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Why dog owners make the best citizens

dogwalksnow.JPG

Richard Kayman's paean to dog walkers describes my experience perfectly:

I am not a dog person myself, but I am deeply appreciative of well-managed dog parks because in many urban neighborhoods, dog owners are some of the only regularly walking people in a community -- many neighborhoods outside of the inner core of Washington are dominated by automobiles and there is relatively little positive pedestrian activity on often empty sidewalks.

Dog walkers contribute positive activity not just to streets and sidewalks but to parks. It's very easy for a park to devolve into a dangerous place. One technique for people committed to disorder to keep people (especially families and children generally) out of parks is to break a lot of bottles -- broken glass keeps a park free of children, making it easier to conduct illicit business and activities.

My neighborhood isn't the world's best, but nor is it the world's worst. After dark, the streets fill with dog walkers. A couple per block, at least. In the winter, they're the only people on the streets. Without them, the neighborhood would be lot emptier, and the streets would feel a lot more forbidding. Placing a couple of poodles -- and my neighborhood has a lot of poodles -- on the landscape really does wonders. Developing neighborhoods should give some sort of tax credit for dog ownership.

Actually, my area is doing the next best thing. The city is building a big park/open air drug market near my house. At least, that's the joke. But the design is smart: It's got a big dog park, in addition to a community garden and some playgrounds. And if the streets are any indication, the dog park will be used, which means the park will be used, which means the plan might work out after all. The blogosphere is oddly thick with cat owners, but this is just one more reason dog people are better than cat people.

Photo credit: David Gannon/AFP/Getty.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 5, 2010; 2:45 PM ET
Categories:  Urban Policy  
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Comments

Ah, so that's why I always hear people smashing bottles outside my window at night. Assholes.

Posted by: rmrice1 | January 5, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I find dogs needy and annoying and I tire quickly of cleaning up the random dollops of their crap that get dropped around my house from time to time. Our local school had to end community access to the football field and track because dogs (unleased I suppose) were depositing their crap on the football field, causing unpleasantness for those using the field for football. Good luck with the park.

Posted by: bdballard | January 5, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

funny you mentioned the dog tax credit thing. this won the coal award this year for worst tax ideas of 2009 on http://taxvox.taxpolicycenter.org/blog/_archives/2009/12/24/4410734.html
"This bill, sponsored by Representative Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), would allow people to deduct up to $3,500 from their taxes to subsidize the cost of, no kidding, pet care."

Posted by: bbeck1 | January 5, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

These dog parks always seem kind of smelly if you know what I mean.

In any case, if it takes some animal on a leash to make people "walkers", maybe the guy is in the wrong city. I mean, it's not like that everywhere.

Posted by: leoklein | January 5, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Not only do the dog walkers populate the streets, dogs scare badguys (they tend no to be intimidated by appearances). Dogs help social interaction between the residents (friction/shyness removers).

Dog areas in parks also help the locals get to know each other, setting up a sort of neighborhood watch. This makes urban living much more friendly, but also makes the park unfriendly for strangers up to no good - nothing like a pack of dogs running free in the fenced area to enforce neighborhood control by the forces of good. Batman with a tail!

As for the dog poo, that is easily handled by social manners. All dog areas should have a dispenser of plastic poo bags, and a place to put them. Social shame is a strong force and needs only a mild boost to put it into action. Fines that are enforced a great help to set the social conscience in gear.

Cats are fine house pets for those who like them, but they do nothing to improve a neighborhood. Dogs rule in the later category.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | January 5, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

If it wasn't for dog walkers our exurban parks would be deserted. We walk in the summer...when it's 20 below.

This area is, regretfully, unfriendly. People are scared I think - you can see it in their faces. They look shell-shocked...untrusting. They won't even give you a nod of recognition. But the dog walkers in the park by my house always smile and say hello.

I don't need a tax credit for that (though it would be nice if someday I got a tax credit for something/anything else).

Posted by: luko | January 5, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

In my part of "big city" Texas where you only ever see people walking if they're going to or from their car, there is a lot of truth to this. Dog walkers are the only people you will see out on the sidewalks. The already desolate (and crime filled) streets would seem even scarier without them. Unfortunately, I don't think I've ever seen a single person pick up after their dog. Its just yet another small example of the "I got mine, eff you" selfish attitude that dominates life here.

So, yes, less desolate streets make things seem slightly less "I am Legend" around here, but that is pretty much negated by the endless dog poop that coats everything.

Posted by: nylund | January 5, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Oh, God. Ezra. A hell of a lot of people who own cats also own dogs. I am one of them. I love all of them, and they all love each other, as odd as that may sound.

I agree with the bad points about dogs. I am very religious about picking up the dog poop my dog excretes on his twice daily walks to the parks etc around here.

He does us good, because he forces us to walk him. He does the neighborhood good because he makes the thugs nervous (he isn't big, just not all that friendly).

The cats also increase the neighborliness of our area. Since mine are friendly, they walk up to strangers when they go outside for their daily sunbath (under supervision) and help initiate dialog that would probably stop at a nod of the head if there was no cat.

One of the pleasures of my day is to see the cats and dog all snoozing together next to the heater.

Dogs are great. Cats are wonderful.

Posted by: carolcarre | January 5, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

GASP!

"dog people are better than cat people"

Oh Ezra, how dare you ....

You have touched the third rail of civil discourse ... I am so sad you said that!

While I appreciate your view on how dog ownership improves a neighborhood, to suggest that therefore DOG PEOPLE ARE BETTER THAN CAT PEOPLE ...OMG!

