AFTER 22 YEARS of writing a column, I'm still amazed at the topics that push people's buttons.
You can write about the war in Iraq, the space shuttle exploding in the blue Texas sky, or the government telling you that duct tape is the key to surviving a biological attack, and nobody says a word.
You could write that the president wakes up every morning, dresses in full camo and machine-guns squirrels from his bedroom window and you won't hear a peep from the readers.
But write about something like, oh, pets, and readers go nuts.
This was brought home again recently after an article in this space about people who take their dogs to street festivals.
Basically, I said these dog owners were - not to put too fine a point on it - idiots.
I said it was too crowded at places like the Towsontown Festival, and that there were too many little kids wandering around with food, to throw dogs into the mix, too.
Anyway, it was a nothing little column - I know, I know, like everything else that appears in this space.
But it sure did get a response.
Tons of readers wrote in, e-mailed and called to tell me what they thought of the column.
Ninety percent of them agreed with me, of course, because these are intelligent, enlightened people who stop at this space regularly.
But I did hear from the lunatic fringe of the pit bull owners lobby - wait, is that redundant? - who said I had libeled a fine and gentle breed, perpetuated vicious stereotypes and blah, blah, blah.
Just because I wrote about the nitwit who took his two snorting pit bulls to the festival.
Anyway, a lot of the people who wrote in about the dog column added this note: OK, genius, now write about the idiots who let their dogs run loose in parks.
Fine. I can do that.
To get a handle on this, though, I needed another dog expert. And the dog expert I called this time was Lori Schmid.
Schmid is the chairperson of the Canton Dog Park, the only park in Baltimore where it's legal for dogs to run off leash.
Canton Dog Park, which opened last September, is like a Bally's spa for dogs. It's a big fenced-in area where dogs can run around and exercise all they want without annoying or scaring the hell out of other park users.
Unfortunately, in too many other parks, people just turn their dogs loose and then read the newspaper or shoot the breeze with other dog owners while their mutt runs around committing all sorts of mayhem.
"If there are no boundaries, even the most well-trained dogs can get it in their minds to run away," Schmid said. "And the dog can put other dogs, people and children at risk."
Of course, these people who let their dogs run loose in parks have a standard answer if you mention that their dog is making you nervous.
They say something like: Don't worry. I've got him under voice control.
What are you, the Amazing Kreskin?
Look, voice control is fine and dandy.
But you actually have to be paying attention to the dog - and see him getting into mischief - before you can give him a voice command to cease and desist.
Plus, voice control only works if the dog is within hearing range. If he's 500 yards away and jumping on some 85-year-old grandmother, you can throw that voice control stuff out the window.
"I think most people would like to think they have their dog under voice command," Schmid said. "But you always run the risk of that one distraction too many that causes the dog to do something it ordinarily wouldn't do."
Like knocking some little kid down near the swing sets.
Or getting in a dust-up with another big dog.
Again, as in the column about dogs and street festivals, I want to make it clear that I'm a dog person. Hey, I love dogs. I've had dogs my whole life. They're the greatest.
But the thing a lot of dog people don't seem to get is this: Just because they love their dog, it doesn't mean everyone else in the world does.
Some people, believe it or not, don't like dogs at all.
And others - including me - like to stroll through parks without having a 95-pound Rottweiler bearing down on them.
Oh, yeah, I know ... he wouldn't hurt a fly.
But humor me, would you? Put him on a leash.
Heh, heh. Good doggie.