Washington - The other day I walked into my gym and saw a dog. A half-dozen people were crowding around him, cooing and petting. He was big, a muscular Doberman with, I later learnt, the sort of hair-trigger bark you’d prize if you wanted to protect a big stash of gold bullion.
“This is Y,” the dog’s owner said.
No explanation was offered for the pooch’s presence, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to have a dog in a place reserved for humans. Huh, I thought.
The dog came up to me, because that’s what dogs do when you don’t want them to come up to you. They get up real close, licking you, begging you to respond. The dog pushed his face toward my hand, the canine equivalent of a high five.
And so – in the same way it’s rude to leave a high-fiver hanging, especially if the high-fiver has big teeth and a strong jaw – I was expected to pet him. I ran my hand across his head half-heartedly. I was fairly sure he wouldn’t bite me, but stranger things have happened – for instance, dogs biting people all the time.
Anyway, happily, I survived.
But wait a second. Come on! Why was this dog here? And why was no one perturbed that it was here? When this beast was barking at passersby through the window as we worked out, why did no one go: “Hey, just asking, but should we maybe not have this distracting, possibly dangerous animal by the free weights?”
No one was asking because no one could ask. Sometime in the past decade, dogs achieved dominion over urban America.
They are everywhere, allowed in places that used to belong exclusively to humans, and sometimes only to human adults: the office, restaurants, museums, buses, trains, malls, banks, post offices.
Even at the park and other places where dogs belong, they’ve been given free rein. Dogs are frequently allowed off the leash, to run towards you and around you.
Even worse than the dogs are their owners, who seem never to consider if there may be people in the gym/office/ restaurant/museum who do not care to be in close proximity to their dogs.
After all, what kind of monster would have a problem with an innocent widdle doggie? It’s a dog’s world. We just live in it. And it’s awful. Bad dogs!
Not everyone agrees with me on this issue. Some people – or maybe even most people, since dogs have an insidious way of turning opponents into allies – love that dogs abound. If you adore dogs but aren’t able to keep one, the world is now your dog park, with pooches everywhere to pet and otherwise brighten your day.
I am not a dog person. (Could you tell?) It’s not that I actively despise mutts; I just don’t have much time for them, in the same way I don’t have time for crossword puzzles or Maroon 5. Now imagine if, everywhere you went, Maroon 5 was always playing and everyone pretended it was normal – that this permanent new situation was not in at all offensive, distracting, dirty, and potentially dangerous.
Okay, bad example.
But here’s my problem: there’s now a cultural assumption that everyone must love dogs. Dog owners are rarely forced to consider that there are people who aren’t enthralled by their furry friends, and that taking their dogs everywhere might not be completely pleasant for these folks.
Example: if you’re in the office and someone has brought her dog in for the day – because, fun! – the dog is sure to come around you, get between your legs, rub against your thigh, take a nap on your feet, or do some other annoying thing.
If the dog’s owner notices these antics, I can promise you she won’t apologise for the imposition. Nor will she ask you if you mind her dog doing what he’s doing. Nor will she pull on its leash, because there won’t be one, this being an office, where dogs are as welcome as wi-fi and free coffee.
Instead, if the owner says anything, it will be on the order of: “Don’t worry, he loves people!” Okay then! I guess I’ll take your word for it, and forget that 1 000 Americans a day go to emergency rooms because of dog bites.
More Americans seek medical attention for dog bites than for choking. You’re more likely to need a doctor for a bite than to call the fire department for a home fire. Like it or not, American dog owner, your pet is a hazard.
Weirdly, irrationally, I feel the same way about my toddler son as you do about your dog: I love him unconditionally and just don’t understand why strangers would not want him around all the time. Indeed, I think almost everything he does, even the inappropriate things, is cute. And yet, still, I rein him in.
I realise that it’s possible he might irritate some people. For this reason, when I go into public spaces with my son, I treat him as if I were handling nuclear waste. I keep him confined. If he does anything out of turn – screams, touches people – I tell him to quit it and apologise profusely. And some places are completely off-limits to my son: nice restaurants, museums, coffee shops, the gym and the office.
Yes, there are parents who don’t act this way, awful parents who let their terrible kids run free. The rest of us hate those people because they give all parents a bad name.
But I’ll submit there are many more such dog owners than there are overindulgent parents. Most parents I know are mortified by the thought that their children might be causing anguish for others. This is evident in the world around you: It’s why your co-workers rarely bring their toddlers to work. It’s why two-year-olds don’t approach you in the park and lick your leg. It’s why, when a child is being unruly in a supermarket or restaurant, you’ll usually see his parents strive to get him to knock it off.
But dog owners seem to suffer few qualms about their animals’ behaviour.
That’s why there are so many dogs running in the park, jumping up on the bench beside you while you’re trying to read a book, the owner never asking if it’s okay with you.
That’s why there’s a dog at your office right now and you’re having to pretend that he’s just the cutest.
Well, no more, my fellow doggie sceptics. Let’s take back the peace we’re owed. The next time your happy co-worker brings in his dog for the day, tell him the office is not a canine playpen. It’s time to take that dog home. – Slate/The Washington Post News Service