A year ago, I adopted a dog from a shelter called “Save a Dog” in Sudbury, Massachusetts.  I had longed to own a dog for many years but had always felt it would not be fair to the dog since I worked long hours, far from home and could not give it the company, exercise and care it would need.  A year and a half after I retired, I decided it was time for the great dog-parent experiment.  Admittedly, I was not as prepared as I should have been, having no clear idea how much time, energy, patience and money it would involve.  When I fell in love with the first puppy I met, I didn’t listen to advice about looking for an older, lower-energy dog “at my age.”

However, a year later and much water under the bridge (as well as many nights of wanting to tear out my hair in frustration), I now have a beautiful, happy, and relatively well behaved 18-month-old Paperanian (Papillon/Pomeranian mix), named Digby.  I have learned not only a great deal about dogs in the last year, but also about dog ownership and dog owners.

One of the saddest lessons I’ve learned is how unwelcome dogs are in most public places. Signs abound in stores, hospitals, malls, hotels, tourist sites, restaurants (of course), parks, campuses and even on wooded trails. I had no idea that a well-behaved dog and a responsible owner would find so many barriers to enjoying ordinary daily life together.  Occasionally I would see a water bowl outside a store and I would think, “Oh, this place must be dog friendly!”  Yes, but outside only.

I can, of course, understand why dogs (except for service animals) are not allowed in restaurants, and hospitals. I’m guessing that issues of allergies, hygiene and fear cause these bans.  But I find it harder to understand why dogs are not allowed in outdoor venues, hotels, malls, or large stores.

However, as I looked around more carefully in my neighborhood, populated by quite a few dogs, I began to understand why dogs have, in large part, been banished to their own homes and yards and to dog parks.  I walked the neighborhood with my pup, pockets stuffed with “dog waste” bags, and noticed that the streets and sidewalks were defiled everywhere with the excrement of other people’s pets.  I jokingly put words in my dog’s mouth: “Mom, why do you pick up my poop all the time when other moms don’t do so.  I must be pretty special.”  On our walks through the woods the waste would be even more pronounced in spite of abundant signs pleading with dog owners to pick up after their pets.

I also saw signs saying, “Dogs allowed on leash only,” and my heart would sing.  However, no sooner had Digby and I entered the permitted area than an off-leash dog would dash up to us, followed at a distance by its unconcerned owner.  Digby, who is smaller than many dogs, would cower behind me and I would cower behind a tough but false cheerfulness about the situation.

“Jumping up” is another problem in public places. Yes, it’s difficult to teach your dog not to jump on strangers or friends, but it can be done.  Though Digby is not perfect, he’s a lot better than he was as a younger pup.  It’s taken a lot of persistence with him, and a lot of educating of those who want to greet him, to get him to the stage where he will squirm with excitement at someone’s feet, sit upon command most of the time, and wait for his new friend to bend over and slowly and gently scratch him under the chin.

So, what is the point of all this storytelling?  Sadly, I believe the disrespectful behavior of many owners causes dogs to be unwelcome in so many settings.  If more owners would pick up after their pets, keep them leashed when required, and teach them how to behave in public, dogs would be better integrated into our society.  Wherever I go, people stare in awe at service animals (the legitimate ones) who are so calm, well mannered, and expert at their trained tasks.   No one expects such model behavior from a pet, but certain minimal behavioral norms are the entrance key to more “allowed” places for dogs.  “Pick up” means pick up; “on leash” means on leash; no jumping on people, no barking incessantly.  Again, it comes down to respecting the rules – there is a reason for them – and respecting the needs of others.

I am thrilled when a public place, like our new bank in Maine, allows us to bring our dog inside while we do business.  I’m going to be extremely careful that he is as well behaved as he can be, politely greets the staff and other customers who want to meet him, and is not a contributing factor for a “no dogs allowed” sign on the front door in the future.

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Dog Ownership and Respect

  1. Great to hear from you Moriah and your report on the wonderful Digby! You are so right in your conclusion: clueless or just thoughtless pet owners are the main reason so many of us good dog owners are blocked (or have to pay a price) to have our well-behaved dogs with us.

