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!
by J.J. Ross, Ed.D.
Copyright June 2004.
(Originally published as MisEducation: Musing About Large Dogs and Inclusivity)