The old cliché, “It’s a Dog’s Life,” has historically implied that life is rough and unhappy. However, in recent years I have come to believe dogs have it pretty darn good. Most are pampered and adored by their masters, especially urban canines.
As a child, I had a dog named Brownie. Actually, she was the neighborhood’s dog. In my small rural coal mining town, there were no leash and Pick Up Their Poop ordinances. Every neighbor knew Brownie, fed her and looked after her. She was a mutt, but a loveable mooch and made the rounds every day looking for leftover table food. Nobody bought dog food back then.
Sometimes she would catch a stray rabbit or squirrel for her own meal, but this made a disgusting mess in the yard.
The poop piles were disgusting too, especially if stepped in while mowing the lawn with a hand pushed mower, or while playing ball with my neighborhood friends. They were like mine fields, even more treacherous when we played night games like “hide and go seek” or “olly olly oxen free.”
Brownie lived outside on our screened in back porch most of the year, or in our unheated detached garage in the winter. On really cold nights my parents would let her sleep in the basement, but Southern Illinois didn’t get many really cold nights back then.
Of course Brownie died shortly after I left for college. Dogs don’t live as long as we humans. That’s the sad part of a dog’s life, especially for their owners. It was a sad few days, but the excitement of college closed out the Brownie era quickly. My dad buried her out behind our garage in what formerly had been our Victory vegetable garden during World War II.
With hindsight, I have come to believe Brownie epitomized the “It’s a dog’s life” phrase. My parents had her “fixed” as a puppy, so she never had any puppies, or the fun of making puppies. But, then again she never had to work or care for anyone – we all took care of her. Nor did she have to change diapers on any children. Those cloth diapers and the diaper pale back then were foul. Scrubbing the poop out in the toilet before the pale got the diaper was the worst part. They then had to be laundered and reused (there were no automatic washers and dryers then either). After washing, they also had to go through the wringer before getting hung out to dry. (Our children and grandchildren don’t even know where the phrases “Put through the wringer” and “Hung out to dry” even came from).
Fast forward 65 years to today and the phrase “It’s a dog’s life” has taken on an entirely new meaning. Dogs live a life of luxury and pampering. We even have dog parks for them to go out and have play dates with other dogs. I say “go out” because most dogs now live in their masters’ homes. Many even sleep in bed with their masters, or in cute little cushy beds of their own. They have become “house pets.”
Their masters even communicate with them in their own “doggie talk” (the same language we called “baby talk” for our newborn children). There are also “dog commands” that their masters learn in dog training schools. Of course the dogs have to be bribed with doggie treats in order to learn these basic commands. Dogs are smart and they learn quickly when bribed – just like so many of our politicians and bureaucrats.
I have come to dread family get-togethers. When they bring their dogs, everything is focused on the dogs, and even if they don’t bring their dog. When I try to keep my distance and redirect the conversation, the dogs always try to win me over. When they bark, jump and slobber on me, their master (actually mistress would most often be the case) laughs and thinks it’s so cute.
If I utter a stern “Down boy or down girl,” I’m the villain. Cutsie pooh was just trying to be friendly.
And then it’s always time to walk the dog, even if I don’t feel like a walk. At my age, I don’t wake up with the sunrise. Since they can’t go to the bathroom, they have to take a walkie and sniff at every foul smelling urination and defecation they can find – and they have a keen sense of smell. Since a leash is required, we human dog walkers get to follow along on this trail of bodily dog relief until Fido does his or her own bodily discharge – and we all get to watch and smell. The worst part is the “doggie bag,” not the ones we bring home from the restaurant, or take to work or school for lunch. It’s the cellophane bag you have to use to pick up the disgusting mess, and then carry until you find a garbage can.
Then there is the way they eat and drink. What a mess! Of course you have to prepare the meal and clean up the mess.
Some dogs are dressed in fancy clothes or have a ribbon in their hair. Some have little booties when it is cold. Aren’t they cute!
How about those unsanitary disgusting dog toys they chew and drag around the house? Or when they bark at every dog that goes by? Or your guests? And me?
