I hate dogs. I hate cats, too. But not as much as I hate dogs. That’s saying a lot. Cats infuriated me, as at three o’clock in the morning, they hunched up on the back fence, meowing out their needs. My older brother, having had no luck at the Aragon, bawled out through the open window: “Shut up, you damn tabby! I don’t want to hear about your sex problems. I got my own troubles.” Her wayward Tom was in God-knows-whose alley; but my brother showed little sympathy.
It was worse, of course, when a wild Tom sprang upon the famished tabby. The screak, the caterwaul awakened and enraged us all; especially my brother, who, this time, had had little luck at the Trianon. My mother’s old shoe or a torn galosh would fly the way of the noisy lovers. It always missed. My brother had the eye of Ryne Duren on a bad day. In any event, silence would ensue and sleep, that gentle thing from heaven, came upon us. In short, cats, mean and perverse though they are, can be dealt with. Further—and here is the subject of this polemic—cats perform their own ablutions and when nature calls thoughtfully scratch a hole, not so deep as a well but deep enough to bury their feculence. For the walker of city streets and forager of alleys (included in this roster are old ladies with brown shopping bags, scraggly moochers, fall-down drunks, and myself), there is no peril of a squishy land mine. Not from cats.
Dogs are something else again. Thoughtless, foul, and soulless (despite Joyce’s word game of god/dog and the two-bit theology of Peanuts), dogs do not give a damn about other of God’s creatures. Especially me. As I step out each morning to say “Hello, world,” I carefully tiptoe through the dogslips. Dog dung is everywhere: on the grass, which humans are warned to keep off of; on the sidewalks, which we have been told again and again and again are free; at the curb, where there is more than broken cement; and at the doorway, where I have never been mugged but often dunged.
Bleeding hearts and do-gooders patiently inform us: “They can’t help it. They don’t know any better.” Law and order advocates, who are as specifically enamored of dogs as they are abstractly of God, seldom say, “You wonder what kind of home they was raised in.” All I know is I’m getting it. It is God’s exquisite irony that he has inclined me toward Hush Puppies.
There is the collie—get away from me, Lassie, or I’ll kick your silly face in. There is the Doberman; there is the German shepherd, the Bull Connor special. These snarl, bare teeth, strain to get at me, as their houndlike masters restrain them, oh, so reluctantly. It is not for my tender flesh they fear. Rather it is for the well-being of their brutish companions. My Uher tape recorder is multi-purposed. Held high in my white-knuckled hand it is a nine-pound hammer. At that moment, I am John Henry ready to swing.
There are the smaller nasties: the wire-haired terrier and the cocker spaniel. Their eye is not on the sparrow but on my thigh. There is one, in particular, who every morning snaps at me as I snap at him. It is our epiphanal moment: We are, in that flash of recognition, aware of our mutual loathing. Oh, how the poor dear tugs at his leash. Oh, how I pray, dear God, he will come at me. I am Lou Groza all set to place kick. His mistress, though, vapid of face, is transformed into a Fury. The three of us pose: It is a daily tableau of hate. Armageddon may yet come on that corner.
There are milady’s poodles and Pekingese and Pomeranians, whose monstrous little face I’d gladly push in. Yes, there are Afghans and Russian wolfhounds around, too: To them, I am poor white trash. One day, one day, dear brothers …
They’re all over me: the rottweiler; the dachshund (how I’d love to sausage him/her); the Weimaraner; the Airedale; the great Dane; the bulldog; bearing a remarkable resemblance to the FBI’s late chief; the beagle; the greyhound; the English setter, the Irish setter, led by grotesquely comical ersatz squires. There is even the shaggy, gentle St. Bernard, with little Heidi beside him. But there is no small barrel around his neck. And if this docile idiot ever did carry brandy, as legend has it, it was probably Christian Brothers. … I am profligate in my contempt for them all.
You may wonder, gentle reader, whether I was conceived in hate. Perhaps, it wasn’t love; but it certainly wasn’t hate. You’ve got to be taught. I was taught by the dogs and dog owners of my community. They have, for some time now, and with increasingly regularity, shat all over me.
Once upon a time, as I walked through the alley toward the bus, I whistled blithely. One day it was I’m forever blowing bubbles. Another time it was Non piu andrai. Now, I no longer whistle. I’m too preoccupied sidestepping dog dung. On one occasion, I was whistling Celeste Aida, looking as I was that spring day toward the heavens, only to realize that the singular smell coming from my Hush Puppies was not the perfume of paradise. Adversity has its lovely ironies, too—and unexpected benefits. That day I had the whole bus seat to myself. And it was the rush hour, too.
In Last Tango in Paris, Marlon Brando remembers a traumatic moment of his young manhood: cow dung on his shoes. Big deal. Every day for me, brothers and sisters, it is No Man’s Land. I carry neither gun nor bayonet. Not even a Red Cross armband. Yet the enemy is everywhere.
The other day a fat man, well-talcumed and manicured, dressed mod, a diamond as big as the Ritz on his pinky, was walking his poodle. I recognized him as a minor Syndicate figure. I know the hotel in which he lives. Yet he let his little white brute onto a stranger’s doorway. There the poodle let go. For a creature so small, the ejectamenta was absolutely Himalayan. There it was—all this shit—on somebody else’s premises. Meanwhile, the master was gazing wistfully at the cloudless sky. He, it would appear, had nothing to do with this extra-ordinary happening. When the darling little dog did what he had to do, he and the fat hood walked off. The mountain of effluvia remained—on somebody else’s doorstep. (That it was not my house, that I live in an apartment a block away, is a small matter.)
It was my day of wrath. I hollered, “Hey, you!” The man turned around. The dog padded away as though he had nothing to do with it. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? That’s my house! Come back and clean that shit up, you prick!” He still had that faraway look. I was the cloudless sky. He about-faced and with his equally loathsome companion toddled off.
It is not only hoods who encourage their dogs to do unto others as they would not have done unto themselves. The most respectable of folk—in short, just about all dog owners around here—befoul the territory of strangers. I’m sure they abide by certain social amenities. They are polite. They are law abiding. No doubt they believe in property rights. And yet, in this respect, their behavior is that of barnyard creatures.
In 1971, Alderman William Singer submitted an ordinance to the Committee on Environmental Control of the City Council that was, of course, controlled by Mayor Daley. It called for owners, by means at their disposal, to remove the droppings from their dogs in others’ domains. It was, of course, rejected by the committee, which considered it unimportant.
In Philadelphia, certain doctors do not consider it unimportant. They report the presence of a resilient worm in dog dung that causes, especially in children playing on the grass or sidewalk, a disease known as visceral larval migrans. It seriously affects the lungs, liver, nervous system, and eyes. This naturally leads to a question: Which is more important—the promiscuous crapping of dogs and the monumental slobbery of their owners or the health of children?
I often experience a fantasy. Suppose I, a human being, were to relieve myself on someone else’s stoop. Would it pass unnoticed or would I be arrested for violating some sort of health ordinance? Aside from running the risk of being put away as a dangerous nut, are my rights to befoul our environment less than a dog’s? Am I, a human being, to be denied the same rights as those of a cocker spaniel? Is this a government of the dogs, by the dogs, and for the dogs? I say, No! by thunder, No! I shall walk through the valley in the shadow of dung, my nine-pound Uher held high, and I shall dare any dog or master or mistress to bar my way to Canaanland—unbefouled. The issue is joined.