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Crazy Dog Person Gets Hackles Up

I made the mistake of reading Judith Warner’s New York Times whatever-it-is (blog? editorial? whiny journal that should be in a spiral notebook with a unicorn on the cover?). According to her 29 Aug 2008 entry (essay? rant?), titled “Dogged by Guilt,” she’s not a dog person, which is fine, but her intolerance of dogs and “dog people” is a little too unenlightened for my taste.

At the bottom of the web page of her whatever-it-is, there is a form for comments, so I posted the following. In haste. With passion. I managed to refrain from hurling epithets (I think).

Given the strict conditions you placed on getting a dog, it’s amazing you decided to have children. Don’t they also drool, smell bad, and chew on things?

You obviously don’t know many dog people. We don’t purchase animals to exploit them as gifts or as tools to make children’s lives better. We live with them and respect that they are different than us, even if we dare to value them as much as we value humans.

Dogs make dog people happy, but we don’t necessarily pass along the happiness. Some of us are considerably misanthropic, in large part because of people like you. You gave a dog as a gift to your children, then whine about having to care for him. Did you really expect the dog wouldn’t want attention? Didn’t you do any research about dog behavior? Did you think it was like buying a pet rock?

You don’t have to like dogs, but if you don’t want a dog, don’t get a dog. Or if you don’t want to take care of your dog, give him away. He deserves better.

My dogs are not people; they are not my children. I know these facts well. Yet I believe their lives are no less important than mine. My partner and I aren’t extravagant, but we’re willing to provide them with what they need and want. We’ve carefully selected their food and vet, both of which are good for them. We allow them on the furniture, including the bed. We talk to them, knowing that they recognize some words but mostly because they, as social animals, understand our tones of voice.

The closest we’ve come to treating them like people is by giving them names that people would have–Sophie and Emma. We didn’t want to name them after food or simply say the color of their coats every time we needed to get their attention. We wanted to show them as much dignity as is humanly possible, but we know they are dogs. (If nothing else, their wagging tails reveal their genus and species). We accept them for what and who they are, and, as evolved creatures, they show us the same courtesy.

Maybe I’m taking all of this so seriously because another hurricane is heading toward New Orleans, and I remember that so many animals were abandoned three years ago as Katrina approached. To be fair, some owners stayed behind with their pets, while others attempted to take their pets with them but were asked to choose between their pets and their own safety. But some people abandoned their pets voluntarily, hoping–naively? selfishly?–their houses would withstand the storm and that the overflowing bowls of food would sustain their pets until they could return.

When you make a commitment to care for an animal, the animal doesn’t realize that the bond might be conditional. That’s just a guess, but I think I’m probably right. I’ve heard similar observations from a lot of dog people, cat people, and other animal people. Our animals aren’t our children. We make room with them in our families, giving them food, shelter, and care, and in return they give us loyalty so pure it makes mere love look shabby. We don’t go for those heartless questions like, “If you had to choose between your child and your dog…?” It’s an impossible choice, really. And it’s no way to treat family.


One Response

  1. Way to go j3!!
    Give the girls a hug from me!

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