Advice: The World Is Going To The Dogs (And That Ain’t Good)

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I’m not sure what I expect from you, but I feel like I need to get this off my chest. I’m just so taken aback. And angry. Okay, really angry.

I love dogs. I’m a dog owner and have always been a dog owner. Every dog I have ever had was socialized and well trained. Every dog has had up-to-date shots. Wherever you live, these must be the minimum requirements for being a dog owner. Dogs are not status symbols; they’re meant to be companions. But that means you have to be responsible.

In the last two months, I have had two friends on bicycles bitten by dogs, neither of which was contained in their yards. Luckily neither friend was badly hurt, but one had to have rabies shots, which are wildly expensive and painful.

I was with another friend, who was walking her dog very properly, on a leash, in a public park, when another dog, also on a leash but far larger than the elderly couple who owned it could handle, pulled away and savaged my friend’s dog. Their careless son got himself a big muscular dog, then got a job in the city, and foisted Bowser off on his parents. If they’d ever wanted a dog, I can’t imagine Bowser was their first choice. They wound up paying a lot of money in vet bills.

None of these dogs had been trained. And Bowser is just one more dog, completely unsuited to people without a massive amount of upper body strength and the willingness to work very hard to turn him into a family pet.

This deliberate carelessness leads to people who are devastated because their beloved pet has to be euthanized — and who are clueless that it’s their fault. It’s a waste of wonderful animals who could be companions to the right people, but will never be, because people confuse training with abuse. People and pets are injured because these poor animals have not had responsible pet owners. I think not socializing your dog is mistreating that dog.

Fed up with Status Dogs and Lazy Owners

 

Dear Fed Up,

B&P: I’m not sure what more we can say here because I think we’d just be adding our voices to your chorus. But you know, being a chorus for reason isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

B: Dogs can be wonderful. They can be, of course, faithful companions and a surprising amount of help, a source of love and comfort and security. But they are animals with limited reasoning capabilities, and they need to be trained. From day one. By owners that can clearly be in control of the dog; they may be limited in their ability to reason but they know when their owner isn’t actually in charge. Otherwise, they act according to their doggy will, which may be friendly or aggressive or aloof or high-strung or bitey, as their inherent doggy temperaments will accordingly predispose them.

P: While I like dogs, I don’t have them, because I know that I would not be a good dog owner. I’m not interested in taking the time they require to train and the attention they deserve when you bring them into your life. People look at a darling puppy, or even a jaunty senior and think, that dog is going to love me. That works about as well as having a baby when you’re a teenager. They may love you, but they require a lot of hard work to be good companion animals and good neighbors and citizens.

B: What people either fail to recognize or ignore outright—what I think about this depends on the day, sometimes the hour—is that when you take in a pet, you generate a sort of contract with that animal. You’re basically saying to that animal, I’d like you to live in this home. From you, I expect companionship/help/adorable YouTube videos, etc. In exchange, I’m going to do what I can to take care of you, including making sure you are either A) socialized into the society I live in, or B) in a cage/behind a fence if your socialization can’t be properly executed. It’s why you need to keep pet rats in a cage (can you blame the stranger on the street who would hit it with a rock, if it got out?) and also why wild animals like chimps and tigers make bad pets (they can’t be fully domesticated).

P: Much of my job, far more than I ever suspected, revolves around building community. Humans live well in societal groups. We feel secure; we can be more welcoming; life is better when we have a community around us. That means we have to live our lives aware of our neighbors. If we’re going to have pets, they have to be part of that communal society. One person’s right to have a dog is not larger than your neighbors’ rights to be safe. You can have a dog but the dog must be socialized. And most of them are trainable. But you don’t get to have a wild or aggressive animal.

B: What this explicitly does not mean is that you should be so cavalier/uninvolved/negligent/incapable toward a pet that it becomes a public nuisance. The bitey dog that chases bicyclists will only get so many strikes against it from the public health department before the dog warden will show up to take that animal and destroy it. Not through that animal’s fault. Through the owner’s. They’re the ones who violate the contract when they are careless with their pets. It’s kind of the same thing with people who are neglectful toward their kids, and let them run wild.

