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Bulletin: Not everybody loves your dog

Farhad Manjoo doesn’t want to pet your dog.

In fact, he’d prefer it if you’d keep your dog to yourself — out of the park he wants to read in, away from the cafe where he enjoys his Frappuccino, and definitely not in the gym in which he works out.

It was a case of the latter that triggered a well-written, semi-playful, anti-dog diatribe he wrote for Slate last week.

Manjoo argued that dogs are getting too many privileges. He pointed out that not everybody enjoys their presence, cited health hazards they could conceivably pose, and suggested all those people who take their dogs everywhere start leaving them at home.

Not sharing one’s dog? To me, that’s the equivalent of hiding a Van Gogh behind an ironing board in the basement. Or putting a newfound cure for cancer in a time capsule. Or shielding your eyes — just to be safe — from a blazing sunset.

Still, we’d defend Manjoo’s preference to live life without somebody else’s dog in his face. That’s his right. It’s his loss, but it’s also his right.

Manjoo is Slate‘s technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society. So it doesn’t surprise me — he being caught up in all things digital — that he has failed to catch on to or be captivated by the wonder of dogs.

Microchipping aside, dogs and technology are best kept separate. They don’t always get along, maybe because they are the antithesis of each other. Technology may be the cure for everything, but dogs are the cure for technology. We’ll get back to this point, but first let’s look at what Manjoo said — after an unwanted encounter with a Doberman inside his gym.

“The dog came up to me, because in my experience that’s what dogs do when you don’t want them to come up to you. They get up real close, touching you, licking you, theatrically begging you to respond… I guess I was fairly sure he wouldn’t snap and bite me, but stranger things have happened — for instance, dogs snapping and biting people all the time. 

“Why was this dog here? And why was no one perturbed that this dog was here?

“…No one was asking because no one could ask. Sometime in the last decade, dogs achieved dominion over urban America. They are everywhere now, allowed in places that used to belong exclusively to humans, and sometimes only to human adults: the office, restaurants, museums, buses, trains, malls, supermarkets, barber shops, banks, post offices… Dogs are frequently allowed to wander off leash, to run toward you and around you, to run across the baseball field or basketball court, to get up in your grill. Even worse than the dogs are the owners, who seem never to consider whether there may be people in the gym/office/restaurant/museum who do not care to be in close proximity to their dogs. …”

Manjoo admits to not being a dog person, but at least — unlike most anti-dog types — he has a sense of humor about it.

“It’s not that I actively despise mutts; I just don’t have much time for them, in the same way I don’t have time for crossword puzzles or Maroon 5,” he writes.

“But here’s my problem: There’s now a cultural assumption that everyone must love dogs. Dog owners are rarely forced to reckon with the idea that there are people who aren’t enthralled by their furry friends, and that taking their dogs everywhere might not be completely pleasant for these folks.”

And seldom, he points out, does anyone whose dog accosts him say they’re sorry.

“… I can promise you she won’t apologize for the imposition. Nor will she ask you if you mind her dog doing what he’s doing. Nor will she pull on its leash, because there won’t be a leash, this being an office, where dogs are as welcome as Wi-Fi and free coffee.”

The same holds true, he notes, at coffee houses.

Here we should point out that the dog pictured atop this post is mine, and that, in the photo, Ace is enjoying an iced coffee product at Starbucks, offered to him by a customer whose behavior indicated she wanted him to visit her table.

When I take Ace to a Starbucks, or most anywhere else, it’s usually pretty apparent who wants to meet him and who doesn’t, and I restrain him accordingly. I don’t have to compile any data or crunch any numbers, I can just tell. It’s not brain surgery, or computer science.

Even though most people go to Starbucks for the free Wi-Fi, or the expensive coffee, I’d estimate about one of two customers wants to meet my dog. Ace — and this isn’t true of every dog — has a way of figuring that out himself, and generally will avoid those who show no interest in him, unless they are in the process of eating a muffin or pastry, in which case he’s willing to overlook the fact they may not be dog lovers.

What makes the numbers even more impressive is that 8 of every 10 customers at your typical Starbucks are under the spell of their computer device and not at all cognizant of what’s going on around them.

