Recently there has been a spate of articles on the internet about attacks by Muslims on dogs and dog walkers in various European countries as well as multiple deaths by poisoning of pets whose owners live in heavily Muslim areas of Europe.
Richard Dawkins, who as an atheist doesn’t have a dog in this hunt so to speak, has an article on his website which states, “In Spain, two Islamic groups based in Lérida — a city in the northeastern region of Catalonia where 29,000 Muslims now make up around 20% of the city’s total population — asked local officials to regulate the presence of dogs in public spaces so they do not ‘offend Muslims.'”
Dawkins’s website reports Muslims in Lérida demanded that dogs be banned from all public transportation and kept away from all areas frequented by Muslims. After the city refused to give in to Muslim demands, a wave of dog poisonings began. The same article reports that a Dutch Muslim politician in The Hague, Netherlands, has allegedly called for a ban on dogs. Other articles report people walking dogs are now being attacked by Muslims in some parts of Europe, and now Muslim taxi cab drivers in Toronto and other cities can reportedly legally turn away rides for people with dogs.
These articles all came to my attention one month after I had to call Park Police about some incidents at my own small community park in Nashville, TN. For the past couple of years, a growing group of Muslims has been frequenting the park where I have walked my dogs the past 2 decades. Growing up in a military family with an agnostic father, I was brought up to appreciate cultural and religious diversity, so I was happy to see more people enjoying our little community park. They brought prayer rugs and were respectfully given their right to pray in public by the other walkers.
As time passed the group got larger. There began to be small signs of trouble in 2011 as the Muslim group began to block the exercise track with their children’s bicycles and tricycles in spite of signs that indicated the track was for exercise and not for bikes, tricycles and skateboards. The children began to squeal playfully as I would walk past with my dogs. My two dogs loved children. However, my little dog Katy was old and frail, and kids running up and squealing bothered her, so she would cower. My requests that the children stay back fell on deaf ears as they would follow us around squealing and darting in to try to touch the scared little dog. Sometimes the women acted like they were afraid of this fragile, 5 pound dog or would walk several feet into the grass to avoid getting close to us.
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In the spring of 2012 a real problem began to develop. The Muslim group, mostly women and children, grew much bigger and began to take up the handful of picnic tables as well as the 3 picnic shelters for several hours on those evening when they would show up. One night I counted 13 empty tricycles and bikes blocking the path while a large group of children and young teens sat all the way across the exercise track in another area, completely blocking it. On the one occasion when I asked the children not to block the exercise path, I was ignored although most of the children spoke English.
Sometimes an adult would speak loudly at me in an Arabic language and make shooing gestures at me and the dogs. The growing throng of kids now would run screaming up to us as we walked, scaring my new puppy. Although they screamed like they were terrified, they ran towards us, not away from us and some threw grass and small sticks. Some of the other regular walkers who had frequented this park for years stopped coming to the park during this time.
The shooing and odd behavior made me nervous enough that on those occasions when I put the puppy in the car while I jogged a few laps, if the Muslim crowd was there, I started rolling the windows up. I have a nice fan for the puppy, but I prefer to use the fan with the windows part way down. I had not heard allegations of Muslims poisoning dogs at this time, but the mood at the park had become strained on evenings when the large crowd gathered. The idea crossed my mind that if they didn’t want dogs there, they might do something. I began to contemplate finding another place to walk, although I have walked at this safe community park, situated between 3 churches, since it first opened. But I made up my mind — this was our community park. I was not going to give up on it.
One night after an old woman repeatedly hollered something at me in her language and tried to shoo the puppy and me away from the track (which happened on several occasions — sometimes when I had both dogs and sometimes when I just had the puppy)), a Middle Eastern man approached me and said my dogs scared his mother. I pointed out both dogs were kept on short (retracted) leashes when people were around, were well behaved, and had never approached her or bothered her. He said she was still afraid of dogs and indicated I should not bring the dogs to the park anymore.
Afraid of being called the dreaded “intolerant” word, I had never reported any of the previous smaller incidents, but I became concerned enough to call the Metro Park Police. I explained I had two well behaved, leashed dogs–one a 4-pound puppy and one an elderly 25-pound girl of 10 years, that had been accused of scaring someone’s mother. The Park Police said if my dogs were leashed and well behaved, I would have nothing to worry about, but I can’t help wondering — what happens if a large group of people who don’t like dogs all say the dogs are NOT well behaved? What if it were my word against 50 or so people who think dogs are “unclean?”
My call apparently prompted the Park Police to start visiting the park. New signs appeared with pictures instead of just English showing no bicycles, skates, and skateboards on the exercise path. Since then, the large group of Muslims has not been back to the park when I have been there. At least for the time being, my dogs and I have been given a reprieve to continue walking in our neighborhood park without harassment.
My story is not nearly as tragic as dogs reportedly being poisoned or dog owners attacked in Spain, other parts of Europe, and in Muslim countries, but it does show what can happen when a socio-political-religious group that does not like dogs decides to take control of a community park in Tennessee. Are the stories of Muslims poisoning dogs in other areas true? I don’t know, but my own experience lends those stories more weight than they might otherwise have had.