P: Right, Terri. It’s interesting that neither of us have dogs or children. We’re keeping other contracts. Because we like dogs and children, we didn’t have them — because we were not interested in dedicating the time they would require to grow up to be healthy, loving, contributing members of our families and communities. We enjoy other people’s dogs and children, when they’re enjoyable.  And we’re likely to be fairly clear about our boundaries for acceptable behavior and require it. Because we’re who we are, we often get the behavior we expect. However, it’s not our job to be there because you don’t do your job.

Serendipity being what it is, I just had a conversation with a wedding couple who have a disabled dog. An untrained, un-vaccinated, too big for the owner, large dog tore up this little Pekinese. The Peke lost one eye, was blinded in the other, is now deaf in one ear, and lost a leg. And the Peke’s owner was bitten trying to save his dog. “Hey, dude, he’s a big dog,” is not taking responsibility for the dog’s behavior.

B: Nobody—and I mean nobody—wants to live near the wild kids or the bitey dogs. Conscientious household stewarding involves recognizing the rights of your neighbors to be unmolested or live without constant worry of dog attacks. If you don’t want to tend to the dog and even want it to be bitey, then you’d better make sure you restrain it at all times. Make sure it’s always on a leash that’s being held by someone strong enough to hold it, and build a fence for your yard. Thoughtful dog training makes for better neighborhoods. It’s not funny—it’s divisive, it’s scary, it’s expensive, it can be fatal—for a dog to be allowed to run at will and bite. Dog owners, do you want to be that person? If you’re going to agree to take in an animal, then abide by the unspoken contract, and act in that dog’s best interests. The dog only knows what it’s taught; dog owners, it’s up to you to fill in the rest so the dog can function in our established society.

P: And when you don’t do the work you should have done, societally minded priestess that I am, I expect a couple things to happen. A) I expect you to take full responsibility (that means both an admission that your animal was out of control, acknowledgement that you were lax in training, and provision for financial costs incurred by your animal.). B) I expect you to make a sincere apology for their missteps. C) I expect you to take your dog for training.

B&P: We don’t know that the people we’re talking to will be reading this, but we hope at the very least we can empower more of us to speak up. Don’t let bitey dogs win. Demand training and ask to see the evidence. That makes you, dog owner or no, a good citizen and a good neighbor.

Seriously, dog owners. Don't be THAT guy.

Seriously, dog owners. Don’t be THAT guy.

Salty Dog recipe

1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. grated white grapefruit zest
2 oz. fresh white grapefruit juice
2 oz. gin or vodka
1 (2″-wide) strip grapefruit peel
Combine salt and zest on a small plate. Rub grapefruit peel around rim of a glass; rim glass with salt. Combine grapefruit juice and gin or vodka in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake and pour into rimmed glass; garnish with peel.
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Advice: That’s No Way To Win The Game, Dears

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

My husband and I recently went to our granddaughter’s softball tournament, and got to witness some appalling behavior on the behalf of the opposing teams’ coaches. Both coaches, from both teams.

One coach got up into the umpire’s face because of a call. This normally doesn’t happen and is certainly not permitted, and it caused a 30 minute delay in game. A mediator had to be brought in, and the ump’s original call stood. Then the opposing team’s coach caused a fit over a requested rain delay, which was not granted. To me, it felt like bullying, and it destroyed the spirit of the game.

I understand that winning is nice, but winning at all costs worth it? I thought their behavior was inexcusable. And how do parents and grandparents manage this? I have a 12-year-old granddaughter, and I don’t want this to be her main impression of what to expect from team sports.

