This is a resistance blog (re-purposed for the present time). “Dogs” doesn’t seem much like a resistance topic, but after a recent Happy Hour conversation, I’m reconsidering. Talk about country dogs, city dogs, dogs in retirement complexes, and dogs in general can easily elicit push and pushback. So, when I found myself resisting dogs, I decided to delve into my thinking a bit.
I used to lead a discussion group that had as its motto, “Don’t believe everything you think.” I thought I’d apply this to my thoughts about dogs, then see what comes of it. Here goes with some of my thoughts: Dogs and dog owners are a mixed bag. Pets are controversial. Misbehaving dogs need to be confined or put down. It’s still legitimate to restrict dogs’ access to certain places. Some people will abuse provisions for service and support animals if they just really want a pet. Resources devoted to pets is out of line with resources devoted to humans in need. Do I need to reconsider these thoughts?
First, I’ll review my dog background. I never had a four-legged pet as a kid. My mom would have liked to have a dog, and I don’t know why we never did. Neighbors had dogs, but we lived in a neighborhood with nice back yards, so people with dogs kept them either inside or out back. People didn’t walk their dogs much because the dogs had room to run in their back yards. The neighbor I visited most often kept a “foster dog” for relatives on extended overseas assignments, and it was a very jealous dog. If I hugged my neighbor, the dog would intervene forcefully, and it never got trained out of this inclination. A cousin had a backyard dog, but we didn’t play with it much. Other than that, dogs weren’t much of a presence in my younger life.
Then, college. No dogs there either. We had a blind student who lived in a dorm and went everywhere with his seeing eye dog, but that was accepted as a good thing. After college, we lived in apartments for nine years. No dogs there, either, but that was before dog owners were becoming militant about their rights. At that time, it seemed reasonable that dogs didn’t really belong in apartments, especially if owners were gone all day.
Eventually, we bought a house in a neighborhood with backyards, but much smaller backyards than in my younger-self neighborhood. This is when dogs first became problematic for me. Neighbors on either side had dogs. The neighbor on the north took care of their dog, and it wasn’t an issue. The neighbor on the south was a party person renting a house her father owned. She had a small black dog. Each morning she let it out the front door to poop, and, miraculously, it never pooped on her lawn. About half the time, it pooped on our lawn, and half on its other neighbor’s lawn.
We often picked up the poop and tossed it onto the owner’s lawn, but this didn’t seem to affect her. Eventually, we knocked on her door and asked her directly, but politely, to either pick up after her dog, or send it out her back door. Sure, no problem, but nothing changed. Later, a boyfriend moved in with a much bigger dog. Fortunately, he didn’t send it out the front door. Now, both dogs pooped in the back yard, but no one ever picked it up. New problem: odor and rats.
Within a year, our neighbor to the north had taken our neighbor to the south to court over dogs. The trigger was noise. The boyfriend’s dog stayed outside at night and barked at the least little flutter of air or noise. Northern neighbor was a cop, so he sent officers to inquire if there was any way the southern neighbor could manage their dog without disturbing the peace. Nothing improved. Then one weekend, the southern neighbors went away overnight. The large dog was tied up outside on a leash so short that it could see its food and water, but couldn’t get to it. It howled, and whined, and strained, and howled some more. Result: charge of animal cruelty and owners taken to court. I had to testify against the southern neighbor. Not something I want to do again, but dog issues declined.
We lived in other city places with no real dog problems for the next 20 years before spending ten years in the country. Country living was interesting on many levels. but I’ll limit myself to discussing dogs today. Our neighborhood had an agreement that, with three-plus acres per lot, dogs had enough room to roam without leaving home. Lots were mostly not fenced, so owners had to actually train their dogs to teach them their boundaries. With a little nudging, owners did so, and dogs were not a major problem. We didn’t own a dog there, but friends brought theirs to visit and we enjoyed them.
Then tragedy struck. A dog that lived a few miles away got out of its yard and began roaming far and wide. It found our neighbor’s llama. The llama had found many ways to escape, so the neighbor had it tied to a stake with a long leash allowing it plenty of room to graze. The out-of-area dog found the llama that couldn’t escape and began terrorizing it. We all heard the commotion and ran to rescue the llama. When the dog was chased off, it ran to the llama owner’s front yard, chased their kitten until it was corned, then killed it right in front of her children. We helped corner the dog – which had a tag with the owner’s name; the llama owner called the sheriff; the deputy called the escaped dog’s owner; a conference was held with all parties. The dog was put down because its owner could not guarantee that he could secure it in a way that would prevent any future problems. Again, not an experience I want to repeat.
