Tuesday, May 26, 2009
My fabulous weekend at the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina proved that I really can find a "dog friendly" town. Three of my dearest friends and I spent four days charmed by this smokey mountain city. As one might suspect, friends of mine are usually animal lovers, and we were all particularly excited to see the number of dog lovers milling about everywhere we looked. Even on the Biltmore Estate grounds people were walking all variety of dogs through the gardens to enjoy the festival of flowers.
Apparently, one living in the area can purchase an annual pass for only slightly more than the day pass most visitors buy. Any and every pass holder is free to walk their dogs about on a leash, although I doubt they are allowed in the estate house itself. For the really adventurous annual pass holders, one can even bring their horse in to ride the trails. I live too many hours away to take advantage of this, but I would certainly be a regular dog walker there if I could.
The Biltmore isn't the only dog friendly establishment in town. Dogs were abundant everywhere, and many of the area hotels, even the nicer ones, advertised allowing pets. In the downtown area, people were out walking dogs all around the city. Dogs were in the stores shopping or hanging out with their companion shop keepers. They were in the cafe outdoor areas enjoying tea and crumpets. One was even sunning himself in a local shop window display. Nowhere did I see a muzzle, nor did I find people cringing when a Rottweiler or a German Shepherd walked by. There was none of the seeming reticence about certain breeds, and one's best friend seems free to accompany them out most everywhere for an afternoon on the town. It was everything I expected from my visit to Paris, but didn't get.
I have said for many years, particularly in times when politics in this country were not going my way (like the dark days we have recently, and finally, moved beyond), that some day I was going to move to Paris. Last May, not having been to that city, I decided it was time to be prepared for the worst the following November. Plus, I wanted to be sure Paris lived up to my romantic ideal. Well, let me tell you, it's a lovely city, and contrary to their undeserved reputation in our country, the people were also lovely. At first, I was sure it was the city for me. The art, the architecture, the night life, the culture, all things were fabulous, and I was so ready to pack my bags until...I saw a man walking a very timid Rottweiler with a muzzle. The dog was panting and seemed uncomfortable in the humidity, and I couldn't understand why this sweet thing needed to be subjected to a caged mouth. My friend Leon explained in his very French accent, not knowing the can of worms he was about to open, that "Rottweilers are dangerous, and it is law that they must be muzzled if they are taken out in the public." I'm sure his ears rang for several hours after. He knows me well, and still speaks to me regardless of my response that day.
Rottweilers, yes, have the potential to be dangerous. So too does every single dog breed of every single size and shape. And, if one wants to talk about the danger factor, I will take a dog of any size over a cat any day of the week. I've said it before, folks, and I'll say it again, animals of every kind have individuality, for which I have coined the term "animality". Just like humans, each individual has the potential to be dangerous. Often, in the case of animals, it is the humans and their abuse or neglect that create the danger.
My first Rottweiler, Isabeau, was heavily abused by a drunk man for the first six weeks of her life. This was before I rescued her. She was horribly afraid of strange men, particularly if they were in their cups. A professional dog trainer and friend taught me to work with her so she would not snap, snarl, or growl at every man she met. Through positive reinforcement training, she became able to socialize in public, although being a smart dog owner, I was always mindful to keep her under control and away from parties and drinking. She was not, however, a fear biter as one would suspect, and she never needed to be muzzled, not even with her male vet during painful procedures due to cancer.
My current Rottweiler, Mercy, will help you carry out the television if only you offer her a cookie. Good thing I don't publish my address here, I guess. Be warned, however, that my dingo dog (below), a little thirty pound mutt, will be glad to chew off your right leg and your face and feed them to you, should you care to try it. My mother's Shih Tzu will be there to help clean off your bones, as well. He does a mean imitation of a dobie.
If I had to choose which dog to muzzle in public, it certainly would not be my sweet Mercy. Yet, when people see us out, they make a beeline for the cute little dogs and cringe away from the loving bigger one. For me, this isn't any different than any other form of prejudice. You cannot, and should never judge others, be it by race or species, simply by their outer appearances. In the case of animals, I suggest you might want to take another look here at my previous blog, The Danger Disconnect. A chimp looks mighty cute and cuddly, particularly when it grins at you, but you are a foolish person to approach one, especially if it's smiling.
Having the good fortune to have worked as a veterinary technician back in my younger days, before one had to be certified to do so, my co-workers and I quickly learned which animals were most likely to bite when handled. The worst of all were not even dogs or cats, but our clients feathered friends, particularly the parrots. I've seen them flay the skin open to the bone. This particular gentleman carried his macaw around an Asheville music festival all day, where perfect strangers were perfectly willing to hand it food. If you ask me, they are lucky they walked away with their fingers. If I were one to judge simply on a breed, I might be willing to suggest a muzzle for all Macaws.
But, let's keep it among the dogs for a moment. My fellow vet techs were known to come near blows over whose turn it was to handle to next Chihuahua that came into our clinic. We were perfectly happy to help restrain the larger breeds of dogs. After more than twenty years of zoo, vet medicine, pet sitting, and animal rescue work, I have only ever been bitten by numerous species of birds, several nasty little Chihuahuas, and a half drugged out Cocker Spaniel, who woke up during surgery. So, where does one get off saying that a certain breed is more dangerous and needs to be muzzled?
Enough has been said about a certain sports jerk who got caught dog fighting. Since any press is supposed to be good press, I will not even use that _____'s name(insert really nasty word of your choice here). Yet, most of his confiscated Pit Bulls have been rehabilitated, even after all of the horrible abuse they lived through at the dog fights. We watched the documentaries on television and saw them being trained to get over their fears. Most have been placed in loving homes, some even with children and other pets. Unfortunately, many of those families will certainly now have trouble renting a new home or finding insurance to cover them simply because they chose to do a good deed and give a home to an abused dog.
It is not now, nor will it ever be, simply a matter of the breed or the size of the animal that makes it dangerous. Every animal has this potential. A mouse can deliver death in one bite because of its ability to transmit disease. Perhaps we should make a law that all mice must be muzzled in the city, and if one chooses to keep these dangerous creatures as pets, one should certainly NOT be allowed to rent a home nor purchase insurance!
I hope this never happens again, but, if I ever find myself disgusted with my country in the future, I will not be moving to Paris, nor, I am sad to say, anywhere in France for that matter, unless they rethink some animal laws. Instead, I'll be looking for a place more like Asheville, where I can take Mercy and Cinco for a stroll on the town without muzzles, where we can enjoy a latte at the corner and shop together to our heart's desires. No city will be perfect, but this should be close enough for us.
All pictures provided by Amanda C. Sandos.