This People Pleaser Learned to Stand Up for Herself

She walked her neighbor’s dog as a favor, but it soon became a burden. How could she learn to say no?

Posted in , May 27, 2021

An artist's rendering of Velma on a walk; illustration by Jackie Besteman

“Look at the little dog!” a girl squealed from across the street. “She’s got rain boots!” I smiled and waved. Yes, Velma had her own rain boots, her own raincoat, both of which matched the leash I was holding and the bow in her hair. I would never have put clothes on any animal I owned, but Velma wasn’t my dog. I’d just offered to walk her this morning when my neighbor’s fibromyalgia flared up.

“She’s adorable!” the little girl’s mother called to me.

Velma was adorable. A real sweetie. A shih tzu mix who weighed no more than five pounds, she looked like a tiny mop bustling down the street. When Arlene had asked me to walk Velma, I’d been happy to volunteer. I was less pleased when Arlene made me spend 20 minutes putting on Velma’s raincoat and four tiny rain boots. That’s what fur is for, I’d thought, thinking of my low-maintenance cats sleeping in my apartment.

Once outside, I’d expected to walk Velma around the block quickly. But with all the people stopping me every few minutes to make a fuss over the little dog and her outfit, it was taking me forever. It was a relief to get her back home. I had done my good deed and could finally go off to work before I was late.

“Thank you so much,” Arlene said at the door. I turned to go. “So I’ll see you again at noon.”

“Wait, what?”

“That’s when Velma gets her next walk,” Arlene said, as if I’d somehow agreed to a whole daily schedule.

“I’m sorry, Arlene,” I said, “I have to be at work.”

“Oh,” Arlene said. “I guess we’ll see you at six then.”

“Great,” I said, making my escape. I was a quarter block away before it dawned on me that I’d just agreed to walk her dog again at six! How had I let that happen? Was I that much of a people pleaser that I automatically did things I really didn’t want to do?

That day was just the beginning. All the next week, Arlene “reminded” me to walk Velma at various times throughout the day. I found myself inventing appointments and work meetings, but my phantom excuses were no match for Arlene’s persistence. She’d just ask me to reschedule my engagements, or she’d work around them. I almost always caved.

“Velma adores you,” she said one evening when I came to get the dog. “Sometimes I think she likes you better than she likes me.” That sent a shiver down my spine. Was Arlene trying to make me Velma’s permanent dog walker? God, what have I gotten myself into?

“She talks as if I should feel lucky to get to walk her dog!” I complained to my friend Callie on the phone when I got home. “If I had this much time to spend on a dog, I’d get my own.”

“You just have to tell her no, Linda,” Callie said.

   3 Takeaways from Linda
   1. Always help out a neighbor when
       you can.
   2. Know and respect your limits.
   3. Never be afraid to be honest.

“I’ve tried!” I cried. “But every time I do, I get tongue-tied. Can’t she see I’m exhausted?”

“That’s why you have to tell her.”

I tried to get up the nerve. I even practiced in front of the mirror. “No,” I said. Even to me, it sounded weak. I tried shouting, “No! I can’t walk Velma anymore!” That will get my point across, I thought, knowing that I would never actually raise my voice to Arlene.

I imagined Arlene’s face falling when I refused to walk Velma. After all, she was dealing with a medical issue. I’m sure she missed walking her dog. Maybe she’d cry. Maybe I would. Arlene and I had always gotten along fine as neighbors, and this would ruin things. I’d wind up trying to avoid her.

God, I prayed during one of Velma’s evening walks, I just don’t know what to do about this situation. But I have to do something. Help me.

“What kind of dog is she?” a person suddenly stopped and asked me.

“A problem one,” I almost said.

Once home, I called Callie. “I gave Arlene a list of local dog walkers, but she hasn’t called any of them,” I said. “And get this: Arlene now says Velma needs another walk every day. At eleven at night! Well, I said, Velma might be up at that hour, but I wouldn’t be. I don’t know how I got roped—or should I say leashed—into this!”

“I’m getting pretty tired of hearing you complain about her, to be honest,” Callie said.


“I’m sorry, but you’re being such a martyr, Linda. Can’t we talk about something else?”

I hung up the phone. How could Callie be so rude? No, I told myself, she wasn’t really rude, just honest. Callie was still my friend. Maybe instead of resenting her bluntness just now, I ought to try following her example.

Before I could lose my nerve, I marched over to Arlene’s. “As much as I love Velma, I don’t want to walk her four—or even three—times a day. My reason is—” I stopped abruptly. I didn’t have to give a reason. “It’s just too much for me.”

I stopped. Waited. Inwardly cringed as I waited for Arlene’s response.

There was a long pause. “Velma can go out on the lawn in the morning,” Arlene said, thoughtfully. “I’ll use her extra-long leash and watch her through the window. There’s a retired lady five doors down who misses her old dog. She might walk Velma at six.” She grinned. “And I still have that list of dog walkers you gave me.”

Arlene was taking it so well, I found myself wanting to compromise, still a bit of a people pleaser. “I could take her to the dog park on Saturday,” I said. Now that I didn’t have to walk her constantly, I realized I was going to miss sweet Velma!

“I really appreciate all you did for her,” Arlene said. “And for me. Thank you, Linda.”

By the time Arlene recovered, she and I were just as friendly as ever. So were Velma and I. I’d thought walking the little dog took up too much of my time, but all the time I wasted complaining about the situation was on me. I just needed to learn when to say yes and when to say no. And when to see that God was using a dog to teach me that lesson.

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