The parable of the dogwalker

Alex Beehler Contributor
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There once was a dog named Nemo. He was no ordinary dog and certainly did not look like a fish of Captain Nemo fame. Nemo was a black-and-tan mixed breed; best guess by the rescue shelter was part Rottweiler, part black Lab, perhaps part Chow, and part unknown. On first impression, he was truly intimidating: 115 pounds of canine muscle, with teeth that could puncture most substances known to man (or dog), lion-like paws, and a bark that would turn would-be trespassers retreating in the opposite direction.

Yet for all the appearance of an aspiring Sherlock Holmes-esque “Hound of the Baskervilles,” Nemo in manner and disposition was more like “Clifford” of children’s literature. He would automatically seek to be friendly to every human being and canine, no matter age, size, or breed, and would whimper disappointingly if his amicable advances were rebuffed. Nemo lived by two general mottoes: “Greet, meet, and seek treat,” and “Less bark, more wag.” Nemo never barked at another dog and his tail was constantly in motion. His constant wagging was favorably recognized at neighborhood dog competitions, awarding Nemo an extended supply of goodies and toys. (His strong tail movement also successfully turned knobs on the kitchen stove, which was less rewarding for all concern.)

Nemo had a certain amount of ingenuity. For instance, he learned to open doors deliberately closed to keep him out of certain rooms in the house, by placing his large open mouth surrounding the targeted knob and turning it effectively. Occasionally, Nemo would throw a tantrum by knocking over the kitchen trash receptacle for some perceived slight such as not receiving an anticipated post-meal goodie. Generally though, Nemo was all loyalty and love, both giving and seeking, when not otherwise snoozing.

Nemo received at least two walks daily in the neighborhood, which were the highlight of his day. Even though he was always leashed for these ventures, to Nemo the experience of a virtual shopping mall of assorted canine and other animal scents and smells was worth the sacrifice of freedom to roam. This was tellingly demonstrated when for some reason Nemo had been allowed to wander untethered near his house; as soon as he saw his master with his leash a hundred feet away, Nemo immediately raced to his master in anticipation of his daily outing. The master noted this reflexive response and briefly contemplated how 10,000 years of conditioned domestication had shrunk both the canine’s brain and desire for freedom in keeping with its diminished personal responsibility. But the master quickly refocused back to the present, too late to undo the control and submission of hundreds of centuries.

The true highlight of Nemo’s week was ritually joining a few of his neighborhood four-footed friends at the local park in the early morning on weekends. While Nemo and his canine buddies were allowed to romp off-leash, each master supervised carefully all canine activities. Because of the hour, the park was otherwise unoccupied.

Several weeks ago a complaint had been registered to the authorities by an undisclosed concern citizen: Dogs had been observed off-leash on public property in violation of county and state statutes, codes, and regulations. Despite the snowmageddon and mounting local government deficits of hundreds of millions of dollars, enforcement officers from County animal control, in uniform with clipboards of preprinted forms of warnings and citations at the ready, intrepidly established surveillance positions in white vans with motors running, in the pre-dawn and early morning cold. The park was devoid of unfettered canine activity. Resolutely for the next several weeks animal control enforcement continued their quest to squelch such manifestations of freedom, however controlled and limited in actually. The park continued to reveal no signs of transgressions. All was under control, or so thought the county enforcers.

Nemo’s master and his counterparts found other places for Nemo and friends to play.

There are new statutes, codes, and regulations that will require invisible (electric shock) leash laws for all two-legged animals for their better health and well being while lessening the burden of individual responsibility. Many of these animals are excited about the possibility. They want to be just like Nemo. They can only hope for a master as good as his.

Alex Beehler is the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Environment, Safety & Occupational Health) at the United States Department of Defense.