Large Dogs Welcome!

Education and Other Politics Explained in Three Little Words


“Large Dogs Welcome!” the sign insisted.

Mind you, I’m not in the market for an apartment suited to my large dog. I have no dog, much less a large one in search of an apartment.

But what could it MEAN, I wondered, when a classy complex near my neighborhood shopping center decides to welcome large dogs as tenants, and then to actively announce that policy to all passersby with such an effusive and commercially intrusive roadside banner?

Take the first word first. Large . . . so why single out large dogs as being particularly welcome? I’d never seen this message before. Could it mean small dogs are less welcome than large ones, or not allowed at all? In my experience small dogs can be yippy and snappy, and maybe the complex manager disdains them, believes them overbred and high-strung?

Or perhaps it isn’t really about the dogs themselves, but their owners. Could it be that at heart, the manager responsible for this sign disdains the type of people who choose small dogs over large ones, the supercilious, superior ladies who lunch, and the men who surely seem less manly than others whose chosen companions romp and woof rather than mince and yip?

Or what if it isn’t about people who have actual dogs, but simply about communicating an open philosophy by endorsing large dog ownership as a sort of shorthand, to convey the management’s style? Maybe the type of person who himself is broad-minded and free-spirited enough to put up with large dogs tends to make a highly desirable tenant, or maybe research has discovered that such folks are attracted by a policy of encouraging large dogs to live in small apartments?

Well, that’s just silly, no reasonable person would think that!

Hmm — and after all the accountability and measurement fuss in the schools, I don’t even want to think about parsing the meanings of “large” as applied to dog breeds or individual doggie tenants.

Would we strictly adhere to the AKC or ASPCA designations, with a review and appeals process to consider exceptions, or set local standards to a fraction of an inch, or just go by self-identification the way my hair stylist agreeably allows — is shoulder-length hair long or short? Take your pick and who cares?

What would happen if a perfectly welcome large dog found herself unexpectedly expecting while in residence there? Large-breed puppies are very small but they have next to nothing in common with small-breed adults, and darned if they don’t keep changing too fast to legislate anyway!

So why assume residential management policies have anything to do with judging individuals or their life choices, and limiting or controlling them? It could be merely a practical strategy to restore needed balance to the community. Perhaps the complex is full of small dogs already and what’s needed is some healthy diversity, a few careening canines to bring the rinky-dink doll dogs to heel, or even make a quick mouthful of several?

Ugh. Can’t we all just get along??

Large dogs. Leaving aside the various meanings of “large” and whether this means to exclude small dogs and the people who choose them, what ELSE might be excluded by this big welcome to big dogs?

Well, cats of course. Cats large or small are seldom confused with dogs, so it’s plausible — isn’t it? — that by welcoming large dogs specifically, management means to exclude cats, and rats and snakes and potsticker pigs?

My daughter’s dance studio is located in a strip mall near a Chinese restaurant. One day the dance kids were delighted to notice four white ducks waddling around in the back parking lot, but not nearly so delighted the next day to see only two. Their outraged conclusion — it must have been Peking Duck night. Their response? There oughta be a law that prevents any animals anywhere around here.

Protection through control and elimination?

But I digress. Back to the apartment complex, where a sign saying “All Pets Welcome” would have been shorter and more clearly inclusive. Yet this was not done, so obviously all pets are not welcome, and the only ones we can be sure about are “large dogs” however defined.

Everything else is not clear at all.

Then there’s the word “welcome,” which implies but certainly does not guarantee Constitutional equality of access!

Large dogs may be allowed but not quite as welcome as other resident members of one’s family, charged a special damage deposit or be required to submit to regular inspections of the premises, or to manage their behavior and expression in certain ways (no barking after 10 pm, no more than five consecutive barks at any time and no walking on the grass or swimming in the pool!)

Or it could be worse. What if they are welcome as visitors only, or welcome as tenants but conditionally, subject to exclusion at their first sign of departure from whatever explicit and implicit rules that “public” or community has imposed on them, based on who they are and how they are “seen”?

Oh, and I also remembered the soft economy and our coarsening casual culture. Maybe vacancy rates are worrisome because low interest rates have helped more dog-owners choose homes of their own, and so rental complexes are willing to compromise their standards, even compromise “principle” to generate some buzz and stem the flow of red ink.

No snooty concierge can compete with a sense of belonging and personal identity, and if one’s business has to package and sell identity to survive in the marketplace, maybe dog-lovers and dog-haters alike have no right to object. They can always live someplace else, right?

I pondered it all the way home — can’t even remember what I was thinking before seeing the sign — and then I shook it off, got online, and saw an invitation to a new “inclusive” discussion. All homeschoolers welcome!

