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Of Pets and Men

Well, yes, I know that Mark Twain observed that if heaven went by merit, our dogs would get in before the rest of us, and yes, that makes eminent good sense to me. He also commented that one of the distinguishing characteristics between men and dogs was that if you feed a starving dog, he will not bite you (which distinguishes cats from dogs as well). This was also a very sound reflection. But, at some point, even in a house overflowing with pets, people should take precedence, yes?

I speak of course, from various personal experiences on this. When I visit the home of some very dear friends, for example, they are aware of my awful cat allergies that begin with sneezing, move on to asthma, and culminate in a very difficult time breathing. So they move the cats to a different room, run the vacuum around the area where we will be visiting, and presto! We have a misery-free visit.

Then, there was the aunt from the 1980s B.C. (Before Claritin), who watched me sneeze until my eyes would barely open at all and heard me wheezing like a Dixieland Jazz Band while the asthma grew progressively worse. Her cat, evidently sensing the problem, made it a point to rub against me the entire time while my aunt simply wouldn’t dream of inconveniencing little Tabby or whatever she had named it, by moving him/her/it to another room for an hour or two while we visited. What possesses people to predicate their pet’s happiness on the misery of their guests and family?

My Dad, whom I love more dearly than life, has a couple of dogs. One of them, a Jack Russell Terrier, needs a priest or someone similarly equipped to perform exorcisms. That infernal idiot makes it a point to bite the other dog (a pug), sometimes viciously, each and every time he feels the other dog is competing for Dad’s attention, which infraction the pug commits by simply drawing breath. Besides which, the Jack Russell will not, repeat, NOT, stop yapping, loudly, constantly, and emphatically at such disturbances as pedestrians on the street, dogs on television, a blowing leaf, or the voices in his otherwise empty head.

What about people who do little or nothing to corral animals that scare visiting children? The aforementioned Jack Russell took an instant dislike to my 4-year-old grandson, for example, so that my grandson stayed cooped up in a chair for the better part of a day because every time the little guy would stretch his legs out a little, the stupid dog would start yapping and growling. To put that particular dog in another room, however, would insure non-stop barking and yelping for the remainder of the day because he’s just … that … stupid. At one point, my grandson got up and walked across the room, which prompted the dog to charge him, which prompted me to charge the dog, which prompted the realization that it was time to go visit elsewhere for awhile.

Of course, the next house we went to also had a dog with an unfortunate tendency to bite guests. But at least that dog was carried to the back patio, where, for the next two hours, it looked through the window forlornly, whimpering while its friends in the home carried on and lamented the poor animal’s banishment rather than the little child who preferred not to be dismembered. The priorities seem out of sorts to me. Why even have a dog that bites and that makes visits with family and friends so difficult? At what point did animals start running the zoo?

And why, please Lord tell me, is it necessary to have dogs the size of shetland ponies standing in the dining room, looking over the shoulders of guests and breathing on their dinner? I visited another home not long ago where the very breath of a pit bull warmed my hand as I reached for a dinner roll. “Stop,” said the owners in utter futility. I can’t remember the dog’s name, and neither could he because he never responded to the owners half-hearted admonishments in any event, preferring instead to huff and puff over the enchiladas. Why does it occur to exactly no one to usher Trigger or Mr. Ed to another room just long enough for people to enjoy a meal without having the animal who just finished licking his nether region materialize to lick our hands while we dine? Is it unreasonable to assume that pets, as much as we love them, ought sometimes to take a little less precedence than people?