–Fair-play Grandmom

~~~The Bartender and The Priestess respond~~~

P: Wow, I’m so sorry. For you, for the kids, for all of us.

I’m not sure when children’s local sports slipped from something kids do to the most important thing in the world. Sure, there have always been notably irate parents but they were fewer and farther between, if only because social strictures were stronger.

Disclaimer, I don’t do sportsing and neither does my beloved Bartender. We do things for our health, and we may watch them on tv, but game sports are not my field of expertise.

Bad manners? Bad child rearing? I think we’re ready to talk about this.

B: Critics of team sports—while generally looking at manly sports like football and hockey and such—point out that they are, in quite a few startling parallels, much like organized warfare. There are distinct sides, identifying uniforms. Sports involve strategy, Us v. Them, and can even—especially at the end of a tournament—end in militaresque victory parades. If you don’t believe me, watch the Olympics and tell me that’s not a way for countries to deploy against one another in a socially acceptable manner.

I mean, hey. We’re still basking in the glow of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team’s surprising defeat of the USSR’s Central Red Army team. If that wasn’t a thinly-veiled war game, I don’t know what was.

I don’t oppose organized sports. I even love some of them. But it’s easy to see how they can knock a participant over the edge and straight into fanaticism. “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” isn’t that right? That’s been floating around in our public consciousness since it was first uttered in 1950. (Fun fact: NOT said by Vince Lombardi but rather, by UCLA football coach Red Saunders. Take that, misattributed quote promoters!)

P: So, to start with: in my opinion, sports are a great way for kids to figure out the way their bodies work, to learn to follow directions, to learn to strategize and to learn to collaborate in achieving their goals. And it’s probably not a bad thing to learn a bit about friendly rivalry. As when you start to do anything, especially if you’re going to be good at anything, you’re spending a lot of time being gloriously bad at things. When you have to learn so many things at once, there are so many ways to be bad.

Still it’s a thrill to play and a thrill to get better. Look, arms and legs all headed in the same direction YAY. Look, ball successfully arrived at another kid, WOW!

Now something we learn in this process is that not all of us have what it takes to take our particular sports world by storm. Young dreams aside, few of us are going to be the best athlete in the world in our sport. Yep, actually a really small percentage. A modest number will grow up and become really competent. So that leaves a lot of other kids to learn about running and team work and cheering people on.

B: You’re right in worrying that “winning at all costs” is problematic, since learning how to lose graciously is part of becoming a fully functioning adult. It’s, sadly, something the battle-coaches you talk about failed to teach their charges when they had the opportunity. The world doesn’t always conform with the outcome you want, and kids need to learn that that is OK. Losing a tournament shouldn’t result in tantrums. It shouldn’t end in personal recriminations. It doesn’t make a child less of a person if they don’t win a softball tournament. It doesn’t diminish their ability to draw or do math or play piano or bake. It just means they didn’t win a softball tournament. Life will go on.

P: The likelihood is that your child is not the next Derek Jeter or Serena Williams, and their work on the field isn’t the most important thing they’ll do in their life. Although the time and interest and fun you invest in them may well be the most important thing you do in your life. It may be the most important thing you give them. Not only is there love, but there is also hanging out with friends, doing something together. There is, we devoutly hope, a sense of your parents, siblings, grandparents being proud of you and all around glad you exist.

B: The one bit of relief I find in this letter is that the writer doesn’t implicate parents in being the sports-crazed bad seeds. Honestly, since the perpetrators of bad behavior were opposing team coaches, it makes me wonder (reading DEEPLY between the lines) if there isn’t a personal issue between the two of them.

Now, they may have learned how to coach from watching too many film clips of coaches kicking dust on an ump’s shoes, and you may have had the misfortune of getting two people with severe anger management issues. And any reason for petulant behavior like that is inexcusable. But you may have—let’s face it, mostly likely have—been witnessing the expression of issues that have nothing to do with the game at hand. Maybe the coaches were romantic rivals. Maybe they’re former lovers. Maybe it was a perfect storm of bad juju, and Coach A just had a fight with his/her significant other while Coach B was fighting a vicious toothache. Or maybe they’re narcissistic win-hounds who will wear sackcloth and ashes if they lose a game. Bad blood will out. The kids, and the game, bore the brunt. Regardless, shame on them for engaging in an “I am the squeakiest wheel!” method of coaching.

