Love is powerful, beautiful, a token of the highest commitment. And it can be dangerous when it makes us act dangerously or as if we oughtta be committed to a looney bin. Love can be a powerful drug, is the 1970s aphorism, and as many of us learned in the 1970s, drugs are bad, because while they may feel euphoric for an hour, they also cause a loss of self control and resulting damage that lasts for years. Among kids, the casualties of lovesickness are typically minor, while lovesick adults can inflict real damage.
When I was a high school teen, I fell madly in love with a girl named Mardy. Love sick, I followed her around like a puppy, gave her some silver jewelry despite not getting back the same intense vibe, and forgave her every indiscretion, including when she broke up with me. Heartbroken but sick with love, I cluelessly figured she’d come around and we’d be blissfully married forever (thirty years later we now share photos of our families and joke about our own teenagers). I was blinded by love, and that blindness caused me to act against my own interests.
Love that so badly warps your judgment that your native, most elementary powers of reason and empathy become suspended is not beautiful. It unnecessarily puts you and others around you in harm’s way. For the seemingly insignificant trade-off of a few drops of happy-rainbows-sunshine-smiley faces dopamine in our brain, the love sick adults among us enter into or create situations that can or will result in our bodies pumping massive amounts of adrenaline as fear and anger course our veins. That’s not love sick, but a twisted, sick love. And mental sickness is to be avoided.
What I’m really talking about here are a lot of adult owners of large dogs.
What’s up with those folks with large dogs off their leash, roaming free, or walking or running up to people and barking, growling, gingerly sniffing us as if to bite, etc.?
Do the owners of these dogs really not realize that their sick love for their pet causes them to suspend their good judgment, unnecessarily put people at risk, and treat people in ways they don’t like being treated? Following are two personal examples of how the sick love of pets has caused hard feelings, hard words, and close calls with enormous, potentially life-altering consequences. If these aren’t sufficient, there’s plenty of press reports from around Harrisburg and the nation demonstrate this bad trend.
Last week, I walked to pick up my son from summer day camp. His pick-up location is a couple of blocks from my home, and unless rain is pouring or time is short, walking there is a pleasant afternoon jaunt, usually with my wife. Next to the pick-up location are some homes with a long metal fence running between them, along their common boundaries. As we were leaving with our sweaty, red-faced boy, with other little camper kids milling about all around us, a big German shepherd dog in an adjacent yard came roaring up to the fence, barking ferociously, hackles flaring, white spit flying, fangs bared. Three little boys on our side weren’t scared, but rather intrigued, and two of them went to put their hands through the fence to touch the dog. Ahhh, innocence in the face of danger. Leaping back towards the kids, I shooed them away while their counselor came and corralled them to another area.
When those little hands approached the big-enough holes in the chain link, the German shepherd turned its head and put its muzzle right up to the fence, still barking convulsively, ready to bite whatever came through. It was a moment that could have turned out badly. Can’t we just imagine the severe life-long damage to those inquisitive little hands from the impressively toothsome bite of an animal tough enough to serve as a four-legged cop?
No sooner had I shooed away the kids, than the dog’s owner appeared in the place of the dog, a woman in shorts and an orangy tank top, mid-fifties, arms crossed, staring, and old enough to know better to not do what came next.
“You talking about my dog?,” she asked. “Don’t you talk about my dog,” she demanded, before I could respond.
To which I responded, “You mean your big, ferocious dog that scared us?”
To which she responded, “There’s no way he’s going to climb that tall fence and bite you…and you have a problem…and you don’t talk about my dog that way…and I never…and…and…and… etc.” On and on she went, firing up her sense of indignation. She had a lot to say. She said a lot in volume, in an angry tone.
She was upset that we were frightened by her vicious dog, and she had launched into her own ironic harangue, a form of loud, aggressive human barking, yelling not-nice words, trying to engage me or any other adult nearby in a shouting match. Meanwhile, I was 100 feet away already. The lady had lost, suspended, or traded away her common sense. Her sick love for a dangerous, unpredictable animal had made her behave in a sick way, and place other people, little tiny kids, at risk.
Another related story from recent times, reported in the Patriot News, described a dad walking with his two small kids in their Uptown Harrisburg neighborhood on a Saturday morning when they were suddenly attacked by two unleashed, unprovoked pitbulls owned by an adult. In seconds the dogs were on the kids, and the dad tried to knock them back with his hands and feet. With his four-year-old son’s neck the repeated target of the larger dog’s gaping maw, and a second or two to stop the attack or watch his boy die, the dad pulled a gun and fired on instinct (he had a concealed carry permit). Several rapid shots later, fired within a foot of the struggling boy, the wounded dog limped off and its frightened companion joined it in retreat. Without the gun, the kids would have been dead or disfigured. Few enough legal, normal, people carry guns, and under typical conditions this story would usually have ended much differently, with great sorrow and loss. Thank God I was carrying my pistol that morning.