Ace is sometimes able to break that spell, at least he does for me.

As for me, I’d rather have access to Fido then Wi-Fi anyday. Fido will soothe me. Wi-Fi will likely, at some point, make me angry and frustrated. Fido will focus me. Wi-Fi will distract me. Wi-Fi will accost me with uninvited and intrusive messages, and send me alerts, and remind me of all the things I need to do today.  Fido will remind me all those things aren’t really that important and can wait until tomorrow. Wi-Fi will take me out of the moment; Fido will keep me in it. Wi-fi has no soul. Fido does, and his presence allows our souls — those of us who have them — to be refreshed. Dogs keep us from becoming an entirely manic society.

No one, if I have my laptop on, will want to come up and pet it, except maybe Farhad Manjoo, who — while not having the least bit of interest in my dog — is probably curious about my gigabytes and apps.

On this much I will agree with Manjoo: There are dog owners who seem unaware that not everybody will delight in their dog, oblivious to the fact that some might find their dog annoying and intrusive. Similarly, though, there are parents of children who don’t realize not everybody will delight in their antics. Similarly, too, there are grown-up people who fail to realize that they themselves are annoying and who we’d prefer not to have inflicted upon us.

Unfortunately, we can’t just ban them. Our choices are limited. We could work on being tolerant —  of all ages, sizes, shapes and species, despite their noise, intrusiveness and abrasiveness levels. Or we could go somewhere else. Or we could complain.

Sometimes, when visiting a Starbucks or other coffee place, I wonder if I should lodge an official complaint with management about Wi-Fi — objecting to its omnipresence, and how it seems to be turning people into keyboard-pushing zombies.

“No,” I’d say, “I’m not technically allergic to it, but I’m uncomfortable with it near. I’ve had some bad experiences with it. Sometimes it bites people when they least expect it, and I’m pretty sure it harbors germs.”

“But it’s wireless,” the manager might say.

“Exactly,” I’d say with a huff. “Put a leash on it.”


Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time May 14, 2013 at 9:22 am

I can think of a couple of very legitimate reasons why people might want to avoid dogs:

1) They’re practicing Muslims. My next-door neighbors are from an Arab country, here to study at a local university. They’re agreeable, quiet, kind, and helpful. They also regard Spencer as ritually unclean–it’s part of their religion. Oddly enough, they don’t dislike him. They greet him by name, inquire after his health, and address him by name. They just don’t want to touch him. Before anybody goes all neocon or anti-Muslim, I will point out that Christian and Hebrew scriptures are full of things that are supposed to make you ritually unclean, including touching one’s spouse at certain times. Viewed in that light, not wanting to touch the dog doesn’t seem all that weird. They wouldn’t hurt him for the world.

2) There are plenty of places in the world where dogs still aren’t vaccinated for rabies. In those places, parents teach their children at a very early age to be afraid of strange dogs. That makes sense to me. I would probably do the same thing. And when you’ve been brought up in that kind of fear, it can become pretty ingrained. It can also save a child’s life.

I think we can all enjoy our dogs without imposing them on other people.

Comment from Lynn (in Louisiana)
Time May 14, 2013 at 10:29 am

Excellent post. I really enjoy your blog John. Thank you!

Comment from Maggie Malone
Time May 14, 2013 at 5:00 pm

I like the comparison you made with children. Some people truly don’t understand that there may be people out there that don’t find their children interesting or appealing. Yet we are a society that allows children to do pretty much what they want, where they want. I deal with it. I think everyone else can deal with my well behaved and controlled dog.

Comment from vida
Time May 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Years ago a hospital where a relative of mine lived got a dog for their unit. The dog was great, most patients loved her. One woman did not. She whined constantly about him, explaining to all in earshot that she didn’t like dogs. Another patient wheeled up to her, sighed and said…”You don’t like dogs, you don’t like life”. That stuck with me, always will.

