Dog days on a walk around the world |

Dog days on a walk around the world

Polly Letofsky/Special to the Daily
Vail's global walker, Polly Letofsky, is now following the Mississippi River south in "Huck Finn mode."

From Vail she first walked to the West Coast, then crossed to the two islands of New Zealand, up the eastern coast of Australia and on to Malaysia and Southeast Asia, India, Turkey, Greece, Great Britain and Ireland. She’s now back in the United States, having arrived in New York City and crossed New York State to the Canadian Border at Niagra Falls. She’s expected to reach Vail in August. This is a recent installment from her journal, written earlier this month. You can follow along with Polly’s journey on her Web site,

WEXFORD, IA – From Lansing, I got back on the Mississippi River. I’m heading south on the Great River Road that’s marked by a pilot’s wheel with 12 spokes, one for each of the 10 states bordering the Mississippi and two for the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario. For someone with no sense of direction, the sight of another pilot’s wheel is gorgeous.

I spent the morning in a Huckleberry Finn zone, like I was a great river adventurer trekking up, up, up the bluffs, and down, down, down. The gray trees have no more life, their golden leaves have fallen. They’re just quietly lining the misty skies spreading a mood across the river like it’s getting tucked in for winter.

It was a snap-happy day taking photos of Mississippi commerce signs like, “Mrs. Ippi’s Cafe” or “Slipperies Bar”. My favorite is “Mr. Sippi’s Yacht Club.”

Beware of dog

Then my Huck Finn mode was broken. Suddenly I heard a dog racing out of the trees with a growl meant for flesh. I was on the other side of the road so I just acknowledged the dog and let him protect his territory.

Granted, I’m a self-professed cat person, but I respect a dog’s job in protecting his turf. My problem is with the dog owners, the slack dog owners who don’t train their dogs to leave globalwalkers alone when they’re minding their own business enjoying the mood, the river and being Huckleberry Finn.

There was the time in upstate New York when I was walking down a pleasant little farm road and a dog bounded out of his yard towards me. In fact, I can’t be sure it was a dog at all, all I saw were teeth.

Turf etiquette

The point where I respect the dog’s job of protecting their turf changes when the dog barges off the property and lunges at little ol’ innocent me pushing my buggy Bob on public property. That’s my cue that the owner hasn’t trained him and that this dog is out of control. That’s when I dig in the top compartment of Bob for my pepper spray.

My pepper spray comes in a big yellow canister. My friend Jeff in New Jersey has a cousin Andrew in the New Joysey police force. Andrew got me some pepper spray and gave me a training session.

He says that if I find myself in a position where I’ll need to use it, then shoot fast and aim for the forehead. That way it drops down into the eyes and paralyzes the guy –or dog –long enough to get away. He told me that you should never pull out your pepper spray and threaten to use it, you just go for it. Otherwise you’ve lost the element of surprise and you’re doomed.

This isn’t just any old pepper spray; this is what they use in the New Jersey police force. There’s a good 10-foot spray on this bad boy, turbo power, but if you use it a couple times you should get a new one. You’d sure hate to find yourself in a position needing pepper spray only to discover that yours is empty or outdated.

Petunia problems

That afternoon on the New York farm road was the first time I had to use it. The dog raced across his owner’s yard and right across the street. He bounded at me relentlessly. My eyes were on the dog, my hand was in the front pouch digging for pepper spray, my elbows were wheeling Bob in circles protecting me like a knight’s shield. The dog’s owner was in the front yard 30 yards away planting petunias.


She says, “What?”


Under my breath, I mumbled what the hell do you think I said, you silly cow.

She said, “Oh,” like she had no idea that her dog was ready to rip the torso out of an innocent passerby.

“Oh, sure, okay, come here, Killer,” the woman said. “Leave the lady alone.” Then she turned her back and went about her petunias.

I found the pepper spray and aimed it at the dog. Andrew, the policeman in New Jersey, wouldn’t have been proud as I had lost the element of surprise, but the dog didn’t have much of a forehead, his teeth were in the way.- Again I yelled, “CALL YOUR DOG OFF NOW OR I’LL BLAST HIM WITH PEPPER SPRAY!”

She looked up and said, “Oh. Killer, come on, now. What did I tell you? Leave the lady alone,” and resumed her petunias.

Killer then took a lunge at Bob and me and I aimed for the forehead. I missed. I think I got an ear, but it did put Killer off enough so that I could sneak by. In hindsight, of course, I should’ve marched right up to the garden and sprayed the stupid petunia lady.

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