On January 4, I wrote a Slog post about my experience at two Capitol Hill bars, the Canterbury on 15th Avenue East and the Cha Cha on East Pine Street, both of which I'd visited in the previous week, both of which I criticized for welcoming the presence of dogs—a seeming violation of both city and county code, and totally annoying to someone who doesn't want a mangy dog sniffing around their food.
My Slog post drew the ire of numerous dog owners, who criticized me for being bitchy and antisocial. But the best reader note that day came from a woman calling herself Rosa Barks. In an odd turn of events, Ms. Barks, who hadn't even seen my contentious post, had written in to voice her own frustration with dogs. As the winning bidder on the Strangercrombie auction item granting a one-page essay on the topic of her choice by the Stranger writer of her choice, Barks wrote to outline her made-to-order Strangercrombie piece: "I want you to begin a small social revolution to raise awareness and encourage victims to speak out about a form of mental and physical abuse that is so pervasive in our culture that most people just smile at the perpetrators and dismiss anyone willing to speak out about it as bitchy and antisocial. I'm referring to passive-aggressive dog owners..."
Thanks to the synchronicity of my Slog post, the assignment landed on my desk. I accepted it gleefully, happy to oblige the oppressed Ms. Barks who had written: "My New Year's resolution is that when a human lets their dog bite, sniff, growl at me, I am going to treat it the same as if a human did these things... If dogs were people we would think they were assholes."
I could blame my camaraderie with Rosa Barks on my stint as a newspaper delivery boy for the Washington Star in the eighth grade. I had lots of run-ins with the neighborhood dogs in those days, including numerous clashes with Max, a large, black devil-dog who twice took the opportunity to jump me—one time pouncing and taking a piece of my right leg, another time taking some yellow plastic from my raincoat along with a chunk of my arm.
But I don't blame my dog "issues" on Max. (In my post-paperboy life, I've gotten along famously with the dogs of friends and loved ones—like Fafner and Nikita.) I don't even blame my dog issues on dogs. Like Rosa B., my problem with dogs is their owners: presumptuous, oblivious, self-centered dog owners.
Dog owners are too happy. Too "content." Dog owners are too easily amused. Dog owners are boring. Dog owners have long conversations with barking dogs. Dog owners have long conversations with you—about their dogs. Dog owners have conversations with you while they're also having conversations with their dogs that are barking. Dog owners' houses smell bad. Dog owners are Ben Harper fans. Dog owners think it's cute when their dogs bark and jump all over you on the street or at the park. Dog owners who don't follow leash laws should move to the country. According to Don Jordan, director of the city's animal department, there are 2,000 to 3,000 leash-law-violation complaints a year in Seattle related to "chasing" or "knocking over garbage." The fine is $54. It should be higher. Why? Because there's about one dog-bite complaint per day in Seattle (about 370,000 people are treated for dog bites each year nationwide). And Seattle-King County Health tallied 12 cases of rabies last year from dog bites.
Dog owners think it's cute when their dogs sniff around your table, in your crotch, and around your food when you're eating over—or when you're eating at a neighborhood bar. Isn't it supposed to be illegal to have dogs in bars? Yes. But when you point that out, dog owners (and wait staff) glare at you as if you're a misanthrope for not loving the cutesy-wootsy puppy. (Nope. Not a misanthrope. Just trying to eat dinner with a friend without dog hair and dog saliva in my veggie burger.) You shoo the dog away, and dog owners glare at you as if you've got some antisocial pathology: You're ruining their night out. Um, ruff, ruff, are you listening? It's actually antisocial to prioritize friendships with dogs. (Just as I know that it would be meaningless to dislike dogs, dog owners should understand that it's weird to have profound friendships with them.) It also seems a minor pathology in itself that dog owners can't go to a bar without leaving their dogs at home.
I know, I know. I chose to live in the city, and I should be tolerant. Free to Be You and Me. Well, I do love the city. And I am Free to Be You and Me, just not you and me and your dog. I like loud bars and crowded restaurants and late-night bookstores, and walking to art-house movies, and fancy music shows. I like the weirdoes that gravitate toward cities. I like being able to walk to the grocery store. I like hearing the bus go by my apartment.
I'm glad to help pay the $88,000 in annual taxes to help run the 11 dog parks throughout the city—on top of the $2 million we already spent building them. (Although it does seem a bit unfair to me that a portion of public land—the 11 parks range from .25 acres to 9 acres—is sequestered off for a specific group of people when we don't even have enough fields to meet co-recreational soccer league demand). And even though I'm not a dog owner, I'm happy to help pay the $3 million budget for the broad range of pet services provided by the city's animal shelter to accommodate the estimated 125,000 dog owners in town. (Only about 30,000 of you have gotten your dogs licensed, by the way, which means, legally, you aren't entitled to all the city services I'm helping pay for—like making city workers haul off about 200 pounds of dog shit a day from each dog park.)
But beyond paying to help you have a pet in town, I have no other obligations to your dog. I don't have to smile at it when you walk by, barely able to keep it from pulling you down the street (looks fun!); I don't have to laugh it off (like you do) when it barks and jumps up on me; and I don't have to move out of the way on the sidewalk to keep it from sniffing me. If you can't keep it from dragging you over and sniffing me, then you shouldn't be walking your dog down the street.
I stand with Rosa Barks.