Ruff, ruff.

by J.J. Ross, Ed.D.
Copyright June 2004.

(Originally published as MisEducation: Musing About Large Dogs and Inclusivity)

10 responses

7 01 2008
The Meaning of Home Education AGAIN?? Really? « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Large Dogs Welcome! […]

21 11 2008
The Meming of Life » Secular homeschooling — guest column by JJ Ross Parenting Beyond Belief on secular parenting and other natural wonders

[…] community fights over the word “homeschool” itself, never mind the weight of all those adjectives hung around it like baggage on a skycap’s […]

15 02 2009
“Dwarfing Pluto and Shrinking Ourselves” Redux « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Large Dogs Welcome! […]

28 05 2010
Snook Animals We’ve Known and Loved « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Large Dogs Welcome! […]

15 08 2010

The latest from FCAR’s Marion Brady, this time via WaPo:

Dogs: An unusual guide to school reform
August 12, 2010

Driving the country roads of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, I have sometimes been lucky enough to be blocked by sheep being moved from one pasture to another.

I say ‘lucky’ because it allows me to watch an impressive performance by a dog – usually a Border Collie.

What a show! A single, mid-sized dog herding two or three hundred sheep, keeping them moving in the right direction, rounding up strays, knowing how to intimidate but not cause panic, funneling them all through a gate, and obviously enjoying the challenge.

Why a Border Collie? Why not an Akita or Xoloitzcuintli or another of about 400 breeds listed on the Internet?

Because, among the people for whom herding sheep is serious business, there is general agreement that Border Collies are better at doing what needs to be done than any other dog. They have ‘the knack.’

That knack is so important that those who care most about Border Collies even oppose their being entered in dog shows. That, they say, would lead to the Border Collie being bred to look good, and looking good isn’t the point. Brains, innate ability, performance – that’s the point.

Other breeds are no less impressive in other ways. If you’re lost in a snowstorm in the Alps, you don’t need a Border Collie. You need a big, strong dog with a really good nose, lots of fur, wide feet that don’t sink too deeply into snow, and an unerring sense of direction for returning with help. You need a Saint Bernard.

If varmints are sneaking into your hen house, killing your chickens, and escaping down holes in a nearby field, you don’t need a Border Collie or a Saint Bernard, you need a Fox Terrier.

It isn’t that many different breeds can’t be taught to herd, lead high-altitude rescue efforts, or kill foxes. They can. It’s just that teaching all dogs to do things which one particular breed can do better than any other doesn’t make much sense.

We accept the reasonableness of that argument for dogs. We reject it for kids.

The non-educators now running the education show say American kids are lagging ever-farther behind in science and math, and that the consequences of that for America’s economic well-being could be catastrophic.

So, what is this rich, advantaged country of ours doing to try to beat out the competition?

Mainly, we put in place the No Child Left Behind program, now replaced by Race to the Top and the Common Core State Standards Initiative. If that fact makes you optimistic about the future of education in America, think again about dogs.

There are all kinds of things they can do besides herd, rescue, and engage foxes. They can sniff luggage for bombs. Chase felons. Stand guard duty. Retrieve downed game birds. Guide the blind. Detect certain diseases. Locate earthquake survivors. Entertain audiences. Play nice with little kids. Go for help if Little Nell falls down a well.

So, with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top as models, let’s set performance standards for these and all other canine capabilities and train all dogs to meet them. All 400 breeds. All skills. Leave No Dog Behind!

Two-hundred-pound Mastiffs may have a little trouble with the chase-the-fox-down-the-hole standard, and Chihuahuas will probably have difficulty with the tackle-the-felon-and-pin-him-to-the-ground standard. But, hey, no excuses! Standards are standards! Leave No Dog Behind.

Think there’s something wrong with a same-standards-and-tests-for-everybody approach to educating? Think a math whiz shouldn’t be held back just because he can’t write a good five-paragraph essay? Think a gifted writer shouldn’t be refused a diploma because she can’t solve a quadratic equation? Think a promising trumpet player shouldn’t be kept out of the school orchestra or pushed out on the street because he can’t remember the date of the Boxer Rebellion?

If you think there’s something fundamentally, dangerously wrong with an educational reform effort that’s actually designed to standardize, designed to ignore human variation, designed to penalize individual differences, designed to produce a generation of clones, photocopy this column.

If you think it’s stupid to require every kid to read the same books, think the same thoughts, parrot the same answers, make several photocopies. And in the margin at the top of each, write, in longhand, something like, “Please explain why the standards and accountability fad isn’t a criminal waste of brains,” or, “Why are you trashing America’s hope for the future?” or just, “Does this make sense?”

Send the copies to your senators and representatives before they sell their vote to the publishing and testing corporations intent on getting an ever-bigger slice of that half-trillion dollars a year America spends on educating.

