The saying ‘it’s a dog’s life’ has never been more applicable today, not only for our canine companions but also their owners.
You see, dogs just can’t do anything right. They bark too much, they are spirited as puppies and won’t often heel, they are biologically wired to seek out food not understanding it may belong to others and, in my boy Iggy’s case, he’s a horny little bugger who is prone to a bit of human leg seduction.
But here’s the thing, I love my dog as others would a child. I am not ashamed to admit this – in fact I am beyond proud because what I am referring to is perhaps the purest form of love I have ever experienced. To say I am fond of my dog is ridiculous. I rarely, if ever, want to leave his side.
Living in Melbourne, I don’t have to. This city caters to dog owners well. There are several accessible off lead dog beaches year round (unlike Sydney where, despite living in Bondi, Iggy never got to touch sand). As such, twice a day you will often find the boy and I on the shoreline, me mingling with other pet owners, Ig smelling butts. These visits usually constitute my happiest hours.
Listen: The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss the fact that dogs are up there with humans in the pecking order. Is that problematic? Post continues after audio.
My friend and fellow journalist Neil McMahon is also dog mad. I sobbed for hours when I read his moving tribute to his late best mate Scout and was delighted when he adopted a new sweetheart called Maudie, a minxy now seven-month-old English Staffy.
Neil and I have been meaning to meet up with our respective pooch persons for weeks now. I was about to head to his local off leash beach last Sunday and in retrospect am glad I didn’t. Because what Neil and Maudie experienced would have set me off on a tirade I may never have come back from.
I love Iggy just like a child.
In a nutshell, here’s what happened. A woman placed her baby on a blanket on the sand. Maudie wandered over to said baby and licked it on the chest. Soon after, the police arrived. The woman had called to complain that a dog had attacked her child and Neil was read his rights. A stern warning and a $238 fine followed.
As Neil wrote in The Age, “My crime (Maudie's crime to be more precise about it, but we take it on the chin for our dogs): failing to maintain what they call "effective control" of my dog in an off-leash area.
"Effective control" is defined as follows. It means your dog will return to you upon command (fair enough, though I don't know a dog owner who has a 100 per cent success rate on that front). It means that you "retain a clear and unobstructed view of the dog" in the off-leash area at all times (fair enough, and usually not a problem unless the whirling dervish of romping dogs gets too big or they head off into the shrubbery in pursuit of a tennis ball).
“But here's the kicker that got me in trouble: "effective control" means your dog "does not bother, attack, worry or interfere with other people or animals".
Now, I agree with Neil that this is impossible for any dog owner to guarantee as it is a dubious definition at best. But what I really got out of Maudie’s alleged delinquent behaviour is this – parents should give us dog owners a bloody break. We get tiny slithers of off leash areas – kids and parents have the rest. Placing an infant on a blanket in the middle of a dog run is madness, just as is clueless parents who surround their children with food in dog allowed areas.
It reminds me of my own Iggygate experience, which I still fume about today. We were in a lovely garden park near our home where I would often go to write under a shady tree that I would tie Ig to so he wouldn’t go roaming.
One day we had a visitor, a cute toddler who had slipped away from her parent’s gaze to come and see the nice doggie. As usual, Iggy was patient with the little one who pulled at his ears and tried to pick him up awkwardly, just as I had taught him.
The next thing I knew I had a banshee of a woman screaming abuse at us. “Get that filthy thing away from my child,” she yelled.
Um, excuse me, but the dog was tied to a tree…..
My dog, Iggy.
“I don’t care! How dare you! I am trying teach my child to be afraid of dogs! You shouldn’t have it in the park.”
Now, let’s just say that my conversation with this woman did not end there. I pointed out a few facts such as she and her child do not own the park, or the world for that matter and that she was perhaps not as responsible carer for her child as I am with my dog, seeing said child managed to waddle over unsupervised.
I am sure this woman, had she known the laws, would have called the cops on me too.
But in my mind, it is her child who actually accosted my dog. Not that Iggy and I would ever call the cops and demand she should be fined. No, that would be mean-spirited and hardly what you would call neighbourly. We do not feel that entitled, unlike some.
Wendy Squires has been a journalist for more than 20 years, starting work at News Ltd as a cadet journalist before moving to New York where she worked, lived and wrote for several years. Upon her return she edited Cleo and Australian Style magazines as well as holding senior positions on Elle, Mode, Who Weekly, Madison, Woman's Day and the Australian Women’s Weekly. She released her first novel, The Boys’ Club, based on her brief experience working as a network television publicist in 2010, and is working on another. In 2011 she moved to Melbourne where she now writes a regular opinion column for The Age and freelances for numerous publications. You can follow her on Twitter, here.