Pets: I Hate Your Dog

A city dog owner tells other city dog owners why they (and their pooches) can be so damned insufferable.

Illustration by James Boyle

Illustration by James Boyle

It was one of the first warm Saturdays of spring, and I couldn’t wait to get outside for a run. As is always the case when good weather finally sets in, the city was a beehive of activity; a palpable feeling of neighborliness hung in the air. It was one of those perfect Philly days when you can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Then, one block from home, as I was high on happy vibes, the mirage evaporated. About halfway up the block, a boxer on one of those retractable leashes turned and looked at me, cold and still, his taut muscles glinting in the sun. His owner didn’t notice our stare-down. I knew this was going to be bad.

As I ran by, I heard a loud snarl and bark, and turned just in time to see a square jaw and shiny teeth coming at my face. The boxer’s mouth just barely missed my cheek. I nearly drop-kicked that stupid dog, my heart pounding in my ears.

“Oh, no worries,” his owner said, barely looking up from her phone. “He’s friendly.”

I’m sorry. What?

This is why I hate dogs. Actually, to specify: I hate other people’s dogs. I have a miniature pinscher named Scout who, as I write this, is curled next to me on the couch. I love her dearly. But it took me nearly 10 years of owning a dog in the city to come to the conclusion that everybody else’s dog is the absolute worst.

To be fair, it’s really the parents of these pooches who suck. There’s the territorial Chihuahua on Federal Street in South Philly, whose owner likes to leave the front door open so the dog can run out at full speed, hit the brakes right at the edge of the stoop, and bark in my face as I walk by. Then there’s the beagle whose owner walks him to the 24-hour convenience store near my house every morning around 5 a.m. and ties him to a pole. This sends the dog into a full-blown apoplectic fit, and each morning like clockwork, the neighborhood is treated to a five-minute symphony of barking and wheezing and general hysteria until the owner returns.

Bad dogs and bad owners go hand in hand, and both drive the rest of us batty. It’s not just the untended poop they leave on the curb. Or, my favorite, the poop they so carefully bag up, only to leave the bag itself on the curb. Or the kamikaze way they walk their pets on narrow sidewalks, allowing them to dive-bomb from side to side. Or how they let their dogs run off-leash directly underneath signs that say NO DOGS ALLOWED.

It’s all of these things combined that give city dogs and their owners a bad reputation. It’s what makes me hate your dog.

I went through all the phases of city dog owning, and now, a decade in, I consider myself fully reformed. First, there’s the twinge of pride that comes with marching around your neighborhood with a puppy that you’re convinced is the most adorable four-legged beast ever to walk on God’s green earth. This occurs right around the time you fail to fathom that a yippy puppy in a 700-square-foot apartment is the perfect way to piss off your neighbors. Next comes the crushing fear of losing your security deposit, thanks to the brand-new chew marks on your rental’s 100-year-old trim. (Maybe you can pass them off as “character”?) Sooner or later, you realize that happy-hour plans are out indefinitely because you have to go home to walk the dog, and since you can’t find a dog sitter, you can forget about that weekend at the Shore, too. Oh, and the endless poop bags, the scant trash cans, the lack of yards. These things add up until finally, finally, you arrive at the conclusion that owning a dog in the city is, quite frankly, a lot of hard work.

That’s where many of us go wrong: We forget about the work of it. Or maybe, if we’re being honest, we secretly pine for the ease of suburban dog-owning life, with fenced-in backyards and liberating leash-lessness. But alas, this is not our lot. A responsible city dog owner not only knows it’s work; she embraces the work by following the rules, practicing commonsense etiquette, and setting boundaries (i.e., no jumping on strangers when they run by!) for the greater good of society.

Because if we’re going to be a civilized city, Philly, we need to be civilized dog owners. That means keeping our dogs from clogging the sidewalks, presenting baked-good bribes to our neighbors when we bring home a puppy, and, for the love of God, taking our poop bags with us.

Published as “This Town Has Gone to the Dogs” in the July issue of Philadelphia magazine.