Dog Buyer, Beware

TO WIT

September 18, 1994|By DAVE BARRY

TODAY'S TOPIC IS: Practical Dog Ownership

Millions of Americans own dogs, because they are good-natured, simple and easily amused. I am referring here to the Americans. The dogs are not exactly Mensa members either, but they definitely make better pets than tropical fish.

Suppose, for example, that you're home alone, and you start choking on a piece of takeout Chinese food, and you collapse to the floor, dying. A tropical fish is not going to rush over to the phone, knock the receiver off the hook, dial 911 with its nose and bark excitedly into the mouthpiece until the operator sends paramedics. Of course a dog is not going to do this either. A dog is going to wander over and lick the soy sauce off your increasingly blue face. But while it's doing this, it will be thinking loyal thoughts about you.

So we see that there are major benefits to dog ownership. But before you make "man's best friend" part of your family, you need to know the Three Key Principles of Practical Dog Ownership:

1. Remember your safety priorities when driving with a dog.

Dogs love to go for rides. A dog will happily get into any vehicle going anywhere. It is not mere coincidence that the first animal in space was a dog. It went up in a Russian satellite that was clearly never going to come back down, but the Russians didn't have to ask it twice. They just opened the satellite door and the dog bounded enthusiastically inside and blasted into space.

So your dog will definitely want to go in your car. But you must be careful when driving with a dog. Consider the following true anecdote involving a Southgate, Mich., woman whom I will identify here only as Ann because she will probably want to remain anonymous after she kills her husband, Stephen, for writing in to tell me about this anecdote.

Ann was driving in her minivan with a schnauzer whom I will identify here only as Bobbie, when Bobbie started to throw up on the passenger seat. Dogs throw up a lot. It's a survival instinct that they inherited from their relatives, wolves, which swallow their prey in the field, then return to the den and regurgitate for their young; this causes the young to be so grossed out that they leave the den and get jobs.

Anyway, when Bobbie started barfing, Ann wisely took her eyes off the road and reached over to shove Bobbie off the seat. Thanks to Ann's quick thinking, disaster was avoided, except for the fact that her minivan swerved across the road and smashed into a parked car, resulting in more than a thousand dollars' worth of damage. But the important thing is that the seat was fine. "Above all, protect the seat" is the No. 1 rule of driving with a dog.

2. There is a right way and a wrong way to break off a piece of biscuit for your dog.

Consider what happened to Richard Dawson of Bordentown, N.J., whose story was brought to my attention by alert reader Richard Lipschultz. Dawson was walking his dog, Lou, and decided to give Lou a piece of the large dog biscuit in his (Dawson's) jacket pocket. Rather than go to all the trouble of taking the whole biscuit out, Dawson decide to break off a piece by simply punching the biscuit while it was still in his pocket. The first punch failed to do the job, so Dawson punched the biscuit harder, the result being -- in Dawson's own words -- "I broke my rib."

The lesson here, obviously, is that you need to really whack your biscuit. This is precisely why many experienced dog-owners carry hammers.

3. Use good judgment when disciplining dogs.

I have here an article, sent in by many readers, from the Jan. 6, 1994, issue of the Rocky Mountain News, headlined "Woman Accidentally Shoots Herself," and sub-headlined "Owner of 10 dogs nicks finger with handgun she routinely fired at ceiling to stop pets from fighting."

The article states that the woman used a .25-caliber handgun to control her dogs; she told police that she fired it into the ceiling when the dogs got into a fight.

As a dog owner and dog lover, I was shocked to learn that a person would even think of attempting to control 10 dogs with a gun of such small caliber. For five or more dogs, experts recommend at least a .357 magnum.

In this, as in every other area of dog ownership, the key is plain old common sense, which is why I want to leave all of you dog owners out there, both novices and veterans, with this thought: The Biscuit Whackers would be an excellent name for a band.

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