A dog of an opinion

Jonah Goldberg:

I  wanted to write this column about dogs. If you follow me on Twitter or have read my work elsewhere, you probably know that about me: I like my dogs. Though truth be told, I probably like your dogs, too. Because I just like dogs.

It’s a common sentiment. Dog ownership has been going up markedly for a while now. There are some who worry that dogs — and even cats — are replacing human children as the objects of our devotion.

There’s evidence to support the claim. Many young couples are more eager to have pets than kids. Expenditures on pet insurance have soared. One often sees dogs referred to as “furbabies” on social media. Two decades ago, my wife and I struggled to find hotels on our cross-country drives that would accommodate dogs (at least at a reasonable price). Now, many hotels compete for the attention of dog owners. Some businesses eager to hire skilled young workers have generous bring-your-dog-to-work policies, and some even provide “pawternity” care for new dog owners.

A survey by SunTrust Bank found that 33 percent of first-time home-buying Millennials said the desire for a better space for their dog was a factor in their decision. Only 25 percent said marriage was an issue, and just 19 percent said children were.

Psychologist Clay Routledge makes a persuasive case that dog ownership is a symptom of America’s very real loneliness crisis. As our society becomes more individualistic, Routledge observed in National Review, “pets may be appealing to some because they lack the agency of humans and thus require less compromise and sacrifice.”

And the problem will like get worse because, as Routledge notes, young people report much more anxiety and isolation in the era of the smartphone, which is why anxious college students increasingly request the support of “companion animals.”

In his book Them, Senator Ben Sasse catalogs America’s loneliness crisis. We have fewer and fewer “non-virtual” friends. Americans entertain others in their homes half as much as they did 25 years ago. People don’t know — never mind socialize with — their neighbors the way they once did.

There’s much to ponder and debate here. But it seems obvious that Routledge is on to something.

Which brings me back to what I wanted to write about. I post a lot of videos and pictures of my dogs, Zoë and Pippa, on Twitter, that distorted and distorting window on the national conversation. I also follow many of the hugely popular dog-focused Twitter accounts (WeRateDogs, The Dogist, Thoughts of Dog, etc.).

Dogs — and animals generally — are among the few things that bridge the partisan divide. Tragedies are a partisan affair. If someone dies in a hurricane or shooting, there’s a mad rush to score political points. Last week, a lovely young woman, Bre Payton, died from a sudden illness, and a bunch of ghouls mocked or celebrated her demise because she was a conservative.

Even babies can be controversial, since babies can touch various nerves, from abortion politics to the apparent scourge of “misgendering” newborns.

But dogs are largely immune to political ugliness. The angriest complaints I get about my dog tweets — from people on both the left and the right — are that I’m wasting apparently scarce resources on dogs when I could be expressing my anger about whatever outrage the complainers demand I be outraged about.

This is one of the reasons I love dogs. Because it is an occupational hazard in my line of work to be constantly drenched in the muck of politics, dogs are a safe harbor. They don’t care about political correctness. They don’t want to Make America Great Again or join the “Resistance.” They just want to pursue doggie goodness as they see it.

It strikes me that all of these things are connected. The increasing nastiness of our politics is a byproduct of our social isolation. We look to politics to provide the sense of meaning and belonging once found in community and religion, which is why everything is becoming politicized. The problem is that politics, particularly at the national level, is necessarily about disagreement, which is why it cannot provide the sense of unity people crave from it.

And that’s one reason why dogs are so appealing. In an era when everything is a source of discord and politicization, it’s good to have something that stands — and sits and fetches — apart. Because they’re all good dogs.

Last point first. Recall that the author of Marley and Me lovingly chronicled all the bad things Marley the yellow lab did. After the column he wrote upon Marley’s death, his voice mail reached capacity with tales, plus additional emails, about the bad things those owners’ dogs did. (Like eat items of clothing and throw them back up whole.) So what is a “good dog” depends on your opinion of what your dog just did.

My general opinion of parenting is that people who don’t want to be parents shouldn’t be parents, so the “furbabies” thing is something that can easily be ignored.

Related to that is this comment:

Dogs are sentient (they think, learn and express emotions), loving, and they really only know how to live in the moment. It’s a great combination of traits for people who are sick of people but don’t want to live in total isolation.

There were also a few buzzkill comments:

  • Maybe it depends on where you live, but when I was in Seattle I saw politics start to creep in about dogs. Seattle is a place where many claim to need an emotional support pet. If you own a purebred dog people also feel it is their duty to lecture you on the value of adopting a pound dog. Speaking of pound dogs, have you noticed that no one just adopts a dog from the pound anymore? Even that has achieved virtue-signaling status. Now everyone “rescues” their pet. It’s subtle, but it elevates the actions of the owner to something more noble.

Well …

… here is Max, our “rescue” dog. This is the puppy we were introduced to one Sunday at church, who then kept inviting himself across the street, probably because his owner was new and didn’t know how to take care of a dog. The owner also didn’t notice the part of her lease that said “no pets,” which made her look for a new home for the former Peanut. We found this out one Sunday and left a note on her door. The following Saturday I was going to announce a college basketball game, but as I was leaving she appeared at the door and wanted to know if we were still interested. I said I was leaving, but talk to the people inside, and sure enough, when I left we had one dog and one cat, but when I got home we had two dogs and one cat. The one thing I did rescue him from was being outlawed by the city, which had one sense-challenged alderman who thought “pit bulls” (however they are defined, something the proposed ordinance did not do) should be banned. Happily, I caught him in a public lie, and that ended not only the ordinance, but eventually his political career.

  • A neighbor told me that they (the couple) had pulled their new puppy from her playgroup because there were Trump owned dogs in the group. They had been doxxed out into the open.
    Really.
  • Dogs are awesome, yes, but don’t kid yourself…politics are alive and well in the dog world. The left is absolutely coming for your pets. I have a competitive dog (shows and herding trials) and have seen first hand PETA and HSUS activists trying to disrupt events. Also, beware of feel good laws that are being passed all over the country that will ultimately hurt all dogs and dog owners.

(Re PETA and HSUS, I bet that misbehavior stops the next time a dog owner pulls a gun on them defending their dog.)

The previous quotes prove the point of those who prefer dogs to humans — there may be no bad dogs, but there certainly are bad dog owners because there are bad people.

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