Praise be to dog

An ode to loud, stinky, filthy canines and the pathologically needy people who love them.

Topics: Noble Beasts,

Praise be to dog

Dogs, babies, great books, margaritas, long naps, enormous oatmeal cookies: Some things in this life are so indisputably lovable that there’s really no reason to discuss why we love them. Maybe that’s why the notion of chatting about dogs with other dog owners or joining a book group or a mommy group always strikes me as redundant, unless I can talk books with the dog people, or join a mommy group that drinks margaritas then takes long naps, or find a book group that serves enormous oatmeal cookies that no one can shut up about.

I find self-proclaimed “dog lovers” particularly worrisome, even though I clearly belong among them. I teach my two big dogs stupid tricks, I walk them every day, I stare into their brown eyes and ask them how they’re doing, I go into debt to pay for deluxe boarding that amounts to Doggie Disneyland. As I rile them up and wrestle with them on the floor and call them stupid names like “crocadonkey” and “princesshund” each night, my 2-year-old daughter looks on like a disapproving headmistress. “You playing?” she asks, but the look in her eyes says, “Why does my mother demean herself with those foul canines?”

And they are foul. Human beings who keep smelly, burping, unruly, butt-licking beasts in their houses with them, allowing those beasts to lounge on the furniture, gulp up their gruel in the kitchen, press their slimy noses against the front windows, shed their hair all over the floors, growl menacingly at innocent mail carriers, then stretch their filthy bodies across the bed at night must be, by definition, dog lovers. It’s shameful, in other words. So, do we really have to talk about it?

This hesitation to discuss the wherefore and the how come and the “what the hell?” of the pet-owning affliction, then, informs my approach to the upcoming “Nature” special “Why We Love Cats and Dogs” (premieres 8 p.m., Feb. 15, on PBS). I love my dogs for the same reasons I love long naps and babies and enormous oatmeal cookies: They’re delicious and fun and perfect and they bring pure joy to my life. See how dirty you feel now? Did we really have to talk about it in the first place?



The point is, hearing about why other people, people who define themselves as “pet lovers,” love their pets is, to me, a little bit like discussing sex acts in mixed company — or, worse yet, talking about sex with a “sex lovers” group. It’s all so obvious, why put it into words? No, I’m saying shut up about it already. Oh Jesus, you just had to put it into words, didn’t you?

“They bring out the softer side of me,” one cat lover tells the “Nature” cameras. “Good for you,” I think. “Now shut up about it.” “We share a very special relationship” says a dog lover. “Great,” I think, “but keep it to yourself.” Another woman explains how, when she broke up with her boyfriend, she told him, “I just wish I could love you like I love [my dog] Zachary.” “Well, that sort of makes sense,” I think.

“I gotta find a girlfriend who likes to sleep with the dog in the bed. I’ll do anything you want, lady, but the dog’s gotta sleep in the bed,” says one guy, whom I miraculously don’t hate on sight, maybe because he’s hot. His dog seems cool, too.

“I think that people tend to be overindulgent of their pets,” says another guy, whom I strongly dislike for no reason. Maybe because he’s right.

“I think I would give up my baby before I’d give up my dogs,” says another lady, who is clearly deranged but whom I still want to invite over for a beer.

In the end, this “Nature” special accomplishes something pretty incredible: It manages to make pet owners appear entirely reasonable for loving their animals to an unreasonable extent. Somehow, they found a bunch of dog and cat lovers who are smart and charismatic and funny and not creepy at all. (If you’ve ever been to the local dog park, you know how rare that is.)

And that’s laudable, because who really wants to be a dog lover who walks around hating other dog lovers all the time? And how absurd is it to hate people just for loving something that’s quite plainly lovable?

