As a dog lover of proven ardency, I am ever searching for others who love and respect dogs with my fervor: by wanting to free them from man's control, exploitation and cruelty. We have taken a creature that was once as magnificent as the wolf and fox and imprisoned it as a pet.
In taking away the freedom of the dog, we have victimized it in ghastly ways that also victimize us as well-in the resulting filth, diseases, injuries, social chaos and economic disruption caused by dog ownership. To respect the rights of an animal in its full genetic endowment is to want the beast to live as nature intended. It would be the sickest of sick jokes if nature meant dogs to be penned in to live in cities, the most unnatural habitat possible for any animal.
My delight in Iris Nowell is that she is also a dog lover-the authentic kind. Her book is a well-researched and instructive examination of what their helplessness, the dogs are doing to us.
It is the first book I know of that correctly sees the dog as anything but man's best friend. A few years ago, I thought of doing a book on the dog menace. Publishers told me the subject was splendid but doubted seriously that it would sell.
So while I hail St. Martin's for risking a few dollars on this valuable and overdue book, I caution Iris Nowell not to expect a nickel beyond her advance.
I thought I knew everything about the hell-bent speed with which the country is going to the dogs, but Nowell has an eye for the hidden facts. Among them:
After gonorrhea, dog bite is the most frequently reported disease or injury in large American cities. Doctor bills average $100 per bite, and most of the victims know the owner of the dog. An increasing number of children are being bitten on the face, due to the surge in the ownership of large dogs, which stand at eye level with young children.
It is not fresh dog feces that are dangerous disease carriers, but droppings that are dried. The eggs of worms may remain infectious for up to two years.
The owner of a barking dog can have his pet silenced-and his neighbors calmed-by surgically removing the animal's voice box. Few owners do this, even though the sound of barking if heard continuously, would violate federal noise standards.
The National Association of Pet Cemeteries advises prospective dog morticians not to say anything to anyone until their zoning is cleared, and to "use humility" when facing the zoning board.
Nowell covers the ground well. She wonders about the spiritual condition of a nation that spends $500 million annually of public money on dog problems, and another $6 billion on pet food and accessories. But more than spiritual impoverishment is involved. She argues that "although dogs have always bitten people, transmitted disease, defecated indiscriminately, and aggravated human life in various ways, it has not been until their numbers started to escalate into the millions that their habits became costly social problems. We are now past the stage of considering only the physical problems. More crucial is the ethical question of dogs using manpower, resources, energy, and food, for which humans the world over are competing."
With that kind of sound and careful thinking. I expected that Nowell would leap toward the obvious by calling for banning dogs from our cities. But, disappointingly, her chapter, "A Few Modest Proposals," offers little more than the toothless approach of "an attitudinal change." What is necessary, she says, "is a combined program to educate people to become responsible pet owners, to control the breeding of pets, and to support the enactment and diligent enforcement of tough animal control laws. Only then will results be seen."
If we truly do have a crisis, as Nowell forcefully documents, then nothing else is likely to eliminate it except eliminating the dogs. Despite shrieks from dog zanies about a wave of cruelty washing over the country if a ban were to be enforced, the process can be fully rational and merciful. A goal of a dogless America (except for ones needed by the blind) could be set for 1990. A dog license would cost $500. If that didn't get across the idea, raise it to $1,000. Keep raising it, if necessary. Civil penalties against the owners of unleashed, biting and defecating dogs would mean automatically losing the dog to the city.
If such a plan sounds slightly lunatic, it is only because perceptive critics such as Iris Nowell back off from presenting it. The dog industry-from food processors to the local poodle boutique-are as much for the "attitudinal change." approach as Nowell. What they fear is the ban.
Perhaps in 10 years Nowell can write another book, "The Dog Crisis, Phase II." With an estimated 35 million puppies born annually-many to be gassed within a year-the nation will be the planet's largest dog run. What may appear as slightly lunatic now may well be embraced as common sense then.