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Offbeat – 31 January 2014

Pets should be valued as pets, not as social drawcards in the freak show of people trying to draw attention to themselves. My cruel mouth kept on wanting to ask if a human date was really that hard to arrange.

The rubbish truck is outside for early removal. The guys in the orange overalls are carting off the big green bins. The wheels rumble like thunder. It’s doggy heaven. The mutts have something to bark at that is more than a passing shadow or a stranger. Some of them, like the dog across the road are wise to the thing, and don’t bother to rouse themselves. The rest make sure that everyone knows they are there.
Those times when I have enough rubbish to put out on the pavement, I go outside as the truck passes to catch the bin on its way back. I see that the guys who empty them don’t carry sticks to chase away the dogs who are frantic to defend their turf.

The neighbourhood has changed a bit. The number of dogs on the road has declined. My former neighbours, the dog farmers, have moved somewhere else, so their small dogs aren’t around any more. The dogs up the hill and around that other corner don’t show themselves now. That leaves the two down the hill and left at the stop sign, They come out of their yard, but not much. Dogs like numbers, and two is hardly a pack, just a minor canine ambition.
The teeth and barks live behind walls and fences. Threat displays are limited to manic jumping. I try not to laugh when I see the teeth bouncing up and down. Dogs need their self respect.
Walls and fences go down well with me. The fact that the dogs are behind them, rather than running on the road says even more.
I have noticed that men let their dogs run on the road as a challenge to all. Call it a testosterone display by proxy, a territorial extension. They are probably an acknowledgment that peeing against a lamp post or a stop sign doesn’t scare off intruders. It doesn’t do much for virility either, especially if the tannies look over the wall and snigger.
Maybe the neighbourhood is maturing a bit, and the men are settling down, comfy in the knowledge that they belong here, and they don’t need to defend their patch of pavement with open gates that let the dogs loose. It feels good. It also makes it easier to go for a walk.
At a stage, it was quite a fashion statement to take dogs everywhere. People would show up with them at parties and on casual visits. Some nightspots, even outdoor restaurants, would allow certain canines and their owners to relax together. You could spot the owners. They glowed with a sense of smug satisfaction.
That owner could define himself as having a companion. The dog became a people magnet, and a draw for eyes, increasing the owner’s social standing. Something felt wrong about that. Pets should be valued as pets, not as social drawcards in the freak show of people trying to draw attention to themselves. My cruel mouth kept on wanting to ask if a human date was really that hard to arrange.
After a while the dogs were left at home. Lovers and families replaced them in the social sphere. That was a small mercy. I never enjoyed people showing up at my gate with man’s best friend. I had pets as well, still do, and the demand that I find a way to accommodate the unexpected furry guest for an evening, by shutting away a traumatised cat, is an irritating imposition.
I don’t know what happens nowadays. I am sure there are younger guys out there who insist that their canines are worthy companionship for everybody, and well trained. I don’t hang out in that age bracket. It doesn’t happen in my neighbourhood either. But for the two dogs around the corner, down the hill, the only other dogs, out of the gardens, are the ones on leashes, or the dog in the cul-de-sac, even further away, who joins in the fun with the kids. I need the presence of family dogs in my surroundings. Family dogs, the ones that are well-cared-for and kept behind fences are a sign that the neighbourhood has achieved the prosperity that makes a dog affordable. It also talks about the quality of the neighbourhood’s soul if animals are more than disposable items.
Dog’s are one of man’s best friends, just better at home, safe behind gates.

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