Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dog Owners and the Death of Civility

As I get older, I'm not sure whether I like dogs less than I used to--I certainly dislike small, yippy dogs more than I used to, as well as dogs barking in the night.

But I think the truth is that I like dog owners less than ever.

This morning, I was walking down to the track by the nearby high school to get a little running in. In front of me on the sidewalk were a gray-haired woman and her big black Labrador. They were occupying the entire sidewalk and moving slowly, so I stepped into the street to pass them while picking a song from my iPod.

I noticed something out of the corner of my eye and stopped. The woman and the dog had both stopped walking as I passed, the dog turning to face me with a wagging tail. I looked at the woman and she smiled at me. So I slowly held out my hand below the height of the dog's muzzle, palm down, so that it could get a sniff of me from a safe distance.

The dog barked--not a friendly bark--and the tail wagging stopped immediately. I don't know if the dog lunged forward or jumped back, because I jumped back myself. The dog was on a leash, but it if had wanted to bowl the owner over it could have. It seemed content to simply growl.

I looked at the woman in surprise and she said, "She's never done that before."

(Note: In my experience, this sort of statement is a flat-out lie 99% of the time. "My kid has never hit anybody before." "I've never gotten a speeding ticket before." Because let's face it, most of these behaviors are repeat affairs, and after an event has happened once, by definition, then IT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE.)

I blinked at her. I suppose I was expecting, I don't know, an apology or a sign of contrition that, after receiving her blessing, I had put my hand within a few inches of the muzzle of a dog that was now growling at me.

Here's the thing: it doesn't matter if she knew her dog would do that. It did it. I don't expect a grandiose mea culpa. I wasn't in great distress. But a polite, "Oh, I'm sorry," or even a stern reprimand of the dog, "Stop that!" would have been suitable.

Instead, she squinted at me and said, "I wonder why she did that?" The full-on implication being, "What did YOU do to provoke my dog? Are you a bad person? Abuse any animals lately? Hands smelling of fresh blood?"

The obvious and factually accurate rejoinder that popped into my head, "Well, she's a bitch," just froze on my tongue. Too early in the morning to teach manners to a woman old enough to be my mother. I just shook my head and kept walking.

And no joke, as I write this, I see my neighbor's ancient dog, who is routinely allowed to wander freely in spite of having been hit by a car TWICE during his lifetime, limping into my side yard to crap on my lawn.


And these same sorts of people blame video games and Hollywood for the destruction of civility in our society.

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