It always bothers me to see a big strong man with a little toy sized sissy dog. I call them “yappers” because they don’t have enough oomph to belt out a real bark. He looks totally emasculated. When I laugh and shake my head, I get a sheepish grin and shrug of the shoulders which is sign language for, “Hey, man, it’s my wife’s dog.”
The problem with a “man sized dog is the man sized poop you have to pick up by hand with that little plastic bag and carry until you get back home. This is really embarrassing. I did baby diapers. Damned if I will pick up dog poop.
In all fairness, this is really not the whole story. Dogs are very smart. They communicate very effectively. People don’t wag their tails when happy, but some people bark and growl when unhappy or angry. They have learned at least half of our communication skills. Sign language and facial expression (i.e. “tail between their legs”). I won’t go into what happens when they get horny for some sex. Let’s just say they aren’t bashful. Worse yet are the dog fights. Some dogs are mean, most are territorial.
With all these thoughts gleaned from my many years of observation, usually as a captive audience at a family event or while looking at a constant parade of dog walkers out the windows of my sunroom with the three sides of French doors on a corner lot. I have decided, “It’s a dog’s life” has become something to envy. Frankly, I think we have almost reached, “The world is going to the dogs” stage of evolution. In many cases, they have become the “masters” of the home and we people are their servants.
This commentary can’t end without discussing the “comfort” dog hoax. Too many people are pretending to need their comfort dog on an airplane or in a restaurant. These folks are either fraudsters or are pathetically mentally ill and should stay home with their animal.
Last month my wife and family enjoyed a very expensive gourmet dinner at one of Scottsdale, AZ’s finest restaurants. As we finished and were about to leave, we were treated to a real live dog show as we ate desert. The table next to us with three people in a booth had their German Shepherd dog under the table – unleashed of course. Its owner and master had died four days earlier and they needed a night out after the wake. (We learned this later).
In comes a blind man with his service dog – on a leash, with his wife. Arf! Arf! The German went into attack mode as they passed his table. WOW! What a dog fight! They knocked over another table onto its diners before the waiters and security staff could separate them. The blind man was knocked down.
The German was taken out bleeding, the real service dog stood his ground and escorted his blind master to the men’s room for the first aid needed from a dog bite.
Management comped the German’s table and the blind man. Unfortunately, I had already paid our check.
As I said, “It’s a dog’s world.” “Man” has become a dog’s best friend, or maybe it was always that way and we were not so urbane and civilized then as we are now.
The big winners in this evolution from mankind to dogkind, the breeders and veterinarians. $$$!
Actually, I am the big winner. When my wife, mother of our three adult children, died nine years ago after 53 years of perfect marriage, my children wanted to buy me a dog for companionship. This was after I declined to move in with them and their dogs.
Instead, as I processed my grief I met a beautiful charming lovely widow from my church. I have to say, “WOW! She’s no dog!” We married several years later, each at age 80. I can assure all readers that she is a far better companion than any dog. She has made my life worth living again. With her tender loving care I have far surpassed any comforting relationship a dog may have provided – as we take care of each other. She is an angel sent to escort me to the heavenly hereafter, but until then we have a dogless heaven hear on earth.
In all fairness, I must admit that dogs can be wonderful companions. They are loyal, protective and can be affectionate. Walking your dog is good exercise. Electronic fences are a good way to avoid that early morning and bedtime trek with your dog – if you have a yard.
Dogs are here to stay. They have even added to our English language. I have already mentioned, “It’s a dog’s life” and “The world is going to the dogs.” The words “bitch” and “hound” have found their purposes in vernacular expressions, usually in an unfavorable light much different from their original animal husbandry and breeding definitions.
Hunting dogs have added great joy to our outdoorsmen and helped put food on our tables. Dog shows and movies about dogs have entertained us. Who could ever forget “Lassie”? Police dogs help keep us safe, as do watch dogs, and to catch crooks. Some are rescuers. Well trained dogs have been a blessing to mankind.
All things considered, our world is a better place because of dogs. It’s the people who are the problem, so let’s not blame the dogs.
Harold E. Collins
Lawyer, Author and