When I was a boy, walking the streets of my old neighborhood in Sheffield, I was much troubled by dogs. I was prepared to be friendly: the only dogs I knew were from cartoons and fiction - Huckleberry Hound, Pluto, 101 Dalmatians - and they were a benign lot, but that was no doubt because they were fictional. The dogs in my real world weren’t benign in the least. As I walked the local streets I was snapped at and snarled at, and I learned to keep my distance, even as I learned to walk in fear. Lads who lived in adjoining neighbourhoods said I had it too easy. Where they lived, the dogs chased you till you dropped, and sank their rabid teeth into you given half a chance.
These days when I walk in LA I never encounter a dog on the street that’s without its owner, and I much prefer it that way, but I hear plenty of howling and barking from behind gates and fences.
Regular readers may remember a few months back I found the above sign in Jaywick, in Essex. It seemed very desperate, very sad, very English. But then at the weekend I was walking the streets of Barstow, in California when I found this strangely similar sign.
It’s actually on the fence of a motel – the Desert Inn, a place that looks a good deal more inviting from the front than it does from the back. Of course, it seems a little unlikely that a wild dog would actually be let loose to roam the space behind a motel but you wouldn’t want to stroll in there and take your chances, would you? You could even argue that if you really had a dog there’d be no need for a sign at all, although we know that isn’t always true.
Above is my favorite dog warning sign, it’s on a fence on Beachwood Drive and I walk past once in a while and wonder what it means. The sign is old, the dog seems ghostly, the words “on duty” are barely readable. Has the dog faded away too? Has he done his duty and gone to a better place? Or is he lurking on the other side of the fence, lying low, trying to lull the passing walker into a false sense of security?