Dogs on Parade

The other day Lizzy and I were out taking Sarah to a local exorcist when we met, outside the office door, a middle-aged woman smoking a butt by the parking lot.  The cigarette didn’t bother me though; what really got me raging was her Bichon Frise. For those of you not familiar with these creatures, I’m talking about those dirty white, puffy, toy dogs that all the upper classes seem to be in love with. I’m sure you’ve seen them all over the place – they’re undeniably cute but equally prone, it seems, to being on the receiving end of some spurned or otherwise disgruntled ex boyfriend’s ire. I remember a story from a few years ago wherein some thuggish road-rage sufferer tossed one of these critters into traffic; another, if memory serves, involved the pup plummeting through the air via an upper-level window. None of this is justified, mind you, and I’m in no way condoning any kind of cruelty to animals, but I’m just sayin’ – they’re as easy to hate as they are to love.

I do, occasionally, see the value of tiny novelty dogs. Here in Long Beach we live a half mile or so from one of the wealthier neighborhoods, and there’s also a healthy gay community here. Often the two overlap. The result? Lots and lots of really small dogs. The good news for us is that we get to attend dog costume parades (yes, dog parades), and even I have to admit that these things are a hoot.  The organizer calls the event “Haute Dog,” and the idea is to grab your tiniest, most execrable four-legged family member, dress them up like something ludicrous (but creative), and parade them down 2nd Street in Long Beach while thousands gawk.

Actually we’re blessed with two of these – one at Easter, and one during Halloween. We prefer the Halloween parade (called the “Howl-oween parade and billed as “the world’s largest Halloween pet event”), due both to our general affinity for that glorious holiday of death as well as to the wider spectrum of tiny dog costumes available to owner and viewer alike. I mean, really –  Easter’s nice and all, but how many dog-sized rabbit ears and bonnets can you see before wondering why the hell it was that you left the house in the first place?

During Halloween though, the possibilities are endless. The dogs aren’t simply dressed up and walked, either; most owners pull their pups in wagons that are decorated according to the chosen theme. Think of them as miniature floats. This past year, for example, there was among other things a dog-sized school bus, a tank, and even a dumpster bin, each filled with tiny, costumed dogs. The 2007 winner – yes, there are awards given out – was a little display called “Grilled Chi-s” (A Chi is a cross between a Chihuawa and some sort of Poodle), and that, my friend, I’ll let you visualize yourself.

I can’t say that the dogs are actually mistreated here, but if dogs are said to share any emotional traits with humans then I certainly recognized two: panic and shame. Trust me, I know these looks  because they’re the two I often use myself. They’re also the two my daughter, in her teen-aged years, will most employ upon seeing me in public, but that remains to be seen.  So maybe the dogs themselves aren’t very happy, but everyone else has a pretty good time.

So there are a couple of occasions on which I tolerate, and even enjoy, these little scourges, but most of the time they kind of annoy me. Like when the owners so love the dog that they have to bring it with them wherever they go, usually nestled in an arm or a purse. That bothers me, particularly because it’s one of those things that betrays, in my opinion, a serious flaw in the humans: excessive need. They’re displaying their need to have a companion with them, which, conversely, indicates an inability to be alone, and, y’know, what’s up with that? I mean, I like to be alone – so much so that most of the people in my life have picked up on this and helpfully stopped dropping by, calling me, sending me birthday cards, visiting me in the hospital or even “poking” me on Facebook.

But what really qualifies small dog owners for public smiting is when the life of the pet is valued over that of a human. I remember walking down an alley near an old apartment of ours a couple of years ago, musing thoughtfully on the various architectural styles of the neighbors’ homes and otherwise minding my own business. I had been admiring a particular Spanish-style thingy not too far from my own dive, when I noticed in one of the windows a small, reflective sticker applied from within. Upon closer inspection it was clear that the sticker was designed to direct any firefighters, in the event of the home’s burning, to that window in order to rescue its occupants. We’ve all seen these things, and I imagine they’re generally put to good use. If memory serves I had one myself as a boy.

But this sticker didn’t alert first responders to the presence of a child, no – this was applied strictly to aid in the rescue of the family pet. Now, I’m not a firefighter, and nor do I fetishize them like so many have since 9/11, but Jesus Fucking Christ. Can you believe the thinking that goes on in the minds of the pet owners who put that sticker up? They actually expect that a firefighter would want to make a point of navigating the flame, noxious smoke and falling beams in order to save the Chi in the upstairs room, third down on the left?  Think of the dialogue that must have gone on behind the application of that sticker – I imagine  it would probably go something like this:

Fade In

INT. A spacious, Spanish-style house.

A HUSBAND is lint-rolling the curtains in his well-decorated living room. His eyes are closed and he is humming “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi se soir” under his breath.

Suddenly his WIFE enters excitedly.

Wife: Well, I’ve got the sticker for the window over Hunter’s pillow!

The Husband starts, fearfully.

A beat.

He collects himself.

Husband: Great!

A beat.

Husband: Wait – we have a kid named Hunter?

Wife: (laughs) No, silly, Hunter’s our Bichon Frise!

Husband: (slaps his hand to his forehead) Of course! How could I forget – we’re still waiting for the Malawi government to approve our adoption papers! We don’t have a kid yet!

(Husband and wife laugh for a beat, tension releasing)

Husband (cont.): Anyway, what’s the sticker say?

Wife: Oh, it just tells the firemen where Hunter is so that they can run in and save him if the house is ever overcome by an explosive, life-threatening fire.

Husband: Hmm. (scratches his chin) Hey, don’t you think that may be a bit dangerous? I mean, like, doesn’t the fireman risk injury or death every time he runs into a burning building?

A beat.

Wife: …your point being…?

Wife and husband laugh together some more. Husband resumes rolling the lint brush over the curtains.

Fade out.

See what I mean? This kind of thing can’t go over well with the firefighters either. My guess is that as soon as they see one of these stickers they make a mental note of which room to avoid. I know I would.

So people, if you’re going to have tiny dog, fine. Just try to limit its public exposure to those days when there happens to be a reason to dress it up in something funny – like, say, a lobster. On a grill. And finally, if your house is burning down and you have to get out quick, by all means grab what matters to you most before running to safety – just get it yourself. The firefighters have more things to worry about than orphaning their kids so that your little Punky can live another three dog years.

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