How did this attack happen? It happened because another man’s twisted idea of “love” for his dogs precluded him from “unfairly shackling” them with leashes and limiting their movements. Gosh, he just loves his dogs and wants them to run freely, go free happy dog; wheee. His reasoning must have been that he likes to move freely, and that, therefore, his dogs must, too, and it’s unfair to have them feel unhappy if he doesn’t like to be unhappy. Act on impulse, folks, do what you want, it’s the new American way. Even if other people are put at great risk. The dogs’ owner cared more for his dogs than he did for innocent humans; he cared less about the basic safety needs of humans than he cared about his dogs’ sense of mobility. His judgment had become warped by his shallow, sickly sweet, sappy feelings for his dogs.
And let’s not pretend that shallow sentimentalism is uncommon. Thanks to Liberalism, shallow sentimentalism appears to be a huge force in America, as well as the driving cause behind animal welfare activism and many regular dog owners’ defense of their animals’ indefensible behavior. Their anthropomorphism is the dominant feature of owning a potentially dangerous, animated, unpredictable animal, but hey, they enjoy spoiling Fido. Sure, pets in general and dogs in particular serve positive roles, etc. I know it well, because I grew up with large utilitarian dogs, as my parents sought for many years to protect a rare strain of Alaskan Malamute, and all our neighboring farms employed dogs as sentinels, too. I like dogs. But the benefits of pets and dogs are not the issue at hand, and the fact that many dog owners will still try to defend their own pet from these concerns is sure proof of just how sick this sick pet love has become. The dog owners don’t listen, they ignore leash laws and signs, they pretend that every person walking on the same sidewalk won’t mind being sniffed, licked, or touched by their mutt.
Every beach, park, or forest trail I walk on, I am almost guaranteed an encounter with a large, free-ranging dog or two, running out just ahead of their owners. “Awwww, my liddle sweet poochy poo would neeeever hurt anyone,” goes the typical canned line from these sickly sweet sentimentalists as their dogs bark at you, nose around your crotch, or cautiously sniff your leg during your otherwise serene walk. Sappy sentimentalism is not prevalent in these encounters, but rather, it is overpoweringly common among owners of large dogs. Nevertheless, dog bites in public venues remain common.
What psychologists would say, or do say about this childish escapism masquerading as love among otherwise functioning adults, normal people don’t know and they don’t care. Despite plenty of reported dog attacks in the press, and plenty of laws on the books to prevent dog attacks, lots of owners of large dogs continue to ignore or flout them and place everyone else around them at risk. It’s as selfish a behavior as can be found, and it has become a hallmark of modern America. Folks, you are not a dog, and your dog is not a person. Please help make the public venue safer by leashing, controlling, and muzzling your large dog.
Because begging and cajoling dog owners to be responsible citizens hasn’t worked (and we haven’t even raised the issue of many owners failing to clean up dog poop), here’s a list of recommended improvements to established laws that will shape the kind of public environment we deserve:
1) Criminalize any and all unsolicited touching of a human by a dog in public. No, dude, you would not want me to walk up and sniff, lick, or touch your wife while she’s walking down the sidewalk, and surprise, guess what, my wife is really unhappy that your dog did that to her. No harm, you say? Well, actually, your subjective opinion aside, it’s battery and emotional distress, and you would react differently if it were my pet tarantula that I decided to let walk on your neck just ‘cause I wanted to. It’s simple: Dogs and their owners have no right to intrude into people’s lives in public. Humans have the right-of-way.
2) Increase the size and legibility of dog licenses so they can be easily identified.
3) Increase fines for unlicensed dogs sufficient to make it impossible for dog owners to ignore licenses.
4) Zero tolerance for violent dogs. Any dog that, unprovoked, attacks a human in the public venue, and possibly in private, shall be immediately seized and euthanized, with the public bill paid by the dog’s owner.
There’s lots of other ways to get a better handle on this problem, but I’m an advocate for limited, common-sense laws. Let’s get these suggestions implemented first, and hopefully they’ll be so effective that the news will change from dog bites man to man bites dog. And you might just imagine who that man will be, too…..
Photo by Tom Owad
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