Instead, if the owner says anything, it will be on the order of, “Don’t worry, he loves people!” Oh, OK then! I guess I’ll just take your word for it, and forget for the moment that 1,000 Americans a day go to emergency rooms because of dog bites. More Americans seek medical attention for dog bites than for choking or falls. You’re more likely to have to go to a doctor for a bite than to call the fire department for a home fire. Like it or not, American dog owner, your pet is a hazard.
But let’s leave aside the possibility that I’m scared (maybe legitimately!) of your dog, since you’ve assured me your dog loves people, and there’s no chance you could be wrong. What if I’m allergic? Or what if I just plain hate your dog? What if I think he’s dirty, since after all he did just put his nose in another dog’s butt? And what if I just want to go through my workday without being slobbered on by an animal?
I know this sounds curmudgeonly. You want to shake me and tell me to snap out of it, to get over myself and just love dogs already. But that’s because you like dogs and don’t see anything but good in them. For you, a dog is like ice cream. What churl doesn’t like ice cream? Well, I’m that churl—I’m canine intolerant.
To give you a sense of how I feel when I’m accosted by your dog, let’s replace that animal with my 2½-year-old son. Now, I love my son, but on any objective scale of socially acceptable behavior, he is the worst. He’s loud. He’s inconsiderate of people’s personal space—if he’s left free he won’t watch where he’s walking and will run into you, either on purpose or accidentally. He’s jumpy and fidgety in confined spaces; in an airplane it is physically impossible to restrain him from kicking the seat in front of him. He scratches himself often, sometimes picks his nose, sometimes offers to pick yours. He will constantly say inappropriate things. The other day at Target, he noticed a little person and commented, for pretty much everyone to hear, “That lady is short!” On top of all this, he may be packing a diaper full of urine and feces.
Weirdly, irrationally, despite all this, I feel the same way about my son as your do about your dog: I love him unconditionally and just don’t understand why even strangers wouldn’t want him around all the time. Indeed, I think almost everything he does, even the inappropriate things, is the cutest behavior ever exhibited in human history.
And yet, still, I rein him in. I realize that, although he’s impossibly cute, it’s possible he might aggravate some people. For this reason, whenever I go into public spaces with my toddler, I treat him as if I were handling nuclear waste or a dangerous animal. I keep him confined. I shush him. If he does anything out of turn—screams, touches people—I make a show of telling him to quit it and I apologize profusely. And, finally, there are some places that are completely off-limits to my son: nice restaurants, contemplative adult spaces like grown-up museums and coffee shops, the gym, and the office. Especially the office.
Yes, there are parents who don’t act this way, awful parents who let their terrible kids run free. The rest of us hate those people because they give all parents a bad name. But I’ll submit there are many more such dog owners than there are overindulgent parents. Most parents I know are mortified by the thought that their children might be causing anguish for others. This is evident in the world around you: It’s why your co-workers rarely bring their toddlers to work. It’s why 2-year-olds don’t approach you in the park and lick your leg or ask you whether you need to visit the potty. It’s why, when a child is being unruly in a supermarket or restaurant, you’ll usually see his parents strive to get him to knock it off.
But dog owners? They seem to suffer few qualms about their animals’ behavior. That’s why there are so many dogs running around at the park, jumping up on the bench beside you while you’re trying to read a book, the owner never asking if it’s OK with you. That’s why, when you’re at a café, the dog at the neighboring table feels free to curl up under your seat. That’s why there’s a dog at your office right at this moment and you’re having to pretend that he’s just the cutest.
Well, no more, my fellow doggie skeptics. Let’s take back the peace we’re owed. The next time your young, happy co-worker brings in his dog for the day, tell him the office is not a canine playpen. It’s time to take that dog home.