Comment from JE Harris
Time May 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Bah humbug, Farhad Manjoo. I live in what I consider to be the rather dog-friendly city of Austin, Texas, a place with a reputation I understand for its liberal bent, and yet we don’t have this situation of dogs gone wild that Manjoo describes with dogs everywhere and owners oblivious of their dogs’ behavior and of other people’s feelings. I feel he over-generalizes just so he can express his bah-humbug feelings about dogs and to have something to write about from a different perspective. I used to have a generalized fear of dogs, and I am still afraid of dogs under certain undesirable circumstances. I also remember very well my own previous generalized fear, and try to always keep my dog from interacting with other humans and dogs unless I have verbal confirmation that interaction is desired/permissible. And even then, I keep a close watch and a ready hand to pull my dog back if need be though that doesn’t ever really come up in the first place.

Comment from selkie
Time May 15, 2013 at 6:35 am

Actually, I think Farhad Manjoo has some good points (and concur about people’s kids too) – I have both (dogs, kids and for good measure, cats too- and LOTS of people hate them)- but bottom line, MY choices shouldn’t impact quiet enjoyment of others. Further, as a dog owner whose dogs are rescues and come with their own issues – the idiots that NEVER leash their damn dogs “becuase they’re friendly” drive me CRAZY- it has actually limited where I can walk my dogs. My dogs DO NOT LIKE other dogs – friendly or not – and when you have no control over your damn dog, then he SHOULD be on a leash – end of story. I also don’t believe that everyone needs to love my dogs (or my kids)- and as such, respect their right to have their space. I’m good with dogs being in coffee shops, etc, as long as they are well behaved and remain with their person unless there is a clear indication that further contact is wanted.

Comment from Jen Brighton
Time May 15, 2013 at 1:33 pm

While I adore my dogs and everyone else’s, I also can see Mr. Manjoo’s point of view. I really can’t believe this, but before I got my first dog I didn’t like them at all–stinky, big and always wanting to sniff in inappropriate places. I was a cat person all the way. Our first puppy altered that course of thought after about a month. Now my current dogs sleep not only on the bed but in the bed.

I always try to be courteous of people who either shy away from my dogs or whose body language simply says, “I don’t want your dog to approach me, lick me or get near me.” Those people are pretty easy to spot. Having said that, my dogs accompany my husband and me to every place that legally allows them, including outdoor restaurants and pubs. I think the more socialized a dog is, the better doggy citizen it is, keeping in mind that if it stresses your dog to be out in public, by all means do what’s best for the dog and leave it home.

And always be courteous towards others. It’s the dog owners who aren’t that give us a bad name when out with our well-behaved pooches.

Comment from Jen Brighton
Time May 15, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Anne ‘n Spencer – your comment was interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing.

Comment from Denise
Time August 28, 2013 at 2:41 am

Not everyone likes dogs.
Just as not everyone likes tarantulas or brussel sprouts. Don’t inflict your hobby (dog) on others and assume they like it.
I certainly do not.

Comment from della
Time December 1, 2013 at 2:06 am

I love all animals,, but cannot understand owners, who assume their darling little dog, should be allowed to go wherever they go, be it shopping malls, restaurants and to their friends and family’s homes, and even entertaining the idea that their little baby should be allowed to fly, seated on their owners knee. They expect everyone they visit to accept their pet, I call it intimidation, I do not want my visitor’s dog to jump all over my legs nor sniff my privates not to mention leaping on all furniture as takes it’s fancy. What makes it terrible is that this obsessed new dog owner happens to be a close relative and the attitude is love me love my dog, and would take offence if we voiced our opinion..Not Happy!

Comment from Sarah
Time August 30, 2014 at 2:47 pm

I merely tolerate dogs when I have to. I read Mr. Manjoo’s article and I fully agree with it. Dogs shouldn’t be in places like Starbucks, the grocery store, the gym, etc. Not everyone likes them and some of us are allergic to them. I don’t want to be bothered by someone’s undisciplined dog. I don’t care if your beloved Sparky likes me, I don’t want him jumping all over me, drooling on me and sniffing my crouch. Like others said, it is pretty easy to tell if someone feels uncomfortable around your dog but some dog owners are completely oblivious. The same goes for people who expect you to adore their screaming bratty kids.