Monday, November 28, 2011

Dog ownership: you're doing it wrong

Bisou celebrated getting her post-spaying stitches out (and more to the point, not having to wear a cone, and being allowed to move around beyond the kitchen) with a bath, which was for the best because we had people over for Thanksgiving and, after her first long walk in two weeks, she was in her sleepy-cuddly mood with our guests. She appears to have enjoyed her long weekend - more exercise than usual, and the odd piece of croissant. Fine, so being around so many people on Saturday in NY got her in that weird mood when she prances around on her hind legs (a spectacle on crowded Nassau St., but hardly less so in Manhattan), but at least she met some other dogs. Or was nearby some other dogs. I don't know what it takes to let Bisou know that she is a dog, and meant to socialize with her kind, and had hoped this could just be done by introducing her to her fellow canines. We've trained her on our own (housebreaking and basic commands, and the gradual-ish process of phasing out the crate), so obedience school had started to seem not so pressing. I'm starting to think we will, however, have to fork over money to some entity that does for dogs whatever it is regular school is said to have over homeschooling. Given that even the closest dog run has an entry fee, this starts to seem inevitable.

Oh, and I wish I didn't know (but I now do, thanks to Gawker commenters) that the dog run we took Bisou to in NY is a place where dogs pick up parasites. I'm not too worried, given that Bisou spent most of her time at the "run" sitting under our bench, not eating or drinking anything on the ground, but this does point to the eternal doggy dilemma of the animal's mental and physical health being mutually exclusive.


I'd never thought about it this way, but I'd agree that "the bulldog’s aesthetic opposite [is] the poodle." I've always liked (and, if possible, gone out of my way to say hello to) basically all cats (but, severe-ish allergies) and dogs, big and small, with the exception of dogs in the pug-bulldog-pit bull-boxer-bull terrier family. So the exposés about how these dogs (or some of them) are unhealthy under the best of circumstances have made me relieved, I suppose, that my aesthetic preference matches up with what's best for dogs. (Not so with my favorite large-dog breed, the Bernese Mountain Dog, that couldn't be cuter or sweeter but apparently only lives for five to six minutes.)

The response to the article, predictably enough, brings out the my-opinion-on-matters-canine-is-the-only-correct-one-and-if-you-think-something-slightly-different-you're-evil-incarnate contingent.* As a newish dog owner and newspaper-comment aficionado, I can, unfortunately, report back. 

-There's the usual Rescue Culture intervention. If you purchase any dog - bulldog or not, breeder or pet store - you are a dog murderer. This makes reading comments to anything about dogs like reading those to anything about the Middle East - the set who pick up on key words, present their template rant, then (if ambitious) quickly attempt to connect their rant to the specific issue at hand. So sure, one could read as the broader message of the article that purebred dogs are part of a corrupt system, and that's just one more reason to go with a mutt (or save an abandoned fancy dog). I'm not sure that was the point, but hey, the article did not make the "responsible breeder" sound so fabulous.

-Many think it's wrong to care what a dog looks like. Lookist, or something. While I agree that it's sinister that bulldogs are being bred to look a way that is inherently bad for the dogs, I'm not sure what the crime is in choosing a dog you think looks cute. And the anti-lookism comes from all sides - those who think if you won't take the saddest dog at the pound, you don't deserve a pet, as well as those who think you need to have extensively researched breed temperament before making the decision of a lifetime. When it's like, when it comes down to it, dogs are dogs. They by and large need to be taken out for bathroom-time and exercise, they like to chew on your slippers, and (god willing) when they're older than puppies they calm down a bit. Having a dog is, especially at first, a lot of work, so you might as well start out with one of a sort that, if you weren't constantly monitoring its bowel movement schedule, you'd be squealing with delight every time you looked at it. 

-Many think this "breed" thing is unnatural. Fair enough, if we're defining anything that comes from human intervention as unnatural, as is the usual definition, but is a mutt "natural"? Human interference brought you your scraggily unclassifiable fluffballs, too. Note that they do not resemble wolves. Consider how this may have come to be. Do you think some wolves up and decided to get perms, bleach their fur, and become Bichon-mixes?