    I have given up the fight with motels that charge a “pet fee” even though owners/desk staff will tell me that they have far fewer issues with guests with dogs than they do with children or drunken college students! I always travel with a quilt to put on the bed (and put away their bed coverings) so Jazz can sleep on the bed. Food/water set out with protection to the rug. He is crate trained so if I leave him he just sleeps and no barking. I leave an extra tip to housekeeping in case there is extra fur (unavoidable with a corgi.) But I still have to pay up to $25 per night! Not everywhere; it’s worth comparing motels to get better deals. But I too understand: poor owners let their dogs whine and bark; sand or mud tracked in and causing additional work for housekeeping; (worse case) washing dogs in sinks or bathtubs.

    On picking up after dogs, my comment is that I pick up in as careful a way as possible but I admit to the occasional times (over 20 years!) where I found myself without a poop bag (and no leaves to grab and throw it into the woods!) or it was too dark to find or the dog can poop without you realizing it (the famous “walking poop.” ) So I cut a bit of slack and will often pick up after another dog to make amends for my misses. Also in places like independent New England and the Wild West where I now live many people just think that “dogs will be dogs” and they poop (especially out in the woods, even on trails!) and we should just get over it and let nature take its course. Disagree but there we are.

    Here in exceptionally dog friendly Portland, Oregon I am amazed at how many places I AM able to take my dog! Many restaurants have outdoor seating especially aimed at pets and one even has a special section on the menu for dogs (chicken and rice for example.) I also watch for the places I can take Jazz–just yesterday I went to Home Depot and remembered at the last minute that he could go in too. He was the perfect gentleman–nice loose leash, friendly greetings when invited (admit to still working on the jump), and not a word from him. He pottied before entering and there was never a hint that he might mark. And I have every belief that the bottom of his paws was cleaner than the bottom of most of the humans’ shoes or boots. In Europe dogs go everywhere and at least here it is getting easier. Even on our light rail on occasion!

    I didn’t realize that Digby was the first dog you met–what a nice story. And it confirms my feeling that one should never go to “just look” at puppies or potential dogs. At least I know I am very likely to fall in love and that will be that. I better be ready to take the next step or it’s best to just look at pictures. Digby found the perfect home and such a wonderful mom. You were (and are) both learning together and I’m so happy it is going well and you will have each other for years to come.

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  2. Thanks, Diana, for adding your wisdom and experiences. I’ve also picked up after other dogs, and used leaves on occasion, so I have sympathy with the occasional lapse.

    Maine is more dog friendly than Massachusetts, in my experience, perhaps because the owners here are more respectful. Still during a peaceful walk in the woods with Digby and some guests last weekend, a huge “off-leash” dog ran up to us and frightened us all. When I said to the owner that dogs were not allowed off-off leash on these trails she glared at me. I asked if she had seen all the signs. She then put her dog on leash with great difficulty and huffed off.

    I love your respectful behavior in motels. So thoughtful of the housekeeping staff.

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  3. I’ve had the same thing happen to me and it is totally frightening. And I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories. Thank God/dess Digby was ok and for whatever reason the dog did not attack. On the other hand, we have now had multiple times on the beach here running with countless dogs of all breeds and I have not once had a problem (all were off leash.) But your point is really following the rules. Dogs on leash in a wooded area is also important to protect wildlife and plants as well. The first time that woman’s dog gets confronted by a skunk or porcupine (or chased by a mama bear!) she’ll wish she had followed the rules for her dog’s protection.

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  4. Thanks for this topic and commentary, Moriah. When I lived in a historic house on Lexington Road in beautiful downtown Concord, Massachusetts, I was flabbergasted that people, in our own neighborhood, would walk their dogs, poop all over the sidewalk and not pick up. Once, after what remained of two giant hounds from two houses down, I offered a poop bag. They actually said they’d pick up on the way back. They didn’t. Two doors down on the other side was a Catholic Church. I’d see those hounds poop right in front of the sidewalk to the church and nothing would be done. I couldn’t believe responsible people would do such a thing…… If I could, I’d run down there with a poop bag.

    There used to be a lovely little wildwood area in Concord with a pond and trail. It was completely ruined by non-picked up pooping. Can you imagine someone neglecting to keep such a place respected? (It was right across from Walden.) Even though poop bags were provided at the head of the trail, it became a dog sewer.

    I don’t understand this kind of irresponsibility. Hard to forgive such behavior. – Julianna

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    1. Thanks, Julianna, for adding your experience on this problem. I think it is universal, though our former dog trainer says that in Europe, where there are waste bags and disposal bins everywhere, the streets and paths are much cleaner. Go figure!

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