You're out of order! You're all out of order!

You’re out of order! You’re all out of order!

P: Let’s talk about their lack of courtesy. Oh, what a disaster. Lots of towns are adopting courtesy codes. They should be urging them on the sports organizations. Sports organizations should be examining their mission statements. They should have pledges anyone, any adult, involved in the sport should sign. And there should be penalties. Although the importance of winning is certainly emphasized over playing, just about everywhere in life, isn’t it? So maybe it won’t matter to a parent if she/he is banned from ever watching their child play again as long as, by hook or by crook, they win a t-ball game. Are we ready to give this up and be neighbors, friends and oh, by the way, parents? Because this is immature, self-indulgent and distasteful.

B: I want to eliminate the word “bully” from this discussion. I appreciate your awareness of the problems that come from bullying and thank you for being vigilant in opposing it and its negative effects. But all bad, mean-spirited behavior isn’t bullying, and I don’t want to water down the meaning of that word. The coaches in question weren’t aggressors going after a target they perceived to be weaker; they were peers battling for supremacy. Pissing contests are not bullying events.

P: Bullying may be too easy a catchword. The Bartender and I just indulged in a sidebar argument. We reached no permanent agreement other than on the fact that it’s stinko behavior. She thinks the way the stinko behavior gets expressed is a personal issue, I think it’s a permission issue… I think it’s a threatening temper tantrum without regard to who’s involved… with regard only to whether we win, win, win. It’s a ridiculous use of power and privilege. I wish the only people doing this were just these two tantrum tossers. I wish it weren’t soccer moms and dads (and football and base/softball and wrestling and all) (and sometimes grandparents — good for you for calling this out!)

B: US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote that the remedy for negative speech is “…more speech, not enforced silence”. You (and her parents) need to talk to your granddaughter, get her to explore how she felt about it, guide her to understand that sometimes, adults act irrationally and none of that behavior was acceptable or should have been perpetuated at her and her team’s and her opposing team’s expense. It should not have been endured, nor should it be emulated.

Then model the behavior you do want her to emulate. Gather together for a family game of softball. Have a pepper game in the back yard. Get some board games, play Risk. But undertake these actions with the idea that you will all participate in these games for fun, and for bonding purposes, with all ego left at the door.

P: Parents? And grandparents? You have a couple responsibilities. You need to get the kid to team practice and to games and to spend some fun time kicking, throwing, batting, something-ing around the ball in the back yard with your kid. It can be great bonding time. It can be a fun memory that your kid can look back on and say, “wow, my mom/dad always had time for me.” (That can happen even if you’re really bad at the sportsing thing. Just keep the glove in front of your face or the mask/helmet on!) You need to recognize that a game is just a game and that your kid may just be a kid who needs to have fun, and that this is helping your kid become confident and competent. Maybe your kid is a freaking genius; acting like this, you can hopefully help her/him develop teamwork, camaraderie, and self-discipine in the process of sorting out his/her arms and legs and developing brain — Because of course discipline matters immensely in developing genius.

And if your kid is not a freaking genius, you can still offer to play catch. Or go and cheer. Or float down a river on some inner-tubes and relax…

What the doctor ordered.  (Note: not a real doctor. But I would play one on TV, casting directors.)

What the doctor ordered.
(Note: not a real doctor. But I would play one on TV, casting directors.)

Many thanks to Deb Slade for her Phabulous Photos!

Many thanks to the lovely Jean for modeling and playing along!

Many thanks to the good people of the Lewisburg Hotel for letting us use their facility!

For more information about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here.

Got a question? Email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces and add appropriate @ and . signs. No real names will be published.

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