Monday, November 07, 2005

On dogs and kids (our favorite pets)

The other day I mentioned how firecrackers were the bane of our existence back in Amman. For every holiday (including wedding season, which was all day/all night spring through summer), we were completely heartsick watching Amina shake neurotically there in the bathtub while the firecrackers and celebratory gunshots went off. During the eid celebrations, one of the perks of getting out of town--we usually always travelled somewhere--was being far away from the noise and the shakes.

Amina's always been a neurotic dog, and at some point I decided she'd be better off--and would mellow out--if she had a dog friend. So we eventually found ourselves trekking to Italy to pick up Jasper, who ended up making absolutely no difference whatsoever in Amina's spazziness. In fact, Amina's behavior has actually rubbed off on Jasper. He now, for example, gets the shakes on July 4th and freaks out whenever he sees that she is.

Samer and I used to exert so much energy thinking about the dogs, their "issues," and what we could do to help them be normal. Not that they weren't close to normal, but living in the Arab World isn't a very easy experience for mutts. Most Muslims aren't big fans, and even when people weren't trying to evade the dogs due to their "dirtyness," they were generally afraid and quite often hysterical around them. Not to mention kids, who even when they were trying to interact with the dogs in a nice way, didn't know what to do besides kick them. And then there were the numerous grown men who'd drive by when we were walking the dogs and bark loudly. I was never quite sure what that was about.

Speaking of uncleanliness, many religious types back in Amman would say stuff about how dogs were so dirty, how they ate poop, etc. I was always shocked to hear this, because I had never, ever heard of a dog eating caca. Until we got Jasper, who had a serious predilection for the sheep crap that was littered everywhere around our house down by the Dead Sea. Of course, in an effort to promote cultural understanding (or at least dissuade people from thinking we were disgusting freaks), I would always respond with shock when people would say how dirty dogs are. "Never! Dogs don't do that!" I'd say, and make sure to let them know they were potty trained and never--NEVER--peed inside (even though Jas and Amina DID plenty enough.)

Anyway, once Issy came along, we began devoting a lot less time to pampering the dogs. Actually, some days during Issy's first year we were so overwhelmed with chasing him around we realized a couple of hours too late that we forgot to put out dogfood. The dogs quickly adapted to the new setup just fine, but they've still got their separation anxiety issues and general neuroses.

The only thing is, after being here in the U.S., sometimes I wonder if I'm slacking off on the job of "raising" the dogs. Because taking good care of your dog in this town is of the utmost importance--people are a little over the top about it. My first encounter with this was here in the neighborhood. We'd be walking together, all of us, with the two dogs, and instead of people smiling at my cute 2 year old, they would completely ignore him in their haste to make over the dogs--complete with baby talk, worrying about whether it may be too hot for them and pointing to the closest store with dogtreats and water out on the sidewalk. Yep, nearly every other shop on our main drag has water bowls and treats out for the local dogs.

It's kind of endearing, albeit a little strange when you consider that there are a number of establishments on the same street with signs asking that you don't bring the children in. I made the mistake of walking into one, a place called Duque that is sort of a wannabe hip and cool hairdresser's with various beauty products in the storefront. Nothing special, really. When Issy and I walked in to see if they had some kind of shampoo I needed, I couldn't figure out why no one would even acknowlege my presence or say "hi." They were certainly super friendly to everyone else. It wasn't until I closed the door that I saw a little sign among the visual clutter of their logos everywhere that said "About the kids" and said not to bring them in because of the "delicate nature" of their work. All the while it looked to me they were just selling a whole big bunch of products.

The only thing I could think was how Americans invest way too much time on being persnickety. I mean, what's the big deal, really, if a kid comes into your establishment? It's not like the world's going to stop if he or she makes a loud noise or something.

And restaurants. There are a bunch of places we haven't been to because they're not kid friendly. In Jordan, when we'd go to restaurants, people would've probably freaked out if we brought the dogs along, but the waiters would nearly always take Issy away to play with him and feed him while Samer and I chowed down. That doesn't seem too likely to happen here.

When I first came back from two years away in Cameroon, I was floored by the tons of Petcos and other animal specialty shops that had sprung up in my absence. You could take your dog in there with you and let him sample the various dogfoods. It was ridiculous, I remember thinking. Well, that's old hat, for sure. Here in Seattle, there are stores whose whole existence depends on selling gourmet dog treats. I just wonder if they'll let me bring my kid in to buy them.

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