Friday, September 7, 2007

"To Err is Human, to Forgive, Canine"

Just so folks know that I’m a dog-lover too, here are a few funnies and a bittersweet true story as lead-in to the tough love printed later:
"I think we are drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren't certain we knew better." - George Bird Evans, "Troubles with Bird Dogs"

"The average dog is a nicer person than the average person." - Andrew A. Rooney

"Do not make the mistake of treating your dogs like humans or they will treat you like dogs." - Martha Scott

"I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons." - Will Rogers

"Politics are not my concern... they impressed me as a dog's life without a dog's decencies." - Rudyard Kipling

"In a dog-eat-dog world, it is the dogmatic domain of dog lovers to offer dogdom a dog's chance to rise above the dog days for a doggone good time." - AKC Gazette August 1991

"I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult." - Rita Rudner

"The disposition of noble dogs is to be gentle with people they know and the opposite with those they don't know...How, then, can the dog be anything other than a lover of learning since it defines what's its own and what's alien." - Plato

"There are times when even the best manager is like the little boy with the big dog." waiting to see where the dog wants to go so he can take him there. - Lee Iacocca, US auto business executive

"If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around." - cowboy wisdom

"The nose of the Bulldog has been slanted backwards so that he can breathe without letting go." - Winston Churchill

"If you can't decide between a Shepherd, a Setter or a Poodle, get them all ... adopt a mutt!" - ASPCA

"A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog." - Jack London

"Children and dogs are as necessary to the welfare of the country as Wall Street and the railroads." - Harry S Truman

"The world was conquered through the understanding of dogs; the world exists through the understanding of dogs." - Nietzche

"All knowledge, the totality of all questions and all answers is contained in the dog." - Kafka

"To err is human, to forgive, canine." - Unknown

"When a man's best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem." - Edward Abbey

"Know yourself. Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful." - Ann Landers

"Every boy should have two things: a dog, and a mother willing to let him have one" - Anonymous

Oh, that dog! Ever hear of a German shepherd that bites its nails? Barks with a lisp? You say, "Attack!" And he has one. All he does is piddle. He's nothing but a fur-covered kidney that barks. --Phillis Diller

"Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie!'... till you can find a rock." - Unknown
MacWattie of Westfield, "Mac", was a Sheltie companion & friend of my son Tom for 17 years, who died in his arms. A purebred pup, Mac was much too friendly and oversized to ever ‘show’. But who wanted him to? We got rid of his Pedigree name the same day we learned he had one, and replaced it with Mac.

Oh, there were other names we called him too, made up on the spur of the moment, and he answered to all of them -as long as the voice was ours – or the kids. Wheeling and turning among the young children who endlessly tried to catch him, squealing and laughing and tiring themselves out for a sound sleep later.

Anticipating unerringly the exact time to meet young Tom, trudging his way home from school in the snow, bundled up so well that his arms stood out to his sides, like a little penguin. Running lickety split, tail flailing and with a purpose that was single minded. Barking as he approached Tom, then jumping and circling and savoring the returned attention as if it was the best thing that could possibly be happening!

Mackelby Mack, dogulus, McWatulus, DOG!, dogwilly, an endless supply of other assorted funny and weird names. Mac answered to them all, and wondered why we couldn't think of more ways to enjoy his company! Oh how he loved being ‘ruffed and tuffed’, while rolling on the ground or floor!

And what a comfort it was to have him sleep close to Tom at night, a sight that warmed the heart to its core! Of course, Tom had his own strange litany of names that his silly Dad kept thinking up.
He mainly ignored them, but Mac didn't! He sensed that fun was being had and willingly shared that too.

Bear, shrimp, frog, runt, T Tom Turkey, Thhomas, Tommy two-feet, Tuffus, it's a wonder that kid wasn't messed up by all that stuff.
But Mac made it all alright. Everything was OK as long as Mac agreed, which he almost always did.

In retrospect, Mac was part of the glue that kept our little family together as long as we were. And now, over 15 years since he died in Tom's arms, Mac's memory lives as strongly for me as ever. Because that dear dog exemplified what can only be called unqualified love, and more than that, the joy of just being alive, among family, kids and friends.

Heck, he even enjoyed the company of other dogs, as long as they weren't overly fearful or aggressive. Mac was the very essence dogginess, the part that endears that animal species like no other. The part that makes people think of dogs as 'man's best friend'. We loved him; he loved us and we still love his memory. That's the highest praise in my book!

