To most kids in 1960s and ’70s suburban America, warm days were a blend of sidewalk Kool-aid stands, sprinklers, bologna sandwiches, teenagers fixing cars in the driveway and animals sort of all around the neighborhood.
The 12-year-olds on bikes were the top of the preteen social order and we had a deal with the neighborhood dogs: If any dog wants to leave a pile in my yard or threaten anyone at my house, we all have the right to impose order through our arsenal of squirt guns, a pebble tossed in the dog’s direction or the occasional hose blast. In exchange, the dogs don’t have to be on leashes. Like some “Lord of the Flies” underworld, the kids on bikes and the dogs had a deal and they shared the suburban jungle in some degree of harmony.
A few weeks ago, I walked into one of the nicer retail stores in Seattle and watched as a terrified mother with a 3-year-old at her feet stood frozen while another customer with a large dog on a leash wandered into the store to shop the same aisle. The dog was almost too big for its diminutive and distracted owner. I caught the scene just as the dog tugged its leash and moved aggressively toward the little girl. Thankfully, the dog held up at the last minute.
“Oh, he’s harmless. He loves kids,” its owner said with an arrogant tone as the dog began to lick the horrified toddler’s face.
The dog and its owner wandered off to the next aisle but the mom and child were a mess. Feeling the need to comfort her, I told her I wouldn’t blame her if she never came back to that store again. She attended to her child and followed me out.
Something happened when we attached dogs to humans with leashes and created the doggie doo bag system. Now they apparently get to go anywhere a human goes, including into the nicest retail stores. The old rules are done and the lines blurred between where animals and people can go. Everyone else is supposed to adjust, too. The dog owners are in charge now.
I liked the old way where the dogs roamed free but knew their boundaries because the 12-year-olds patrolled the neighborhood. There was a dose of chivalry in the mix then that seems missing in today’s system that I can’t help but think about when I see a grown man walking his tiny dog by my house and then pausing to bend over, pick its doo doo up with a plastic mitt, then hook it to his belt and haul it around for another half hour.
Maybe I just felt emasculated in the store myself — a former 12-year-old mounted policemen powerless under the new system to protect a 3-year-old from a dog? I miss the old system. Because back then, no dog would ever be allowed in a store with little kids. The dogs knew the deal and that wasn’t ever supposed to be part of it.
Tom Hoban is CEO of The Coast Group of Companies. Contact him at 425-339-3638 or firstname.lastname@example.org.