Dog training, dog walking, dog grooming and just plain dog owning has changed. Gone are the days of carefree canines wandering the woods, exploring the smells and sounds of their surroundings. Today's number one domesticated animal is a mammal with a mission, with serious business to do. And be had for that matter. Dogs are big business and today's over-achieving, over-earning middle class are more than happy to dole out the dough for their Jakes and Marleys.
Somehow it seems our need for perfection and status and stature has transferred over to our pets. We are obsessed. Just take a look at how many recent novels on the New York Times bestseller list are tales of living with dogs. Dog boutiques, dog spas, dog retreats...I can think of entire subcontinental nations that aren't fed and cared for as well.
Sadly, for example, it's no longer acceptable to leave a dog outside for no specific purpose other than to perform bodily functions, exercise or guard the homestead. Dogs must be entertained, socialized and trained. It's not enough to turn out well adjusted children. Our pets also speak volumes about what kind of a person we are.
What does Alfie say about us? Probably that we are loose, unstructured and bohemian creative types. Some of that may be true. Then again, we have one of the sweetest dogs, one who thrives on the love and affection he is given. That part speaks to the warmth and closeness in our home.
Much to some of our neighbor's chagrin, Alfie is free to wander our fence-less property and saunter next door to visit with the tamest Bull Terrier ever bred. On more than one occasion we've heard a knock at the door and opened it to discover a kind-hearted neighbor holding Alfie by the collar with a "he was wandering out front" explanation for their impromptu citizen's arrest; I mean, kind concern. We now let him wander out back only and make sure someone is out front with him, or that he is tied to the light post. It's not that we don't trust Alfie; we don't want to worry anyone else.
However, sometimes doggie encounters happen and our "he's a dog" attitude clashes with the "he is a well-adjusted, thriving member of our family"attitude of other dog owners and mayhem ensues. A couple of days into the move I decided to take Alfie for a walk and give him a chance to let the other dogs in the hood know he had arrived. Not only did I put the leash on, I even made him sit while I put it on. I was ready to make a good impression with the neighbors and show them how obedient and well turned out our pooch was.
A few feet from our driveway Alfie let out a long and loud bow wow. I admit it was startling; mostly because I didn't hear or see anyone else approaching on the street. Unfortunately it did more than startle the taut and tuned Vizela-esque dog and his equally taut and tuned owner exercising (OK, walking) across the road. Alfie's "hey, I'm Alfie from Canada and I'm new here" introduction sent both poor creatures into absolute trauma mode.
Immediately the owner stopped, turned to the dog and commanded it to remain calm. While firmly holding the dog with one hand, she directed the dog to look into her eyes by bringing her two fingers from her eyes, to the dog's eyes and back to hers. Again she commanded it to remain calm. There was no "hey, who cares" or "hey, welcome to the hood" or "hey, I'm Franz" from this canine. Not a wimper nor a wag was allowed.
I was mortified. I didn't know if it was the horror we had created or the horrible reaction to a seemingly average dog encounter I witnessed that made me want to scuttle back into the house. I could just hear the recounting at the next therapy appointment..."and then, this explosion out of no where! I still shake when I think about it". Sniff, sniff. Pass the kleenex please.
I probably should have felt shame for upsetting the apple cart so. But some carts are simply driving down the road in the wrong direction and need some shaking up. Just to be sure I haven't totally lost my mind, I'm going to rent Lassie or Old Yeller and reminisce about the good old doggie days. Do you think dogs ever think that too?