The other day I walked into my gym and saw a dog. A half-dozen people were crowding around him, cooing and petting. He was a big dog, a lean and muscular Doberman with, I later learned, the sort of hair-trigger bark you'd prize if you wanted to protect a big stash of gold bullion.
"This is Y.," the dog's owner said. No explanation was offered for the pooch's presence, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to have a dog in a place usually reserved for human beings. Huh, I thought.
The dog came up to me, because in my experience that's what dogs do when you don't want them to come up to you. They get up real close, touching you, licking you, theatrically begging you to respond. I was expected to pet him.
I ran my hand across his head half-heartedly. Anyway, happily, I survived.
But wait a second. Come on! Why was this dog here? And why was no one perturbed that this dog was here? When this beast was barking at passersby through the window as we were all working out, why did no one go, Hey, just throwing this out there, should we maybe not have this distracting, possibly dangerous animal by the free weights?
No one was asking because no one could ask. Sometime in the last decade, dogs achieved dominion over urban America. They are everywhere now, allowed in places that used to belong exclusively to humans, and sometimes only to human adults: the office, restaurants, museums, buses, trains, malls, supermarkets, barber shops, banks, post offices.
Even worse than the dogs are the owners, who seem never to consider whether there may be people in the gym/office/restaurant/museum who do not care to be in close proximity to their dogs. After all, what kind of monster would have a problem with a poor innocent widdle doggie? It's a dog's world. We just live in it. And it's awful. Bad dogs!
Some people — or maybe even most people, since dogs, like zombies, have an insidious way of turning opponents into allies — love that dogs abound. If you adore dogs but aren't able to keep one, the world is now your dog park, with pooches everywhere to pet and nuzzle and otherwise brighten your day.
But here's my problem: There's now a cultural assumption that everyone must love dogs. Dog owners are rarely forced to reckon with the idea that there are people who aren't enthralled by their furry friends, and that taking their dogs everywhere might not be completely pleasant for these folks.
Example: If you're in the office and someone has brought her dog in for the day — because, fun! — the dog is sure to come around you, get between your legs, rub against your thigh, take a nap on your feet, or do some other annoying thing.
If the dog's owner notices these antics, I can promise you she won't apologize for the imposition. Nor will she ask you if you mind her dog doing what he's doing.
Instead, if the owner says anything, it will be on the order of, "Don't worry, he loves people!" Oh, okay then! I guess I'll just take your word for it, and forget for the moment that 1,000 Americans a day go to emergency rooms because of dog bites. More Americans seek medical attention for dog bites than for choking or falls. Like it or not, American dog owner, your pet is a hazard.
But let's leave aside the possibility that I'm scared (maybe legitimately!) of your dog, since you've assured me your dog loves people, and there's no chance you could be wrong. What if I'm allergic? Or what if I just plain hate your dog? What if I think he's dirty, since after all he did just put his nose in another dog's butt? And what if I just want to go through my workday without being slobbered on by an animal?
I know this sounds curmudgeonly. You want to shake me and tell me to snap out of it, to get over myself and just love dogs already. But that's because you like dogs and don't see anything but good in them. For you, a dog is like ice cream. What churl doesn't like ice cream? Well, I'm that churl — I'm canine intolerant.
My fellow doggie skeptics, let's take back the peace we're owed. The next time your young, happy co-worker brings in his dog for the day, tell him the office is not a canine playpen. It's time to take that dog home.
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