“I can’t talk,” Amy said, as I listened to the whoosh of air whizzing through her cell phone. “I have to pick up the dog.”
This is not an uncommon conversation. More than a year ago Amy, one of my closest friends and one who goes all the way back to junior high with me, bought some ridiculously expensive labradoodle that she named Bailey (though she has since developed a rather annoying habit of calling him “Bail Bail” in a particularly high-pitched Edith Bunker voice that is somehow supposed to signal maternal affection), and which she has spent almost every week since spoiling rotten.
She ostensibly brought the dog for Brian, her precocious 11-year-old, though he seems far more interested in Xbox than he does in Bailey. Bailey spends most of his time romping around a very expensive doggie day care that is nowhere close to where Amy lives, or in Amy’s Audi being shuttled to and from same. The dog has also developed a rather unpleasant habit of begging for table food all the time, which makes dinner with Amy an almost an impossible proposition. Amy’s life—and, as part of that, any social interaction she and I have—now revolves around the schedule of the dog: who is watching the dog, when the dog needs to be fed and let out to poop, fretting over the happiness of the dog, trips to the vet to check out the dog, and other assorted ephemera that all center on…the dog.
I don’t get it.
OK, I’m lying. It’s worse than that.
I hate dogs.
There. I said it. Let the tar-and-feathering begin. Because in our society saying you don’t like dogs is tantamount to saying you’re a supporter of Middle Eastern terrorism. For some reason it’s actually OK to admit that you do not particularly want or even like children; weary parents will occasionally nod, wistfully recalling carefree days when their lives and wallets were their own. And God knows it’s almost a national sport to say you hate cats.
But saying you dislike dogs brands you as some sort of pathological serial killer, a loner who must live some desperate, pathetic, empty life devoid of any sentiment or love. People shake their heads, and often go further, telling you you’re a horrible, cold person. A few years ago a friend asked me to take her dog for the weekend so she could go away on a romantic getaway with her boyfriend. Firmly but politely, I told her no, that I didn’t care for dogs and that I didn’t want to look after hers. She was so astonished she assumed I must be joking—and then never spoke to me again.
It is this virulent pet Nazism that bugs me the most about most dog owners—this aura of moral superiority, as if they are simply better people than you are because they have a cupboard stocked with Alpo. (Do they still make Alpo?) I was at a garden party recently where a couple brought not one but both of their dogs, which proceeded to trample through the beleaguered host’s cherished garden like a pack of rhinos. “Oh, look, Simon,” the wife said to her husband, giggling as she watched the dogs ruin a summer’s worth of plantings, “the boys are at at it again!”
Not really. Why do dog owners think that boorish behavior we would never tolerate from someone’s kids is not only perfectly acceptable, but cute from their pets? “Oh, he won’t hurt you,” is the refrain when you walk in and a dog starts angrily barking as it stalks up to you. “He’s happy to see you,” is another, a tacit command to permit the dog to leap on you like a cheetah, coat your face with gooey saliva, and bowl you over like a bowling pin. “He just wants a little taste” (in other words, take food from your plate and give it to the dog) is yet another, as the dog sits breathing hotly on your thigh, whimpering non-stop for your fries.
And then there are the after-effects we, the non-dog-owning public, must constantly endure: going to parties in nice clothes that end up disgusting from chairs and sofas coated in dog hair; stepping in dog feces left to rot on the sidewalk because some dog owner was too lazy to bring a plastic bag with them for that last walk. And I can’t count the number of times I have been out somewhere, having a marvelous time with a group of people, when someone looks at their watch midway through and says, “Well, we should go,” turning to the rest of us and saying, “Gotta get home to the dog.” Soon everyone else is yawning and watch-watching. It’s Buzz Kills ‘R Us.
I know, I know: people with dogs live longer, and dogs humanize us, and dogs are faithful and loyal and make us feel loved. Well, the right chocolate will do all of those things, and with far less mess. The problem with dogs is that they are children who never grow up, and an increasingly divisive social force. Have you tried to plan a weekend away with someone with a dog? “We can’t, nobody to watch the dog” is such a constant rejoinder it’s getting as common as “How are you?” and “Happy birthday.” At least Amy is coughing up the bucks to board her dog so she isn’t completely shackled by it. You ask most dog owners, “Can’t you put the dog in a kennel for the weekend?” and they look at you like you just suggested Fido be euthanized. When did boarding kennels become a synonym for prisons?
To answer your next question, no, I wasn’t raised with dogs. My grandmother had one, a German shepherd named Duchess, but that doesn’t really count. I certainly have friends with dogs, but by this point most of them are smart enough to realize that I am not going to be the guy wrestling around on the floor with them. (At one point when I was doing online dating, I briefly considered a profile headline of “Must Hate Dogs.”) We politely co-exist, as long as I am not expected to submit to faux pet intimacy I neither want nor feel. And as long as no one comes begging for petting or my food.
I do intellectually understand, of course, why some people have them. Different strokes and all that. Dogs are often some people’s only true companion, and solving someone’s loneliness is not a small thing. And I certainly acknowledge the wonderful contribution seeing-eye dogs make to society.
I’m not saying we should outlaw dogs. (Well, not out loud, anyway.) What I am saying is that we need a readjustment here. It’s bad enough we’ve regressed as a society to the point where a fair amount of kids are spoiled, entitled, and walk all over their parents. Must we let the four-legged ones, too?