-Many think preferring one "breed" to another is akin to being a racist eugenicist. Now, given that anyone who cares about dogs advocates sterilizing most of them, and anyone with a dog is feeding it meat products, and that dogs get "put to sleep" in a way that people, ideally, don't, it shouldn't but does require noting that non-human animals aren't people. (Except for Bisou, who walks around on her hind legs to drive the point home.) As far as I'm concerned, if humanity can channel its interest in purity and the color and texture of hair onto non-human animals and keep it there, that's for the best. So, while I find it creepy that in this day and age, there's a profession called "model" in which humans are judged entirely on the basis of their looks (although I'm sure Tyra would say there's more to it), I don't find it at all unsettling that there's such a thing as the Westminster Dog Show. I'd rather people make a fuss about perpetuating Golden Retrievers than going on all Norwegian-murderer-like about how the world would end if blondness in humans disappeared as a trait.

-One commenter (and I hope just the one) thinks he or she "rescued" her dog from a pet store... by purchasing it from a pet store. And then, to make things worse, notes that this does fund the problem, but the dog looked so pathetic. This is upsetting in part because it's so idiotic if the person really believes this, and bad for dogs if this view is generally shared, but also because it suggests "rescue" perhaps is now considered the reason to own a dog, however the dog was acquired. Speaking of...

-Many of the commenters rail against those who own a dog for the wrong reasons, and no this isn't an unfortunate call to Dan Savage. The wrong reasons are wanting a dog that's like a teddy bear, or that flatters one's vanity, or something, I don't quite get this gripe. My only guess is that it hints at the idea that the only correct reason to own a dog is to preserve an already-existing life, to do one's small part to keep dogs from suffering. And as noble as it is to help already-existing dogs, it seems wrong, or at least unnecessary, to make that the point of dog ownership. The point of dog ownership is that it's fun to spend more time with a dog than you get just seeing them pass by on the street, and to have a dog with whom you and your family in particular have bonded. It's selfish, yes, but in principle at least, the much-beloved creature is well-treated and gets something out of it as well. Of course owning a dog is about responsibility, about not deciding a year or ten in that you're bored with having a dog, about (in the more immediate moment) getting up to walk the dog at all hours and in all weather. But these are things you do in order to have a dog, not for their own sake.

*This is true at Gawker as well. Somewhere in that thread, there's a heated debate about whether Great Danes (Whitney, this one's for you) are apartment dogs. One commenter holds forth smugly about how it's basically dog abuse to only give your dog one or two long walks a day, because this breed needs to run free daily for hours. Then someone who actually owns this kind of dog explains that they take their dog to a place to run around and the dog just sits there and isn't interested in that, and is thus a perfectly fine dog to have in an apartment. Others chime in to point out that people have a tendency to overexercise these dogs. In other words, you can rest assured that if you own a dog, whatever your approach, you're doing it wrong.


Marni Jane said...

I recall your last post on the belief that "rescues" were the only point of having a dog and thought it odd, then went on to start noticing that yes, sadly, there are people who really think this. I can't even wrap my head around it, it so clearly ignores both reasons for owning a dog and how one might come to having a dog other than the evil, evil pet shop (which, it should be noted, at least around these parts often feature cats and dogs from the local shelters or individuals). All of my dogs have been purebred schipperkes not from rescues but have been ridiculously coddled since birth from various folks and sources. If anything it strikes me as akin to folk who seem to believe the only deserving children out there are from horrible 3rd world countries and they saved them. I just don't get it, why does it matter where they come from or the owners motivations so long as they're loved now?

Phoebe said...

Marni Jane,

There are indeed some commenters who make the human-adoption comparison, and who take the bulldog question as an opportunity to launch into their grievances with women who choose IVF over adoption. Meanwhile, to keep things in those (problematic) terms, it can be more difficult to adopt than to, well, buy, so someone intent on having a child/dog isn't necessarily killing or otherwise abandoning a sad case every time a "purchase" is made. Of course, then comes the retort about how there's always the pound (as opposed to a choosier rescue organization), there are always older children who need foster homes. Rescue culture doesn't allow any outs.

In (limited) defense of rescue culture, I don't think it's a terrible idea for there to be greater awareness of the availability of already-alive dogs, and for there to be some social pressure (directed, after all, at a target audience already convinced that canine life is worth, if not the same as human life, more than, say, that of an ant) encouraging adoption. The problems as far as I'm concerned come from 1) the tendency of this to degenerate into bullying, without any attention paid to why adopting a dog isn't going to be the best thing for all individuals/families at all times in their lives, and 2) more broadly, the idea that "rescue" is why you own a dog, whether it's an adopted or purchased animal.

