Columbus, Ohio USA
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Dogs Are Us
By Joel Knepp
November/December 2015 Issue

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Lady of Goodale Park, by Lynda McClanahan ©

Where did summer go? Has anyone ever experienced a more fleeting season than the summer of 2015?

As the leaves fall and the nights cool off, we look back fondly on the dog days of summer, named by the ancient Greeks after the hottest time of the year when Sirius aka the Dog Star from the constellation Canis Major is prominent in the night sky. Though autumn and its many charms are here, we sometimes can’t help wistfully longing for a summer extension, a return to the delicious dog days. Speaking of which, you may have observed that the Short North is no longer merely going to the dogs; it has truly gone to the dogs. Never have we seen so many canine companions traipsing around our neighborhoods. They’re everywhere. This has turned into a dog-lover’s paradise. I can sit on my porch on any non-rainy morning or evening and watch dozens of folks either leading or being pulled along by their leashed buddies. Large, medium, or small; pleasing to the eye or repulsive; well- or ill-mannered; the dogs are here in force. I don’t get around that much, but I can’t help but think this is one of the most dog-intensive areas in the known universe.

What’s going on here? Has the city issued a special tax break for dog owners? Do the new rental units cropping up along the Olentangy River and elsewhere have leases that instead of prohibiting pets actually require them? Have years of increasingly sophisticated TV and Internet marketing brainwashed Short North consumers into acquiring dogs so they will have a reason to buy scientifically formulated pet foods and have access to cheap mail-order doggy drugs? As car ownership begins to wane in popularity among young people (witness the proliferation of Cars2Go), are dogs the new status symbol? Are these furry friends perhaps being employed as substitutes for children or as training wheels for prospective parents? Many questions pose themselves, but few definitive answers arise.

Here’s another thing about dog ownership in our neighborhood: it used to be that you got a dog, period. More and more, folks aren’t getting just a dog, but rather two or even three dogs; it’s like they want to be the leader of a mini-pack. Isn’t one furry beast enough to train, feed, brush, bathe, take to the vet, and last but not least, pick up after? Not long ago I saw a pregnant woman being led past my house by a pair of admittedly cute twin beasts with upturned tails and reddish fur. What was she thinking? The baby isn’t going to be enough of a challenge? She needs three poop-makers to deal with? Although country folks have a longstanding tradition of keeping multiple hounds, I think the migration of this phenomenon to the city might have something to do with modern working people being away from home so much. Perhaps they figure it’s more compassionate to give their dogs someone to hang around with while the humans are gone.

One thing in this dog boom’s favor is its stimulating effect on the Columbus economy. A rash of doggy day-care facilities has sprung up, with cute names like Canine Social Club Catch-n-Fetch, Camp Bow Wow, and Pet Palace. More and more businesses exist to groom, doctor, photograph, walk, and train your pooch. You can even buy an electronic device which is supposed to humanely prevent your crazed canine from barking. Every time I walk down High Street I’m amazed that the Three Dog Bakery, unlike many other area businesses which have come and gone, can actually pay the rent year after year by selling things like dog birthday cakes (baked with love). By the way, kudos to their imaginative window display creator!

When I first arrived in the area we now call the Short North, skittish Afghan hounds and energetic Irish setters were popular. But like the human residents, landscaping, and clothing fashions, the mix of dogs is ever changing. I haven’t seen an Afghan hound in years, perhaps because of the negative associations with that breed’s land of origin. Although a wide variety of breeds and types pass by my corner and frolic in various parks, it seems that the pit bulls and German shepherds of yesteryear were largely replaced by pugs and other varieties. Lately, the once-fashionable pugs are giving way to full-size poodles and a raft of highly questionable invented combination dogs (Cockapoo, Labradoodle, Bug, et al), some of which resemble powder puffs or four-legged white Afro wigs.

I have had rewarding friendships with a number of dogs over the years, but have never actually lived with one. However, with all these proud, happy dog owners running around, the social pressure is starting to get to me. In terms of human relationships, there is obviously something special about having a dog. No matter your age, body shape, income level, or political or sexual persuasion, you automatically have an “in” with other dog people. It’s like you all know the secret handshake and password. I so much want to feel that sense of belonging, to join the powerful trend uniting so many Short North residents, to schmooze with my fellow tribe members at the dog park, and to merrily shop for outlandish chew toys, canine cookies, DayGlo tennis-ball launchers, fashion collars, and doggy holiday outfits. Unfortunately, I have talked it over with my cat and he has vetoed the idea in no uncertain terms.

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