Saturday, November 14, 2015

A New Leash on Life?


Today I read the following quotes:

“I believe strict leash laws exist in the US because irresponsible owners with out of control dogs are far more common then we'd like to admit. I could write a novel about all of the "rude" and irritating behaviors owners allow of their off leash dogs (of which they have no voice control whatsoever) but let me stick to the more serious stuff."
"I honestly believe the ignorant, lazy, self-absorbed, and/or rude owners came first.  But definitely all the restrictions then contribute to dogs who go fewer places.  This results in the average owner who does minimal training never seeing the need to train off leash control.  So the dog isn't taught to behave except at home, if that.”

I suspect that the gradual evolution of thought about dogs in general has a lot to do with it.  Back in the '40s and earlier no one picked up dog poop.  America was transitioning out of an era when horses were still used to pull milk and trash wagons, etc.  There were still a lot of dirt roads - even in towns and cities. What's a little dog crap with all the mud horse poop around?  It was normal to let your dog run loose, and to "put the cat out" at night.

With the continuing rise in affluence and the burgeoning of suburbia, and the paving and "tidying" of neighborhoods urban & suburban people came to resent loose dogs, and they were also at risk from proliferating motor vehicles.  Rabies scares were common and laws were passed that required dogs in major cities to be leashed and muzzled.  It wasn't so much that there were "bad" dog owners, but that all dogs began to be suspected of harboring "germs."

With standards of living and population continuing to rise, dog owners came into conflict with the new sanitized and ordered way of life for most Americans.  The "neighborhood dog" that everyone fed off their back porch started to be seen as a nuisance.

Since as early as the '60s these changes affected the way we raised our kids, too.  When I was young, we got kicked out of the house after breakfast - either for school or play on non-school days. There were rules about how far away we could go, and places to stay away from, but as long as we didn’t get hurt too badly or cause someone to complain, we were on our own – just like the dogs and cats.

When I was a kid we shut our bitch up in the shed when she came in season.  If she managed to get pregnant somehow the pups were given away, taken to the pound or drowned at birth.  Now it’s different.  Lots of people who own pets now grew up with the ideas of leashed dogs, spay and neuter, and obedience training.  But it wasn’t always like that. 

Our dog never saw the inside of a vet clinic, except to get a rabies shot.  The idea of a prosthetic limb or $1,500.00 surgery would have evoked howls of laughter or concerns about the sanity of the dog’s owner.

Toys?  I think we occasionally bought a rubber rat with a squeaker inside for a puppy.  And of course there were sticks.

Sometimes dogs got run over.  It was seen as inevitable.  If the dog survived, it usually quit chasing cars.  If a dog got sick – really sick – it “went off to die alone.”  It was taken for granted.  When it got old or too badly injured to heal on its own it was shot.  “Not right to let a dumb animal suffer.”

Now many people think of their dogs as “fur-babies,” or “my kids.”  They buy them toys, keep them squeaky-clean and vigilantly guard them from all possible harm.  They spend thousands of dollars for high-priced pet food, vet care, dog walkers, and dog activities.  Some of this is good.  Some I regard with deep suspicion. 

In some ways I think that “King,” the “Police Dog” who hung out with the kids all over the neighborhood, got in the occasional glorious battle with “Mr. Price’s” Collie, and crapped – well, someplace – who knew or cared, had the better life than today’s micromanaged pet.

In some instances the law compels us to take this route with our pets.  In some cases it’s the peer-pressure of our fellow dog-owners.  But it isn’t as simple as “good” or “bad” dog owners.
I have “caved” to some of the modern conventions for keeping a pet.  I don’t let my cat go outdoors, except in a covered run, mostly because he will murder birds and likely get run over if he does.  My dog is spayed, and eats “Taste of the Wild” kibble and raw meat.  She is trained to walk quietly on a lead.  We play fetch and Frisbee.  She has a basket of toys, each of which she knows the name.  I pick up her poops.

But my dog is not a “fur baby.”  She’s a dog.  And I’m and “old dog” too.  I take slowly to “new tricks.”  Sugarfoot goes off-leash a lot.  And I’ve taught her, as best I can, what she needs to know to be safe off-leash.  She likes it, and so do I.  I doubt that that will change.
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