Iwas jogging on the Glover Archbold Trail in the District recently when a woman appeared on the path ahead, walking toward me with two large dogs, neither on a leash. One, a shaggy collie mix, lumbered lazily along and stuck close to its owner. But the other dog, a Doberman pinscher, bounded up the trail, all wiry energy, heading straight for me. It wasn't growling or barking -- but it wasn't wagging its tail, either. The woman yelled, "Get back here!" but made no real attempt to restrain it.
When the Doberman was about three feet from me, it jumped up toward my face. Startled, I raised my left arm, and the dog bit lightly on my wrist. Not enough to hurt or break the skin, but enough to make me wish I'd picked a different route for my run. Then it let go and trotted on down the trail.
I jogged past the woman, glaring at her. She just shook her head a little and offered a not-very-sincere-sounding "Sorry." She was smiling slightly, apparently assuming that I found this incident as harmless and amusing as she did.
But I didn't. During the last couple of miles of my run, I grew angrier by the minute. Not at the dog, but at the woman. Was it really possible for her to be so dense about how threatening her animal could seem to a stranger?
I can't imagine that I was the first person her Doberman had menaced. Yet it seemed that she had concluded that granting her pets the joy of running free was more important than other people's right to use the park without feeling threatened. Maybe she had even deluded herself into thinking her dog's actions were quirky and cute, and that others would think so, too.
Well, dog lovers, brace yourselves for a little harsh reality: Your pooches aren't as lovable to everybody else as they are to you. I know this is a crushing thought, but there are lots of people who don't enjoy being licked, sniffed, nipped or otherwise greeted by your four-legged friends.
Those who do want to get to know your pets will make it obvious, I promise. They'll give a whistle and say, "Here, boy!" I see it all the time -- I even do it myself on occasion. But for the sake of harmony between the dog and non-dog people of the world, can you please not assume that everybody's okay with having Fido up in their faces? Keep in mind: When slobber and fur at close quarters are involved, it's important that all parties be consenting participants.
Don't dismiss this as the rant of a dog hater. You couldn't be more wrong. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. My family always had one or two dogs and a couple of cats around the house. We didn't pull up a chair at the dinner table for them, and I guarantee that none attended a day spa for pets. But they all lived comfortable lives and enjoyed plenty of affection.
My favorite was an adorable beagle who lived to 17 and often seemed to be my best friend in the world. Sometimes during those rough high school years, it felt as if that little dog was my only friend. In the afternoons after school we roamed the woods near my house, and on weekends we'd go camping. When my childhood companion died several years ago, I was crushed.
I'll have a dog again some day, when the time is right. For now, I enjoy taking my parents' Dalmatian for a walk when I visit them back home. So I'm hardly anti-dog.
But let's be realistic: No pet, not even my beloved beagle, is more important than a person, and pets don't belong in certain places. I know lots of responsible pet owners who feel the same way. But too many people, particularly in urban areas, seem to have lost a piece of their minds when it comes to their pets.
Maybe it's a symptom of the loneliness many feel in a big, impersonal city. But it can cause problems, not just for people, but for the pets, too. I'm stunned to see how many people insist on keeping dogs -- sometimes large dogs, sometimes multiple dogs -- in small urban spaces. I live alone in a one-bedroom condo in Rosslyn, and as much as I'd love to have another beagle, I wouldn't want to lock a dog in my place for eight or 10 hours every day. I think it would be cruel. Not to mention messy.
Which brings me to those who balk at the most basic responsibility of owning a pet. You know what I mean. Sure, picking up dog doo-doo is a demeaning task, but hey -- if you insist on keeping a pair of greyhounds in the midst of 8 million people, there's a price to be paid. In densely populated areas, cleaning up after your pet isn't just polite, it's a public health matter (besides often being the law). And remember -- every time a non-dog person soils a pair of shoes on what Fluffy left behind, you're just feeding all that anti-dog fervor out there.
Even more troubling are owners like the woman in the park, who are oblivious to how frightening their pets can be. I wasn't afraid of her Doberman, because I grew up around dogs and could sense from its body language that it probably wasn't vicious. But if that dog had gone after a 3-year-old in the same way, the incident could have been downright ugly.
And what is the deal with the pit bull rescue crowd?
Perhaps pit bulls really are gentle by nature, as their owners claim. Maybe it's true that only bad people make dogs do bad things. But even if only bad people would use explosives to hurt other people, for instance, we wouldn't start making dynamite available at the local hardware store assuming that only demolition experts would purchase it, would we?
Same with pit bulls. These dogs aren't suitable as domestic pets, so they shouldn't be promoted as such. Wouldn't the pit bull people do doggie-dom much more good if they spent their free time helping people adopt the less menacing, gentle breeds that fill local animal shelters, instead of defending pit bull "rights"?
All these problems and others seem to arise from the growing phenomenon of people viewing pets as mini-humans. What gives here, folks? Do you really think a cocker spaniel needs a doggie sweater to go for a walk on a 40-degree evening? Or that dogs like having booties strapped onto their paws?
I've got some news for you: They don't.
Animals don't need the same things from life as humans, and their rights fall somewhere below ours. Trust me -- your dogs are cool with that, as long as you treat them with kindness and dignity. (Hint: Dignity does not equal a dog wearing leg warmers.)
You and your pet will both be happier if you can come to terms with that. And if you use a little common sense when taking your pets for a stroll, the rest of us will be happier, too.
But for those of you who insist that your pooches be allowed to stretch their legs and enjoy the wonders of the world unfettered by pesky laws and the courtesies that should apply when you share small spaces with lots of people, may I humbly suggest that you look into a house in the country. With a 10-acre lot.
And a fence.