Years after divorce and relocation had separated our little family, I paid a short visit to where Mac then lived, where without any special attention being drawn to me, Mac sensed my presence, then turned and looked at me as if to say where have you been? But that look was fleeting and at some level Mac knew that things had irretrievably changed; that I was no longer a part of that little family, except of course for the memory of things past. Without encouraging him more to come for one last pet, I slowly drove away and watched in the rear view mirror as he looked my way again, then resumed his doggy business of the moment.

The twang at my heart told me what I already knew, that Mac would remain as much a part of me in memory as he was in real life. That realization was merciful, because when Mac died several years later, I had already prepared myself for his physical loss. I love him still, as I know he does me.

Somewhere in the great beyond we will be reunited, but maybe we don't have to wait for that either? Mac is still with us!
Now, for the ‘tough love’ part, written over a year ago, responding, silently until now, to the “Grateful Dogs’ organization of local dog lovers:

1. How many neighbors would put up with other people's dogs running around, unrestricted in their yards, sidewalks and children's play areas? Not too many in my experience.

Parks are everyone's neighborhoods, and tax dollars pay for them to be just that. The same respect for others needs to occur in parks and on trails as in residential neighborhoods. End of argument and story.

2. Grateful Dogs is an organization of dog owners, not dogs. Every member is, undoubtedly, a responsible citizen who also loves his/her pet and wants it to have fun. When the pet has fun, so do the owners, at least most of the time! Parents feel the same about their kids - and elders.

Do we want to deny people fun so dogs can have unlimited freedom?
I don't think so, unless dog owners own enough property to make this seem possible. Lets keep the perspective that parks and trails are primarily for people, including those who happen to have dogs –and keep them under control.

3. Enforcement or the lack of it is sometimes cited as the city's responsibility, which is true enough. But most people understand that the great majority of compliance with rules and regulations is voluntary, and it has to be that way in our free society.

Egregious or repeated violations are the ones that get enforced, but only after they are documented and reported. Even then, convictions or meaningful fines are rare. Enforcement officers have enough on their hands without having to play pet-sitter for owners who don’t control their pets!

So, let's don't pretend things are any different for dogs or their owners. A few bad actors can make a whole group look bad, despite all their good efforts. The point is, we need the responsible dog owners to voluntarily do the right thing, and in so doing, positively influence others to do the same.

4. Dog off-leash areas cost money to provide and maintain. They also tend to 'sterilize' these areas for any other use. Even in the existing dog off-leash areas there have been repeated abuses reported, because some dogs just don't know how to act when they're running free around other dogs or people. So, just having more off-leash areas for dogs doesn't seem to be a viable answer.

The few areas that have been designated off-leash for certain times of the day, while owners are present do seem to function pretty well, especially when the goal is to eliminate poop anyway [goose or other wise]. Did you know each ‘poop’ is estimated to contain up to 3 Billion fecal coliform cells? That’s not where kids ought to be playing either.

Some of these areas are also in environmentally sensitive areas, which becomes problematic for other reasons, like at Post Point Lagoon, a pocket estuary, where salmon have traditionally bred and herons are now being protected.

5. Blaming the Parks Department or the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board for not acceding to every dog owner demand is inaccurate and misguided. These people have a duty to represent everyone's interests fairly and with balance. That sometimes means that people don't get everything they would like to have, because of limited space and/or resources or simply because of incompatibility between certain uses and good parks use policy. It is juvenile to pretend these people, all of whom are also residents and park users -and many of them dog owners-, are somehow treating Grateful Dogs owners unfairly.

Also, we all need to remember these arguments are not original! This is not the first time, nor the last time these issues have come up for discussion.

Historically, there have been all kinds of user conflicts with public facilities, which have to be mitigated to most -not necessarily all- people's satisfaction.
That's just how democracies work. Changes can occur, but only after due consideration, and the decisions made need to be respected in order for the system to work for everyone.

6. Public Relations strategies that focus on single issues are common and often effective, providing their message resonates with common sense. The Grateful Dogs campaign seems exceptionally strident and demanding for an issue that is not considered critical by most people.

The personal attacks on individuals have sometimes even been mean spirited and not based upon facts, but self-serving opinions. In short, the PR campaign may have been more of a detriment than a help to its goals.

Grateful Dogs needs to rethink its strategy to emphasize what the organization does to benefit the community and help enforce the rules we have, not just the selfish aims of some who fail to consider the true difficulties inherent in having dogs roaming our parks and trails at will without being under control.

Grateful Dogs can do better than using these tactics, so why not start doing it? The public –and maybe even the dogs- will thank you.

Finally, if there were ever a citywide vote on the issue of allowing uncontrolled dogs’ I believe it would certainly fail by a large margin, reflecting the true underlying sentiment of the community. It is important to consider the needs –and wants- of dogs and their owners, but we do have a few other issues on which we need to spend our priorities!