14 09 2010

From JJ’s comment here:

. . .The SC Lt Gov, for example, is claiming he shouldn’t have tied people to animals with his metaphor. But then in the next sentence he does it AGAIN! Sounds like an entrenched Thinking Problem he can’t think himself out of, or ever talk me into:

“I never intended to tie people to animals,” he said, before opting for a kinder animal metaphor: “If you have a cat, if you take it in your house and feed it and love it, what happens when you go out of town?”

Noting that he has raised money for a group that protects animals, Bauer also said he is “not against animals.”

Oh, well then. Sam is right to doubt that can make it all better. What does that actually MEAN? So he’s only against people?

Yet he says he is FOR people (as long as they don’t need anything and they vote and work and worship as he deems right?) He wants animal-people to be more than strays, presumably even more than pets? (So everyone should be pet owners like himself and his paternalistic southern class? Hey, I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Gone With the Wind. Pet owners don’t really want their pets to turn into Real Boys and Girls and move out, much less become competitors.)

Is he saying he WOULD like people as fully human, if only they would plan out their lives, education, careers and family finances as the current Great White Fathers running government and all our other American institutions deem right?

Bauer said he is committed to finding ways to end the “culture of dependency” created by government assistance. He suggested that people on welfare undergo drug testing or be mandated to attend parent-teacher conferences. Efforts at self-improvement, such as job-training or earning a high school equivalency degree, should be rewarded. [hmmm, rewarded through public programs such as the ones he is in position to legislate and enforce, or is he saying all by private pet owners, whoops, I mean entrepreneurs?]

Otherwise, he argued, people will just sit at home waiting for a government check. He called that a “systemic problem.”

But wait, what about the similarly conservative and churchy Hannity in Rant Three above? Planning your life is immoral and wrong! You could be pre-destined by divine plan to be poor and hungry and immature and sinful:

“If some of these people who are currently on welfare were put to work you wouldn’t have an immigration problem,” he said. “The welfare system is so entrenched that nobody wants to do manual labor jobs.”

Asked about criticism from his political opponents, Bauer argued that many voters in South Carolina agree with him. He said he is only telling hard truths that have been swept under the rug for decades and called for a “mature discussion” about welfare in South Carolina. He said he has spoken about the issue for months, and not once has a voter objected.

“That’s part of being a leader,” he said.

So — hmmm, so plan but don’t plan? Plan as if there’s a coming attraction in which the script calls for you to become one of the Chosen, joining the christian soldiers and marching on to war with the cross of Jeee-zus going on before? — and then all will be revealed and you shall prosper! (Never mind all that metaphorical humanity like “as you do unto the least of these, you do unto me” and “the meek shall inherit the earth” stuff; the Mighty Bauer must mean such words were planned out for saps on welfare to swallow, keep them confused and suckered and starving while martial law takes over in the name of god.)

See also Beyond the Palin: Political Psychology for ACTUAL Thinking Citizens.

10 07 2011

Delighted by this blog description today, visiting there based on Nance recommending its words of wisdom on words not-so-wise because of all the fraught meanings and miscommunications behind every word:

Phaedra Starling is the pen name of a romance novelist and licensed private investigator living in small New York City apartment with two large dogs. [JJ does a happy dance]
She practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu and makes world-class apricot muffins.

You don’t need to wade into the specific controversy that prompted the blogger’s words to get what she’s saying, any more than you must wallow in the specifics of the homeschool-definition wars, to appreciate the larger meaning I so often write so many words trying to communicate: it’s not the word, stupid. It’s what is meant by it!

Women are communicating all the time. Learn to understand and respect women’s communication to you.

You want to say Hi to the cute girl on the subway. How will she react? Fortunately, I can tell you with some certainty, because she’s already sending messages to you. Looking out the window, reading a book, working on a computer, arms folded across chest, body away from you = do not disturb. So, y’know, don’t disturb her. Really. Even to say that you like her hair, shoes, or book. A compliment is not always a reason for women to smile and say thank you. You are a threat, remember? You are Schrödinger’s Rapist. Don’t assume that whatever you have to say will win her over with charm or flattery. Believe what she’s signaling, and back off.

10 07 2011

I just noticed that JJ could be construed as short for jiu-jitsu! That also makes me do a happy dance . . . not that I want to be misunderstood as short in any way . . . doesn’t it mean not attacking others but discerning an opponent’s strength and then using it against them if they attack YOU?

16 07 2011
What’s in a Name? Can You Hum a Few Bars? « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Large Dogs Welcome! […]

9 06 2012

Excellent policy analysis using dogs
to illustrate, wish I’d written it myself. 😉

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