The Not-So-Secret Life of Pets

Let me just start by saying that I believe animals are cuddly and cute and great companions. They can enrich your life and make you happy. But we have to talk about just how chummy you want me to get with your four-legged friend.

Your animals are YOURS. YOU decided to have them. Personally, I’m not a pet person. I had pets when I was a kid. They were fun and I enjoyed them, but as an adult, I’d rather not. Too much responsibility and all that jazz.

So if you’re one of those super-adults who can care for themselves and a pet, hats off to you. But what I’m here to talk about is me and your animals coexisting.

Recently, there was a huge news story about people taking their dogs onto the campus of Howard University in DC and letting them use the bathroom in the grass and just being general nuisances to the students there. The students, staff, and faculty expressed displeasure and requested the dog-walking on their campus to cease. The dog walkers got upset. They couldn’t fathom why someone would have a problem with the presence of their beloved canines. Here’s why I think they were wrong . . .

As I said, your pets are YOURS. You have them because YOU love them. Forcing others to love them or even exist with them is obnoxious. Look, if I come to your house, fair game. That’s you and Fido’s domain. I’m a guest. If there’s pet hair flying everywhere, while I can wish you would clean that up and pray that you never volunteer to make anything for a potluck, it’s not my business.

What IS my business is if I’m in a public space and you, convinced that your 150 lb Saint Bernard is a cuddly lap dog, let him run loose and he comes barreling toward me, while you’re busy yelling, “It’s ok. He won’t hurt you. He’s just a puppy.” That ain’t no damn puppy! YOU find him harmless and endearing. I don’t know him or you.

And it’s not just dogs. Cats too. My neighbors have what is called an “outdoor cat.” I say it that way because I’ve never in my life heard of that shit. I was always taught that strays lived outside and if something was yours, you kept it inside and protected it. So imagine my surprise when I saw this cat, hanging around my suburban neighborhood, weaving in and out of various gardens, using the whole world as his bathroom. And THEN I saw my neighbors take him in and let him out. He was theirs. Again, that was their cat, not mine. But there he was, sunning himself among my zinnias.

Please don’t mistake me for an animal hater. I fully believe that anyone who is cruel or neglectful toward animals should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But you have to understand that this is not a black and white issue – you don’t either love or hate pets. Gray areas. Nuance. There are cultures that actually think of animals as unclean. There are people that are allergic to pet dander. And then, there are people that are genuinely afraid of cats or dogs. In all these scenarios, forcing someone to deal with your furry friend is truly wrong. You enjoy them in your space and spaces for pets and let the rest of us live.