In fact, I don’t think there’s anyone I hate more than people who can’t shut up about how deeply sick and wrong it is to love your dog and call her stupid names and treat her with the respect and kindness and around-the-clock fawning and admiration to which she’s clearly entitled. I have a big problem with people who want to hold court on how bad it is for a dog to be invited onto the bed or the couch and squeezed and kissed and anthropomorphized. “Dogs were meant to roam around in the wilderness,” they remind us, “ripping little animals apart all day long! Dogs weren’t meant to lounge about on the furniture, wimpering for more Snausages!”

Listen, people. I recognize that. If I could afford a grand, wooded estate that I could stock full of innocent, overweight, slow-moving squirrels for my dogs to hunt down and rip to shreds, I’d do it in a second. I’m an animal lover, don’t you get it? I feel tremendous guilt over not being able to give my doggy the sheer pleasure of sinking her sharp teeth into the warm hide of a live, wriggling squirrel. I ache for her not knowing the thrill that comes from that intoxicating, panicked screeching for mercy! My poor little honey lamb has never felt the spray of warm blood on her nose! Do you think that doesn’t break my heart? What kind of a monster do you think I am?

And look, let’s limit this to practical concerns: I know my dogs don’t want the hugs, just a few well-aimed scratches, thank you very much. I know they’d prefer three hourlong walks a day instead of just one. There’s only so much I can do. But beds and couches are more comfortable than the floor. The filthy beasts are already forced to sleep on the floor at night, they wait patiently until I give the OK before they eat, they listen to me at least half of the time. They’re treated like second-class citizens occasionally. Sometimes I even acknowledge their nonhuman status by calling them “dummies,” as in, “Hey, dummies!” and “Aw, you’re such a stupid little pea-brained dumb-dumb. Come up here and let me rub your belly, stupid.”

Of course these dogs serve as substitutes for healthy relationships with other human beings! Why else would we allow untamed, hairy, carnivorous stink bombs into our homes if we didn’t have some deep pathological neediness lurking in our very souls?

So, what, you expect me not to project all my emotional needs and fears onto my dog? Why, so I can project them onto some innocent human being? That’s how people get hurt! That’s why most marriages fail! You want me to smother my husband with kisses and bear hugs every night? I’d start to gross him out in a matter of weeks. You expect him to lick my feet and say, “Ri rove roo” when I hold a cookie over his head? I’d lose respect for him in less than a second. That’s why I have subordinate pack animals around, so I can be bossy and demeaning to something that finds being bossed around and demeaned vaguely relaxing.

Haven’t you ever seen “The Dog Whisperer,” wherein the prophet Cesar Millan teaches us that dogs need lots of exercise, and they need to be ignored and insulted as often as possible? Look at his dog pack: They’re all so relaxed. They recognize his word as the word of God, no need to ponder big, unanswerable existential questions like “Why haven’t I ripped the guts out of a rabbit lately, and why shouldn’t I rip the guts out of this annoying Rottweiler instead?” or “What is that smelly thing stuck to the pavement over there, and does it taste good?”

Yes, it’s true, Millan doesn’t entirely approve of projecting our emotional needs onto our dogs. But what does he know? This guy was an illegal immigrant, washing cars for a living 20 years ago, and now he’s reclining on Oprah’s butter-yellow couches, chatting aimlessly about his favorite animal. Trust me, I’ve met Cesar Millan. He’s handsome and dashing and self-possessed and charming as hell. Cesar Millan bestrides the mortal world like a colossus. What does he know of the deep pathological neediness that lurks in mortal souls?

So that’s where this episode of “Nature” — which is very entertaining and funny and well worth any pet owner’s time, by the way — leaves me: torn between my hatred of dog lovers and my hatred of the people who hate dog lovers. My position is insupportable. It springs from self-hatred, emotional longing and an inability to play nicely with others or to derive my identity from being part of a warm, openhearted community. I have big problems. I am fundamentally unwell. I am unlovable.

Where’s my princesshund anyway? Where’s my crocadonkey? Aw, there you are, you big idiots. You love me, yes you do! That’s right, I love you, too, stupid dummies. Mommy loves you, too.

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>