We are now back in the city. We first lived in a small condo building with no dog policy. Owners were simply expected to keep their dogs from disturbing other owners or other pets. Generally, this worked. Until it didn’t. I was up late one night, writing. I could hear the dog next door. It was whining. Then it would bark a bit. Then silence. Whine. Bark. Silence. This went on and on. It became apparent that no human was around to take care of the dog. It occurred to me that I hadn’t actually seen a human near that apartment in a while, so I called the unit’s owner. He came as immediately as he could, rescued the dog, and learned that the tenant was in the hospital; no one had been tasked with dog sitting. That tenant never returned, the unit was renovated, and the next renter had other problems, but no pets.
Then we moved into a First Hill condo where the pet policy was up for discussion at the annual meeting. Old rules said pets had to be carried in the elevators and any common areas. Dog owners didn’t like this because it was hard to carry bigger dogs, and they didn’t want dogs to shed on their clothes. Owners voted on whether or not to let go of the “carry” requirement, but chose not to. A year later, the policy was revised, and dog owners no longer had to carry their animals outside.
I’ve now had five years back in the city where I’ve been witness to the rapid increase in city dogs. They are everywhere. Service and support dogs must be accommodated everywhere. Landlords are under pressure to make their buildings pet friendly. But, in my humble opinion, dog owners seem to be under no pressure at all to live by human friendly policies. I see dogs off leash at every city park. School yards are treated as off-leash parks in every neighborhood. Building managers have to scoop poop each morning to keep public sidewalks walkable for human residents because some pet owners can’t be bothered. Laws prescribe language that a business owner or customer must use to inquire if dogs in the grocery store or other businesses are actually service animals in compliance with the signs that say “Service Animals Only.”
In fact, there are many responsible dog owners. They use leashes where they’re required; they train their dogs not to sniff every crotch they encounter; they don’t take their dogs where not allowed; many manage to train apartment dogs not to bark each time someone appears in the hallway. I appreciate these owners because I like to enjoy other people’s dogs.
But now, I’m in a retirement home where the topic of dogs is up for discussion. I’m told about research that shows that people with dogs live longer, that people in nursing homes or assisted living do better with pets, that people with dog allergies can just close their doors and stay in their rooms. And I find myself on the defensive end of a losing battle. Dogs are good: people who don’t want them everywhere are – are what? Am I a bad person, ill-informed, unfair to dog lovers, irrational, unreasonable. Wow. I don’t know. I don’t hate dogs. I don’t hate dog owners in general. But I really have had some bad experiences with dogs, and I just don’t want them roaming the lobby or the halls or the dining areas, even in assisted living.
People who want to have a dog here can easily get around the requirement that only service animals or support animals are allowed. Many doctors will just sign off on a letter to the effect that this person needs to have this pet; it’s really not their problem. So I’m not sure if we really need to loosen pet restrictions.
Perhaps I misjudge the debate. Perhaps the dog people don’t think what I’m thinking they think. It never hurts to clarify people’s actual positions rather than making assumptions. I only know that they’re pushing to loosen restrictions on pets, but I don’t know the specifics of the changes they want. I don’t know how these policies will get reviewed and revised. In the end, it might end up depending on whether or not our retirement home can remain financially viable with our current policies. Will aging baby boomers shun us if we don’t welcome more pets in more places?
Let’s circle back to the discussion group I led years ago. One of my goals with the group was to see if we could discuss issues in a way that would nudge anyone to consider changing their mind. The answer was basically, “No.” People would say their piece, usually respectfully, but rarely did anyone say, “Gee, I’d never thought about it that way. You might have a point there.” Still, discussions rarely heated up. Until dogs, that is.
I don’t remember how we framed the question the night of the dog discussion. I’m pretty sure it was about pets in general, rather than dogs, specifically. But our usually gregarious group quickly sorted itself into two camps: “pets are ethical” vs “pets are unethical.” Yikes! I was not prepared! Much to my surprise, many of the pet owners would only consider a rescue pet as ethical. These people believed that domesticating and breeding animals to serve as pets was cruel and unusual punishment. They kept only rescue animals as pets knowing that they would be euthanized otherwise.
Others believed that if pets were well cared for it was ethical to keep them. But then we ventured into thoughts about breeding dogs. The PETA people are horrified by designer breeding, but several members of the group owned animals bred for specific traits and defended their right to choose a dog that fit their desires. We found some limited agreement on work dogs such as border collies that corral sheep, then ended the evening by going outside to pet both designer dogs and rescue dogs who were happy to see their owners and happy to receive hugs from anyone. It was a very interesting evening. I learned that a discussion about warm-fuzzies could quickly turn cold and prickly, but that with some reserve of good will there is a path back from the brink of conflict.