Another reason for hating canines would be that I have carried around since childhood a great fear of dogs. I am not sure if there is a single incident that sparked this terror, but I do recall a neighbor's dog being rather large and threatening. The animal seemed vicious to me, so much so that he thwarted my first attempt at running away merely by standing behind his fence and growling. In my experience, you can never tell what a dog will do. Even the most friendly and welcoming dogs have become dangerous in a flash-pan instant. I recall our cousin's dog Bingo. Bingo lived on their dairy farm in Idaho, and he was the nice dog. They had other dogs, but we only saw them from the windows of the van as we pulled up for our not-so-frequent visits. The moment we arrived, our cousins had to drag the angry dogs into a shed and lock them up for the duration of our visit, presumably so that they would not eat us. Over the course of one summer, something mysterious was killing the chickens in great numbers. We spent a few days on the farm that year, and I remember filling a wheelbarrow with dead chickens, then throwing them into the canal. We had been instructed to bury them, but the ground was too hard and the fun we wanted to have too tempting. On the last day of our visit, just moments before we were to leave, Bingo was found in the hen house, killing chickens. I have a very vivid memory-image of a farmhand heaving a very large rock at Bingo, just as our van turned the corner of the house and out of view. I never learned of Bingo's fate, but have often wondered if that rock had something to do with it.
Whatever the reasons, dogs still cause a twinge of fear to course through my body. Even snotty little lapdogs, with their nasty little teeth, yippy barking, and ass-breath trigger something within me. I try to be kind to dog owners. I tell them it is no bother, letting their foul animals lick my hand and sniff my crotch, even as the cold sweat squeezes up from within me, my heart thuds against my chest, and I begin to wish I were anywhere else. As a parent of human children, I try to keep my kids from annoying, threatening, or sexually molesting any visitor to our home. Why is this not the case with all dog owners? Some are gracious and kind, hiding their beasts away in some dark corner of their house, but just as many if not more seem to enjoy my discomfort. They employ that ridiculous baby talk and laugh sweetly as their four-footed child sniffs my butt, slaps my shins with their anxious tail, and plants their paws roughly against my groin, as if digging for-yes, I am going to say it, a bone!
I am running a lot these days. The reasons? Fighting off old age, losing weight, training for a race, or eluding depression, I don't know on any given day why I run. The fact is that I run many miles throughout the week, and I see a lot of angry, drooling beasts. They all want a piece of me. I pump loud music through headphones crammed deep into my ears so that I will not hear their menacing barks trailing after me as I try to keep both my pace and my calm. On bad days, typically the days when I am running from my own thoughts, I will laugh at them, mocking them as they run to the very edge of their invisible fences. Sometimes I even bark back. Elizabeth hates that I do this, and is sure that one day I will be dragged into a police cruiser wearing a straightjacket.
Returning to the mess that dogs make. I am father to three children that I love beyond measure. I changed my share of their smelly diapers, and wiped their bums through the terrible training years. I did this out of love, and not because I hoped that they would someday do the same for me should I need it. With all of that done and behind me, I don't want to do it again. No more babies except for the occasional loaner, and even then they have to be truly cute, and no matter how cute, I will not wipe their ass. I like to be clean. I love a good shower or four throughout the day. If a pair of my shoes gets dog mess on them, I throw them away. No need to worry myself over the poop germs spreading like an oil spill over the entire shoe and up my legs. No shoes are worth what the worry will do to me.
Today, I broke all my rules. My fifteen year old son had committed to walking his friends two dogs while he is away for vacation. My wife and kids headed into Boston for the day, prompting me to volunteer to drop by and care for the dogs. All the way up the street, I felt the dread growing within me. I got to the house, unlocked the door, and waited for the barking to start. Nothing. I entered the house, and saw the green crap bags and leashes hanging by the door. I grabbed them, and a gagging sound entered my throat as I thought of what I was about to endure. The dogs were in the family room, one on the couch and one in her kennel. They gave me no trouble, allowing me to fasten the leashes without a fuss, a bark, or so much as a moan. One did lick me, and my skin seemed to tighten as her spit dried into an invisible icing of germs coating my forearm.
We made our way outside, and I found myself speaking to them with a high-pitched British accent.
"Walkies? Are you ready for walkies, guys?" I felt ridiculous, but knew the worst was yet to come.
I have always laughed at dog owners as I drive past them. No matter the weather, they walk their damn dogs. They stand in gale force winds, under the hot summer sun, or in the pounding rain at a discreet distance while their beloved pets squat and pinch off loaves of stinky waste onto the ground. Some will try to act the essence of nonchalance, but we who pass by know that they are waiting for their pet to poop. The indignity of it all is then amplified as they casually stroll over and bend to pinch the nasty surprise into a little blue or green plastic bag. A quick tie-off, and they hang it from a single finger, as far away from their whole hand as it can be without dropping it. The bag of crap swings in time to their gait as they finish their walk, their furry companion sniffing spots on the ground that I picture to be yesterday's drop off spot, or perhaps the drop off spot of another dog.
And so I walked up the road a piece, waiting for these two to perform their magic trick. The bigger one decided on a spot, and that must have been a sign for the other to proceed, because she quickly followed suit. Their poop was green, and there was so much of it I almost felt for their bowels and all the work they must have had to perform that morning. I had trouble opening the silly green bag, and in a moment of absent-minded panic almost licked my finger to get the sides to part. I had not even come close to the mess, but to stand in the general area of it gives me a feeling of germy dread. To lick my fingers in the presence of it would have put me in the hospital. At last the bag was open, and my moment to shine arrived. I had my headphones in, my music pounding loud so I could not hear the words of disgust leaving my mouth as I reached out and grabbed each pile, the bag acting as both glove and receptacle. No cars passed that I noticed, but then again a parade could have been in procession nearby and I would have missed it, my mind taking me to a happier place and time rather than focus on my living nightmare.
The deed done, we took a brief walk before I returned the dogs to their home. They were very appreciative, and gave me no trouble at all, but for the fact that I had to clean up their waste. I washed my hands until they were red before jumping into my car and heading home for a shower and a change of clothes.
And that is reason 6, 312 that we will never own a dog.