CW said...

"In other words, you can rest assured that if you own a dog, whatever your approach, you're doing it wrong."

Many of your dog posts remind me of parenthood, particularly the stuff I read during first year of my oldest child's life.

kei said...

(No offense to your non-dog posts; I just tend to have more clear things to say in response to these!)

First, thank you for doing the work of reading comments, because I can't get past the first page. I saw one rescue intervention suggestion, and it just seemed so missing-the-point, because the article is about how there are particular egregious problems about this particular breed, not all pure breeds in general. And the attack on the so-called 'responsible breeders' in the article was against those who are obviously in some kind of deep denial about the current state of the bulldog. I don't think that's representative of all purebred breeders in general. (Although I will say, when I heard our breeder talk about her Shibas, I was surprised by how physique-focused her comments were. This was kind of strange to me, but I didn't find it worrisome because I was led to this breeder on the reputation that she "bred for personality," and it was also apparent that personality, to some degree, matters "in the ring" as well as outside.) And one could obviously rescue bulldogs, though that doesn't provide a real long-term solution to the bulldog problem, but I don't think this was the one commenter's point; they were just saying, the bulldog is why breeding is evil, and to end that, we should rescue.

Re: lookism, I tend to think it's fine to be a lookist, and I even consider myself, to some degree (not to an extreme) a nationalist lookist. A large part of why the Akita and Shiba were appealing to me is because they're Japanese dogs. (They're are other reasons, primarily some familiarity with the breeds.) But then again, and this is where I'm not extreme, I don't like the look of the Japanese Chin and I wouldn't own a Tosa (Japanese pitbull, basically); I'd much rather the Korean Jingdo, which is size-wise a cross between an Akita and Shiba. Anyway. Sorry, but I think about this stuff a lot!

The thing about lookism, and all the extreme issues raised in the bulldog article, is that I wonder about the 'designer breeds,' like Goldendoodles, which seem to be bred for hypoallergenic purposes and because they're cute. This seems like obvious lookism (and matters of convenience) that is generally ok'd by most of the public (though they're not recognized by the AKC). And then there's the "Canis Panther," a mix between Great Dane, Black Lab, Doberman, and American Staffordshire (pit-cousin), and they seem to be bred to at least look mean. They may be bred to actually be mean, I'm not sure. But if it's just "to look mean," is that different from "to look adorable"? I think it's too early to see if there are health-related side-effects of this kind of cherry-picking breeding. And then, are either of those different from "I want an Akita/Shiba because it's Japanese"? A lot of it is just straight up looks! Can we not just accept this fact more straightforwardly, or do we imagine it hurts dogs' feelings?

Phoebe said...


I spend most of my waking hours with a dog, far more than with humans due to the particularities of this academic year, so there will be more dog posts, rest assured!

(I just got back from a short jog, with Bisou. I used to see women jogging with little poodles, etc., in NY, and think this was the height of vanity, some attempt to get the calorie-burning potential of a big sporty dog mixed with a handbag variety. Now I know that Bisou can run much faster and for much longer than I can, and that she'll be in a foul mood if she doesn't get this much exercise, followed by a chance to sprint around the apartment.)

Re: lookism - I think even those who go adopt could stand accused of this. Don't people select a dog at the pound on the basis of cuteness? Not "purity," perhaps (although breed-specific rescue is about that), but still, why the German shepherd - golden retriever mix, and not the scraggly terrier? (Pit bulls are their own issue, what with the stories in the news all the time about them biting people's faces off, etc.)

The national angle is interesting, and it's making me wonder if on some level what drew my husband to the breed we ended up with was that it's... not a Belgian breed, but from very nearby (France and Germany), and even if he wasn't that aware of it growing up, there are a ton of poodles in his hometown. (For example!) If anything, I think the fact that I study French made me think it would seem silly to have a dog that, if German, is generally thought of as French to the point of cliché, but it was going to Paris and seeing the impeccable poodles strutting around department stores, vegetable stands, etc., that really sold me on the idea.