Editor Versus Dogs

© 2014 By Bob Litton. All Rights reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: In 1981, while I was the editor of the Monahans News, I  bought a small bungalow, and I was very proud of my three fruit trees, three grape vines, two non-bearing mulberry trees and manicured lawn. However, one of my neighbors had a dog which he allowed to run loose part of each day, and that animal loved to come over to my front lawn and drop his waste products on my St. Augustine grass.
    At a county commissioners court meeting during that time, the animal control warden’s problems with stray dogs and their owners was on the agenda.
    Those two elements combined led me to write a column critical of inconsiderate dog owners who allowed their animals to run loose, chase joggers and mess up people’s properties. Our local veterinarian came to the dogs’ defense, and a brief, friendly debate developed between him and me. The two columns reprinted below depict the essence of our disagreement. I concede that I was a bit harsh in my first commentary and should have acknowledged more of the benefits of pet ownership, especially for the elderly and the mentally disturbed; but I still hold to my tenet that no animals should be allowed to roam alone throughout a neighborhood.
    I live in a well-regulated apartment complex now, so the only dog problem I encounter is one small dog across the courtyard who hates to be alone outside so much he barks the whole hour or so he has to endure it.
    Sure hope there are no dogs in heaven (at least not of the barking, biting or messy varieties), which for certain is my next stop. 
— BL
Monahans (TX) Mayor Richard Hoyer presents News Editor Bob Litton a metal sign in recognition of Litton's columns castigating owners of stray dogs.

Monahans (TX) Mayor Richard Hoyer presents News Editor Bob Litton a metal sign in recognition of Litton’s columns castigating owners of stray dogs.

A dog is a dog is a dog

The Ward County commissioners commended County Animal Warden John Tackett Monday for picking up the strays in the county. Then, Commissioner J.H. Raglin, who is Tackett’s direct supervisor, brought up a problem the animal warden is encountering — vandalism.

Some people are stealing and damaging the traps which Tackett uses to capture animals that won’t respond to whistling. Raglin, naturally enough, believes the vandals are the dogs’ owners, resentful of the county’s enforcement of the animal control ordinance. “We’ve got to tell these people that John is just doing what state law requires him to do and that they are destroying county property when they damage those traps,” Raglin told me, “but we don’t want to perturb them too much because then they’ll just do more damage.  It doesn’t matter if a dog’s got nine tags on him, when we pick him up it’s because somebody has complained about him…because he is disturbing somebody.”

“I don’t think you ought to soft-peddle it, J.H.,” I replied. “You shouldn’t have to refer to any state law. If their dog is running loose and bothering the neighbors, that’s enough justification in itself.”

I must admit to a little bias here, since I’m neither a dog-owner nor a dog-fancier.  Everybody, I suppose, should have the right to keep one of the little curs around the house to scare away burglars.  I just don’t believe they should let their animals loose on the street where the beasts can attack mailmen, joggers, bicyclists, and just plain strollers. I’ve seen them roaming in packs around Monahans.  They drag ant-infested hunks of bone into people’s yards and, lying spread on their bellies under a shade tree, they gnaw away at the bone.

Then it’s time for Nature’s other call.  How they love a nicely manicured lawn of St. Augustine for their deposits! Some dogs — a very small minority — are at least useful for something.  There are dogs that lead the blind, dogs that pull sleds, dogs that sniff out dope and time-bombs.  I salute such animals which at least partly justify their existence and earn their keep. The greater number, however, are useless except as symbols of conspicuous consumption.  They leave residues of hair and fleas on couches and carpets; they chew up electrical wiring and furniture, and they eat up a good share of the family’s income.  But worst of all, as far as the neighbors are concerned, they howl and bark.

A dog — if a person insists on having one — belongs in a fenced-in yard.  His water needs to be kept full and fresh.  He needs some kind of shade.  And his messes need to be constantly and hygienically removed. Never should he be out roaming the public thoroughfares.

