I do not hate dogs. Let’s be clear on that – even if I do complain about dogs occasionally … or every hour of every day.
Dogs might hate me. There’s compelling to evidence to suggest that’s the case. But I’m not going to believe that either.
Dogs and I … well, we’re just in a tough place right now.
The last dog I owned, a beautiful border collie named Candy, died after getting hit by a garbage truck sometime in the Nixon administration. I cried my 10-year-old eyes out.
Since then, it’s been a rocky road between me and the canine species. I’ve had several great experiences with individual dogs, sure. Some of my best friends are dogs. And I look with envy at those who’ve developed lasting relationships with dogs.
But I’ve come to believe that I am doomed in re-establishing any meaningful diplomatic relations with Canine Nation. Like Republicans and Democrats, dogs and I just can’t come together without allowing something to divide us. I would offer my hand in friendship, but I’m afraid of getting bitten.
The neighborhood where I live is a sweet spot, no doubt about it. It’s gorgeous and mellow and quiet – except for the daily random outbursts of one or two (or 10,000, I can’t be sure) dogs barking their bloody heads off in someone else’s backyard.
Perhaps someone more Buddhist than I, perhaps someone with more tolerance and generosity of spirit, can put up with spasms of pointless barking throughout the day. But for me, it has the effect of applying a cheese grater to my cerebellum. Not to show my prejudice, but most of the dogs I hear are small dogs and – I’m pretty sure I read this somewhere – the barks of “yip dogs” as I call them are scientifically proven to be more deadly to peace of mind than the barks of larger dogs.
Hey, dogs bark. That’s life. What do I expect them to do penned up all day behind a fence, play chess and scroll the Huffington Post?
So, I go for a walk along the lovely hilly streets near my house, in quest of that elusive alpha state of contemplation and relaxation. And, just when I’m hitting my stride, I’ll walk past a home and see two dogs sitting in the driveway. They both erupt in barking and run straight at me until they are snarling and baring their teeth behind the fence that is the only thing standing between me and an afternoon in the E.R.
What am I supposed to do? Hurl f-bombs at them? Try to give them dog biscuits to befriend them? I do utterly nothing to antagonize them. I keep my head down and increase the pace of my walk, my nerves in a frenzy of alarm. The barking echoes down the street several minutes after I’m out of their sight. And then it all begins again at the next house of dogs.
At most of these houses, by the way, there is a No Trespassing sign or two ostentatiously tacked onto the fence. Not to be a jerk or anything, but what is the point of No Trespassing signs? Are there people out there who see a private home surrounded by a fence and somehow interpret that as a signal to come on in and make themselves at home? And if there are such people, aren’t they either too stupid to read a sign, or too malicious to pay attention to it? Just wondering.
Sometimes, much more than merely occasionally, there’s a hole in the fence or an open gate and I’m face to face with an aggressive barking dog in the middle of the street. And I can’t just keep walking, because they’ll come after me. These encounters bring me to the very cliff edge of homocidal outrage. I’m in the middle of a public street here! Minding my own business!
And in how many of these encounters is there a human on the other side of the fence at least attempting to call off the dogs? I’d say, one in 10, maybe.
Hey, I get the appeal of wanting a guard dog on your property. And I understand dogs are not generally well read on the rights of public access versus private property. But, geez, to paraphrase Dustin Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy,” I’m just walkin’ here. Can I just go my way in peace?
After years of these kinds of confrontations, I had begun to develop a private animosity not only to dogs but the dog-loving public. I had concocted a unified field theory, a metaphorical framework that allowed me to think of dogs as that most American of domestic animals – mindlessly aggressive, authoritarian, paranoid and prone to behaving on a strict us-vs.-them mentality.
I have owned several cats over the years, and I found myself retreating into that silly cat-person way of thinking.
But then, once in a while, I’ll come upon an unaccompanied dog who is not barking, who approaches me with a wagging tail. I scratch him behind the ears, rub him on the ribs and continue on my way. And he follows. And I take a break and sit and he plops down beside me on some picturesque hillside somewhere. And we commune together, and this nameless dog shows me something about enjoying the moment.
Somewhere in the distance, a yip dog barks. I tense up and look down at my new and temporary friend. He looks at me panting. He doesn’t hear a thing.