16 April 2008

A Dog's Life: Then and Now

A recent article in the New York Times Magazine lamented the disappearance of the rough and tumble childhood. Gone are the days of going out to play in the neighborhood or the ubiquitous “woods” with little or no supervision. Such carefree times have been replaced by play dates and latchkeys, and playstations. This generation of children are among the most watched over in the history of our nation. Childhood has changed in America, and the debate is raging as to whether it is for better or worse.

I don’t have children as yet, but I do have a dog. I must admit that I, like many dog owners, particularly single or childless ones, have often made the comparison between having a dog and having kids. It should come as no surprise then that the lives of dogs today, like those of kids today, are much more tightly controlled and organized than they were a generation ago.

In my neighborhood, growing up, dogs were everywhere. Nobody chained their dogs so they were free to wander and roam. Even during times when my family did not have a dog, there were always dogs in my yard. There was Picoh (Pee-KOH), a collie who lived over the hill and through the woods (literally). Sasha, my best friends Siberian Husky (For some reason, she liked to lay on the double yellow line, right in the middle of the road. She was eventually hit by a car). Bopper, a Doberman Pincer mix, lived about a half mile up the road, but spent most of his time down by us, because his owner beat him.

Once, when Bopper showed up bleeding after a particularly harsh beating, my mother went and confronted the owner, threatening to call dog control and the police. A few days later, he shot his aged parents, killing his father and seriously wounding his mother. He was killed in a standoff with police that same night. My mom always wondered if she set him off.

Then there was Duck. Duck was a Black Lab. She was one of a kind. Why they named a dog Duck I will never know. But I can tell you that it caused problems for me in Kindergarten. Any time the teacher showed a picture of a dog, I would point at it and say "Duck".

She originally lived in a house that lay behind ours, a short walk through the woods. But, she belonged to the Old Wife and when the New Wife came along she simply stopped letting her inside and stopped feeding her. She became a neighborhood dog. She wandered about the neighborhood and everywhere she went people fed her, took care of her.

After a time she developed an aversion to being inside, preferring cold but wide open spaces to a warm, but cramped living room. The only time she voluntarily came inside was when we had a bear in the back yard. She faithfully met me at the bus stop every morning from the time I was in first grade until I was a senior in high school. One day, in the spring of 1992, we found Duck in the back yard. She had laid down to sleep that night and never woke up. I still miss her.

Alas, most dogs today do not know such a carefree existence. Consider the life of my current dog Tippy, when compared with one of my childhood dogs, Molly:

NOW: When I leave the house everyday, I make sure the Tippy is IN. My neighbors wouldn’t tolerate a loose dog, and besides, he might run away!!!

THEN: When I left for school in the morning, I made sure Molly was OUT. My mom wouldn’t tolerate letting the mangy mutt have the run of the house all day. Besides, she might run away!!! Unfortunately for my mom, we also put food and water outside. She never did run away. The neighbors never seemed to mind.

NOW: When I want to take Tippy for a walk, like around my quarter of a mile block, I put him on a leash so as not to disturb strangers. Since I have lived in my current house for more than a year and have not met a single one of my neighbors, pretty much everyone is a stranger.

THEN: When I wanted to take Molly for a walk, like walking a mile or so across town to get soda and Ice Cream, I just let her tag along behind. I didn’t want to do anything that would prevent her from protecting me from strangers. Since I, and Molly, knew pretty much everyone on our block, almost no one fell into this category.

NOW: When Tippy wants to go outside, I let him run in my small fenced in back yard, again, so as not to disturb my neighbors, who are also complete strangers.

THEN: When Molly wanted to go outside, I opened the front door and let her out. My parents did not have a fenced in yard, and neither did any of our neighbors. Nobody seemed all that disturbed. They all let there dogs run loose too.

The lives of out children and our dogs have changed. There is nothing I can much do about it I suppose. But I don’t have to like it.

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