— The Monahans News, August 13, 1981

“Pets are wonderful”?

Local veterinarian Dr. Bryan Stuckey stopped me on my way to lunch the other day and gave me two recent issues of Veterinary Economics.

“Bob, would you read the articles I’ve marked in these magazines?” he asked.

I opened one issue to see what they were about: “Pets are wonderful…Communicating the Rewards of Pet Ownership”, it read.  I smiled, surmising that this was Dr. Stuckey’s way of responding to my recent harangue against yard-polluting dogs.  “Okay, I’ll read ’em,” I said.

And I was true to my word.  But I believe Bryan did his side of the issue a wrong turn by showing one of the magazines to me, because, instead of refuting my points, it simply turned me off by attacking the media.  One sentence in the article, for instance, goes as follows (and Dr. Stuckey had highlighted it with a yellow marker): “Unfortunately, little has been done about an almost conspiratorial tendency for the consumer media to emphasize the negative aspects of pet ownership.”

It appears that back in 1975 the editorial panel of Veterinary Economics had written an “Open Letter” to Time magazine as a rebuttal to a series of articles Time had published about pets and pet-owners.  Because Time didn’t publish the letter, the panel concluded that the magazine was conspiring against the pro-pet crowd.  “By not using it, Time’s editors demonstrated their belief in a philosophy which places reader-attracting sensationalism above accuracy.” It perhaps never occurred to them that the letter may have been lost in the mail or among the in-baskets at Time.  No, it had to be a conspiracy.

But the central point of the article was only indirectly related to the media.  The big subject was “PAW”—Pets Are Wonderful.  (Get it?)  PAW is a full-fledged publicity campaign under the sponsorship of Pet Food Institute to put before the public the positive aspects of responsible pet ownership.

In this particular article, the editorial panel of Veterinary Economics was applauding the idea of PAW.  However, they also were lamenting the fact that the major veterinary associations had not been asked to join with the pet food industry in the campaign against the negative image of pet-ownership perpetrated by us mean ol’ journalists.  The panel, in a rather murky sentence, takes note of the fact that the “…ultimate aim (of PAW) is the expansion of the pet food market.”  They add, however: “That should not deter us, because of the obvious public education opportunities which will be provided as well as possible expansion of the veterinary market.”

In the other issue, the proffered article was titled “Pet-Owners Happier, Healthier.”  If Dr. Stuckey had given me this issue by itself, his side would have been better served because it is a more pointed and concise counterpoise to my editorial. The article points to evidence that pets are especially important to many people during periods of sadness or loneliness.  Dr. Boris Levinson, a clinical psychologist, offers a possible explanation: “Many of today’s anxieties are caused by our alienation from nature in our daily lives.  A pet revives our sense of kinship with nature.”

Other positive aspects of pet-ownership mentioned in the article are: (1) walking a pet also exercises the pet-owner; (2) caring for a pet reduces the impulse to feel sorry for one’s self; and (3) if you own a pet, you are statistically likely to live longer, get sick less often and more likely to have a milder ailment than someone who does not own a pet. I don’t have any quarrel with those points.  I just think they do not refute my own argument that pets do not belong on the public thoroughfares unless they are under the control (via a leash) of their owners.  Nor should they be allowed to bark and whine at any hour of the day or night.  Nor should they be allowed to go into a neighbor’s yard and leave smelly reminders of their visit.

For certain, it’s not the animal’s fault if it goes around biting people or messing up lawns.  It’s just following natural principles.  Rather, the fault lies with pet-owners who are inconsiderate of their neighbors by letting their dogs run around loose.

I hope Dr. Stuckey doesn’t take this personally.  He’s a decent fellow who has done a lot of good things for this community.  I appreciate his showing me those articles primarily because his having done so indicates an all-too-rare willingness to enter into dialogues rather than just go off in a huff.

Thank you, Dr. Stuckey.

— The Monahans News, August 27, 1981

NOTE TO NON-WORD-PRESS BLOGGING READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL 

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