I was walking down the street in my neighborhood the other day and I passed a woman walking her dog. As I slowly overtook her, I overheard her talking to her dog as it did a poo: “Good boy!” she exclaimed.
If it had stopped there, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought; it was cold out, and probably the woman was just displaying her pleasure at her hound having so expediently done its business.
But it didn’t stop there. Her exclamations continued: “Gooood boy! Goooooood boy! Oh yes aren’t you a very GOOD boy!” And so on. It must have lasted a good few minutes, because as I walked out of earshot I could still hear her cooing away.
I thought that was how parents talked to their babies when they potty train them, not how people talk to their dogs when they take an indiscriminate dump on the sidewalk. (And I thought to myself, even babies can’t begin to understand what is being said to them, so how does the dog have any chance of getting it?). I concluded the woman was just a crazy. Wrong. The following week, I witnessed the same scenario with another dog owner in my neighborhood. And I’ve seen the same pooch-poo-cheerleading again since then.
Apparently this is a thing among American dog owners: over-enthusiastic toilet anthropomorphism. Never having been a dog owner myself, maybe there is something here I am fundamentally missing. But I have come to the conclusion that American people take their pets very, very seriously. Especially so for dogs. A dog is elevated almost to the status of a child, with great attention given to its diet, no expense spared on its medical treatment, and custody battles fought over it in the event divorce or separation (yes, really). Cats may never reach quite this level of importance, but they get a lot of attention, too.
Clearly this is partially a function of the level of development in the US; people take such good care of their pets because they can afford to. In Somaliland, people regularly shot the stray dogs. In Liberia, the scrawny cats would eat people’s rice bits that fell onto the floor. (Yes, cats eat rice. Cats can actually eat virtually anything and survive just fine.) But even comparing the US to other developed countries, I feel Americans demonstrate a particular fervor toward their pets.
One story from my teenage years comes to mind which I will never forget. I used to babysit for my neighbors; they had two children: a toddler and an infant. I went over one morning and the father was giving me instructions for my day of babysitting while his wife was getting ready. He introduced me to the dog, a un-spayed purebred. He showed me where her food and water were kept in the kitchen and told me about her diet.
He then explained to me that it was “that time of the month.” Yes, that bitch had he period. So she needed to wear a menstrual pad (yes, really). He demonstrated to me how to affix the pad (it tied around the bitch’s behind like a string bikini) and how to change it. All I can say is, thank God she wasn’t using tampons.
After a ten minute explanation about the dog, his wife had finished getting ready and came downstairs. They then wished me a good day and headed out. I was so distracted by the canine maxi pad that it was only when they had left the house that I realized he had given me no instructions whatsoever about the feeding, bathing, clothing, or sleeping habits of his two children.
True story. I swear.