Including Dogs in Everyday Life

ella in europeI’m presently going over the manuscript for my next book, an account of traveling through Europe with my wonderful mutt, Ella. (It will be out around this time next year.) Just as I’m reviewing a section of the book about Ella lunching with me at one of Paris’s finest restaurants, I’m confronted (yet again) by backward thinking here at home. My dog is welcomed at a Michelin trois etoile palace of gastronomy, but she can’t set foot in the local liquor store.

Now, more than a few friends, playing Devil’s Advocate, have suggested to me that most dogs aren’t as well behaved as Ella. Therefore, they argue, our American penchant for keeping dogs out of bars and restaurants – and almost everywhere else – is a necessary protection against wild canines that can’t be trusted. “Ella,” my friends insist, “is the exception.” The dogs that make up the rule, they say, would only cause trouble.

I’ve heard this argument a million times. It’s the same line of reasoning that prevents beer being sold at Paul Brown Stadium in Cleveland, where a few inebriated, bottle-throwing idiots once caused their football team to forfeit a game. Since we know there will always be a couple of “rotten apples” whose rancidness might potentially spoil the fun for everyone else, the thinking goes, we shouldn’t trust the vast majority to police themselves (and to prosecute the miscreants). Instead, we just throw the entire “barrel” into the rubbish. Instead of revokingDogs in everyday life the privilege of the abusers, we punish everyone.

My response to this wrong-headed methodology usually goes something like: The vast majority of dog owners know if their pet is well behaved enough to mingle in public, and if the dog isn’t well-trained they generally have enough common sense to leave him at home. It’s like parents with children. If you know your child is prone to fling his spaghetti at other diners, you’re probably considerate enough to leave him with a babysitter when you go out to eat. If, however, you’ve raised a well-mannered youngster, you’re fairly certain he won’t do anything that might compromise the enjoyment of those who do not find pasta projectiles amusing, and so you gladly (and proudly) bring him along. Likewise with dogs. A naughty mutt who likes to chew on tablecloths and the pants of strangers should be left to do his damage at home. A good dog who obeys commands and likes being around people should be welcome to join the party.

Cultures that include dogs in the events of everyday life tend to breed better-behaved dogs. It’s a benevolent circle. Since dogs are expected to be part of the social fabric, they’re generally more sociable.

To all this my friends –a contentious lot, don’t you think? – say, “Well, that’s there. Here in the United States it’s different. You can’t just start socializing dogs who don’t have any experience with going out in public. There’s Ella Konikno way of differentiating a great dog like Ella from a bad one.”

Well, actually there is. America is very big on licenses and accreditation. You need a special license to sell watercolors at the beach, a special license to drive a taxicab, a special license to serve bottles of beer to thirsty music fans. And, technically, in most American cities you’re supposed to have a license to own a dog. Let’s take it one step further. The American Kennel Club awards a “Canine Good Citizenship” certificate to dogs that can pass a thorough but fair behavior and personality test. (Ella has one.) Good Citizen dogs, I have found, are usually nicer and exhibit more predictable behavior than the average singles bar patron or pre-adolescent child. So I say we ought to encourage owners to make Good Citizens of their pooches and allow such exemplary Dobermans and Dachshunds, Pomeranians and Pekinese, increased access to places other than fenced dog parks.

Then again, I’m against motorcycle helmet laws and for the legalization of drugs and prostitution. Maybe I’m just a crazy libertarian whose belief in the sanctity of civil freedoms has turned him into an annoying crank with a peculiar obsession. Maybe taking dogs everywhere is, like my friends suggest, a generally bad idea.

But in the specific case of Ella Guinevere Konik, I can’t see the harm – and I definitely see the pleasure.

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