Editor’s note: Even though our regular columnist, Brian C. Jones, writes only once every two weeks, he has today off, and we’ve asked Phoebe, a “sweet” Labrador-retriever-husky-hound, originally from Missouri, to fill in.
LET’S GET THIS STRAIGHT: Society gives a lot of lip service to how much we care about our dogs. I’m sure that you’re familiar with the phrase “dogs are a man’s best friend.”
(But as a lady, I beg you not to debate the gender-class-and-species offenses embedded in this old phrase. Such discussions never end well, and usually result in a language car-wreck like: “dogs are humankind’s suitably significant mammal partners.”)
My point today is not linguistic, but cosmic: it’s the gap between what Society says about its devotion to dogs and how it actually treats us.
For example, you decide to go for a walk in Newport. Great choice. Rhode Island’s most internationally famous community is perfect for a stroll, with its ocean and bay vistas, narrow streets traversed by giants of history from Washington to Wharton, blessed with numerous parks, quirky shops, extravagant mansions and a smorgasbord of places to eat.
Maybe you throw on a jacket.
But as a dog, I am required to be “collared and on a secure leash” whenever I step out the front door. And that leash must not be “in excess of eight feet in length.” And further, according to Part B of Section 6.08.050 of the Newport city ordinances, I can do this “… only when under the immediate physical control of a responsible person.”
I underlined the part about “a responsible person,” because it’s an oxymoron, which doesn’t mean “stupid ox,” although that’s close when applied to humans. Click here for Merriam-Webster’s definition.
WHERE WAS I? Being a dog, sometimes I lose track. Oh, yes: dog laws.
Newport is hardly alone in its “restraint of animals” law. Most, if not all, cities and towns have them, including the three communities of Aquidneck Island. And in all cases, I can assure you these kinds of ordinances weren’t written with the Bill of Rights in mind. Most spell out what dogs can’t do, can’t say and where they can’t go, with the underlying theme that, individually and as a group, we are a nuisance.
Is that any way to treat your best friend?
Let’s say you’ve escaped from your responsible oxymoron and have run from Newport to Portsmouth to get a bite (maybe not the best choice of words) to eat. Forget about doing so in “any store or public eating place,” according to the relevant Portsmouth code.
And when it comes to the First Amendment’s free speech protections in the town that Ann Hutchinson founded to promote religious freedom, dogs are forbidden to engage in any “howling, barking or other noise,” at least in the judgement of “one or more persons,” who are invited to make a formal complaint. (Notice that dogs are not accorded equal rights to complain, even though our hearing is far more sensitive).
Again, I don’t mean to pick on Portsmouth, which, by the way has a terrific dog park, with a stirring origin story that you can read about on its website by clicking on this link, a two-acre wonderland where dogs run free, thanks to lots of goodwill, money and dedication, proving that not all humans are oxymorons.
Where was I? I apologize. I’m only a dog and a substitute columnist. Okay, I remember: We live in the Ocean State, but dogs do not have equal standing on our fabulous beaches.
Newport allows dogs on spectacular First Beach (aka Easton’s Beach, Newport Beach), but not during the nicest months, between Memorial Day (May 25) through Sept. 30. And even in the chilly season, we have to be leashed, which effectively forecloses swimming.
Middletown’s Second Beach (aka Sachuest Beach), which is even more spectacular than First Beach, provides all-year access, but between May 1 and Sept. 30, early-dog privileges only, from 5 a.m. to 7:45 a.m., when a well-equipped dog needs a leash, an up-to-date calendar and a stop-watch.
YOU PROBABLY HAVE LOTS QUESTIONS like: “Phoebe, whoever had the idiotic idea of having a dog write a guest column? How do you get your stories onto a computer? And, how should dogs be treated?”
The first two question are above my paygrade (there’s a laugh). But I can tell you that one of my best experiences was a spontaneous meet-up of as many as 30 dogs and their suitably significant mammal partners that used to take place in the late afternoons on a hilltop at Fort Adams State Park in Newport.
It’s a beautiful spot, better suited as a movie backdrop than a free-range dog run, with sweeping views of the East Passage of Narragansett Bay, Jamestown island and the Newport Bridge. In short, paradise. Everyone off-leash, no fences, easy access to the water. The mood was mellow, low-key, laid-back. It was all very informal and totally illegal.
One day the word went out that the park police were enforcing the leash law, big time. Warnings, fines, the whole arsenal of human oppression. It seems there had been an “incident.” I myself once witnessed a dog snatching a picnicker’s sandwich, but I’m guessing this “incident” was more serious.
Now, what once was paradise is now just a parking lot, marked by an oversized stack of signs, DOGS MUST BE LEASHED. AS A PET OWNER YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR PET AT ALL TIMES. PLEASE PICK UP AFTER YOUR PET. $100 FINE. There’s also something about no intoxicating beverages, although I don’t think that’s for us.
I can’t argue against the crackdown. One dog can spoil everything and did. And I know that if a human went after my sandwich or worse, I’d want action.
But my point is that I wish Society and its laws didn’t presume that dogs are a nuisance, that’s all.
“Okay, Phoebe,” you ask, “what is a nuisance?”
I’ll tell you what’s a nuisance: Geese.
You’ve seen them: huge flocks of obese, waddling, arrogant, honking geese occupying wherever there’s an open field, which they proceed to cover with what I’ll delicately call their “waste.” No signs telling them to pick up after themselves, no government- supplied plastic bags. Just acres and acres of goose waste.
Here’s a picture I took – while leashed – during a recent visit to Fort Adams, where a flotilla had just landed, preparing to lay waste to a rugby field. The horror! The very definition of a nuisance that needs some attention, maybe a “restraint of geese” ordinance.
And if you need some help drafting a geese law, I can help. Because I know how to type; I just can’t tell you how.