Bo Bengtson At Large

Americans and Their Dogs: A Love-Hate Relationship

Sometimes I think it’s lucky I love dogs so much, because otherwise it would be pretty easy to start hating them... Not the dogs themselves, of course, but anyone who has neighbors (don’t we all?) with dogs that are left basically unattended much of the time will know what I’m talking about. The endless barking day and night, the mess on the sidewalks, the impossibility of taking even a short walk around the block without having to worry about which of the myriad mutts in the neighborhood will pretend to attack you this time...

I live in a pretty average California neighborhood, mostly suburban but still sort of rural in parts: there are a few horses, a pet goat or two, but the animal of choice is unquestionably the dog. In our little cul-de-sac, a cluster of six houses, I can count a total of at least 21 dogs. That’s a lot, and it’s not because we have a big kennel — three Whippets, plus an overseas visitor staying for a few weeks. The neighbors all have dogs, ranging from just a single to two, three, four and a whole pack of what we believe is at least seven or eight, in sizes from Toys to a Doberman. I don’t think my dogs are particularly well-behaved, but they don’t bark and they are by far the least intrusive of all the dogs in the neighborhood. The rest are a motley mix of purebreds and mutts, but what most of them have in common is that they are left outside, day and night, and that they bark, day and night.

It’s the same thing all over again when we take our daily walk: I have never succeeded in counting just how many mock attacks (at least I hope they are mock) are made on us from behind fences and closed gates during a brisk half-hour or 45 minutes’ road work, because I invariably lose count after the first few dozen. And these dogs, which are obviously bored out of their minds, are the lucky ones: they are outside in a fenced area, not cooped up indoors (barking frenetically by the door as I pass), or running loose, slinking away as we appear, fair game for any passing car. We’re lucky in that there has so far not been a single “loose dog attack” in the neighborhood that I’m aware of, but I admit to a heightened sense of awareness whenever we meet a loose dog trotting along alone...

There are, of course, many people who couldn’t imagine life without a dog but work outside the home and therefore make major adjustments — with dog sitters, work hours, whatever — in order to keep their dogs happy and the neighborhood quiet. Frankly, however, those people are very much in the minority.

Americans love dogs, that’s what we are told, and if feeling that a puppy is just what you’re supposed to get when you settle down and move into a house with a yard — yes, then we all love dogs. What’s not so clear is whether all these dogs really are beloved and well cared for as they grow up, or if the people who get them can offer the kind of home that’s good for the dog — and good for the neighborhood. If you have to leave your dog alone for many hours every single day of the week, should you really have a dog? Is that a good life for the dog? And do you have any idea how noisy that dog is when it’s alone?

I haven’t lived in a city for years, so I don’t know how it works with dogs in that situation these days. Perhaps the mere fact that you have to make a substantial effort if you bring a medium-sized or bigger dog into a city means that you’re a little more aware of how it affects your neighbors.

The result of this overflowing dog population is, of course, that a lot of people end up not liking dogs. That’s too bad, and no doubt that’s why we develop what appears to be a sort of love/hate relationship with dogs. Sure, we all want them, but at the same time we outlaw them from every possible public place — not just restaurants but shops, the post office, beaches, even some parks. It’s frustrating to drive by the perfectly manicured, unoccupied and completely out-of-bounds golf course, past the park with miles of great lawns and a big sign that says “NO DOGS ALLOWED,” all the way to the dusty little local “dog park,” which really is more of a dog toilet... And we have to pay money for that and feel we’re lucky!

If there weren’t so many badly behaved dogs around, do you think we would have the legal problems we have now? Of course not — it’s not our well-mannered show dogs that create problems and spawn dog haters. It’s the people who saw Marley and Me or read the Los Angeles Times’ idiotic advertising slogan “Every Home needs a Welcome Waggin’” (complete with cute photo of two Westie puppies) and believe that, indeed, their house is not complete without a dog. Regardless of how bored, under-stimulated, obnoxious and loud that poor dog happens to be...

What does this have to do with show dogs and breeding? Not much, perhaps, but not all active dog people have kennels in the country and therefore cannot avoid those dog problems that haunt much of the more built-up areas.

Of course a certain number of the problem dogs come from the country kennels, but self-respecting breeders already screen out unsuitable buyers or home situations that don’t sound workable. Sure, more could be done in that respect, but I’m certainly not blaming show breeders for the nuisance pets. Anyway, if that pet-buying suburban family can’t buy a puppy from you they will go to a much less reputable place instead.

I guess what I’m saying is that it would be nice if we could all realize that no, there doesn’t have to be a puppy in every home. Just a well-behaved, happy dog in every GOOD home would be fine.



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