’s almost hypnotic how cute I am.

But recently, I have seen dog owners hurry along when they see us coming. For instance, in our building, a particularly de-lightful Corgi and his owner, whom we have pestered frequently, seem to vanish behind the elevator door just as we approach. There is also a dog walker who crosses the street at the exact moment when we come into view. Coincidence? I think not. Maybe they don’t want to spend the extra time with us while we gush in that now-repulsive doggy baby-talk voice to their pup, or maybe they just don’t want to feel our pain. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to either.

It can be brutal being dog-less when you once had a dog in this dog-frenzied city of San Francisco. And probably for the other doggy owners as well. I realize our behavior is pretty invasive, but to all of you dog parents out there, please know that our bizarre behavior will end once we shake it off, get to a dog rescue, and adopt another pooch to be the focus of all of our attention. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Poor guy.

In the meantime, maybe you could consider it an act of mercy when you stop and let a former owner blubber over your dog. Let’s call it volunteer work! It’s a win-win situation, unless, of course, this cuts into your dog’s digging-for-field-mice time. If that’s the case, just speak up. We had a dog. We’ll understand.

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Sandy Fertman Ryan has written for several national magazines, including ‘TEEN, Seventeen and Parade. She is currently working with a therapist to stop talking baby talk to dogs. And her husband. E-mail: [email protected]