Just to set the record straight: No, no, no, a thousand times no. Dog people are NOT better than cat people!

Posted by: katrina92886 | January 5, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

As much as I love me some doggies, do NOT be insulting my kittehs just because they're too dignified to be walked on a leash.

Sheesh.

Now that I've got that off my chest I'll agree that dog parks are a good thing - but that doesn't imbue doggie's humans with superior qualities to kitteh's humans. IMHO. kaithxbai

Posted by: fourlegsgood | January 5, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

It always amazes me how urbanists hate and complain about crime, and then tell us how wonderful big city life is. Out here in the "real world" in a small city we can walk in our park day or night, or anywhere in the entire city for that matter, with or without a dog, and never encounter the least danger.

Posted by: AuthorEditor | January 5, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

You're just baiting people, aren't you? That being said, I, like a couple of your other readers already said, love both cats and dogs. I don't currently own a dog as my dear husband and I disagree on certain aspects of dog ownership and rather than fight about it, we're temporarily cat-only.

Dog-ownership is hardly a marker for good citizenship. Fortunately most of our neighbors are good dog-owners (and good neighbors in general) but there are a couple of major bad apples who don't leash, don't clean up or who leave the dog outside at all hours (and you know what dogs do when they really don't want to be out in the yard at 1am!) These folks make it terrible for the rest of the neighborhood!
Being a good citizen makes one a good dog owner, not the other way around.

Posted by: mistressjvs | January 5, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

You're just baiting people, aren't you? That being said, I, like a couple of your other readers already said, love both cats and dogs. I don't currently own a dog as my dear husband and I disagree on certain aspects of dog ownership and rather than fight about it, we're temporarily cat-only.

Dog-ownership is hardly a marker for good citizenship. Fortunately most of our neighbors are good dog-owners (and good neighbors in general) but there are a couple of major bad apples who don't leash, don't clean up or who leave the dog outside at all hours (and you know what dogs do when they really don't want to be out in the yard at 1am!) These folks make it terrible for the rest of the neighborhood!
Being a good citizen makes one a good dog owner, not the other way around.

Posted by: mistressjvs | January 5, 2010 8:58 PM | Report abuse

I'm with mistressjvs -- there are plenty of dog owners in my neighborhood who do not clean up after their animals or simply tie them out back rather than walking them. A dog does not make someone a better person. Dogs are not "better" pets than any other animal -- they are simply different. I get it that dog owners for some reason feel their pets are "special" but it's really a big stretch to say that somehow owning a pet makes you a better citizen.

Now if you were discussing dog owners in condos or apartments where they have no yard, you might have a point. Those folks are going to be walking around the neighborhood and all that -- but their dog ownership is not the reason. Lacking a yard is the reason.

Many of my friends are dog owners. I can't think of one friend who owns a dog that actually walks their dog. They let them outside in their fenced backyard. Their yards are very well fertilized, but impossible to walk around in.

If what you're saying is "people taking responsibility for something other than themselves is a net positive" say that. Feeding into this stupid "dog owners are better people" crap is unnecessarily hurtful to many people who for whatever reason choose to not own dogs.

If you really want to go there, how are you going to feel about dog ownership the next time you step in some dog crap a careless owner did not clean up?

Posted by: jjhare | January 5, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

I'm with mistressjvs -- there are plenty of dog owners in my neighborhood who do not clean up after their animals or simply tie them out back rather than walking them. A dog does not make someone a better person. Dogs are not "better" pets than any other animal -- they are simply different. I get it that dog owners for some reason feel their pets are "special" but it's really a big stretch to say that somehow owning a pet makes you a better citizen.

Now if you were discussing dog owners in condos or apartments where they have no yard, you might have a point. Those folks are going to be walking around the neighborhood and all that -- but their dog ownership is not the reason. Lacking a yard is the reason.

Many of my friends are dog owners. I can't think of one friend who owns a dog that actually walks their dog. They let them outside in their fenced backyard. Their yards are very well fertilized, but impossible to walk around in.

If what you're saying is "people taking responsibility for something other than themselves is a net positive" say that. Feeding into this stupid "dog owners are better people" crap is unnecessarily hurtful to many people who for whatever reason choose to not own dogs.

If you really want to go there, how are you going to feel about dog ownership the next time you step in some dog crap a careless owner did not clean up?

Posted by: jjhare | January 5, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Tax credit for dog ownership, seriously. The average dog has the carbon footprint of driving an SUV for 7500 miles per year, yet they also give us the joy of added waste disposal and zoonotic infections and we want to encourage more of this. The guy that had 400 animals on their place in Missouri would be a regular Warren Buffett. Puppy mills, the new hedge fund. If you a park, build a park. Fight crime, put in a UK style surveillance system. Give us a tax break for you and your neighbors living out your childhood fantasies. Do you want a tax credit for riding a pony to work?

Posted by: Jenga918 | January 5, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

Tax credit for dog ownership, seriously. The average dog has the carbon footprint of driving an SUV for 7500 miles per year, yet they also give us the joy of added waste disposal and zoonotic infections and we want to encourage more of this. The guy that had 400 animals on their place in Missouri would be a regular Warren Buffett. Puppy mills, the new hedge fund. If you a park, build a park. Fight crime, put in a UK style surveillance system. Give us a tax break for you and your neighbors living out your childhood fantasies. Do you want a tax credit for riding a pony to work?

Posted by: Jenga918 | January 5, 2010 10:06 PM | Report abuse

And now that I've read the whole piece again -- get stuffed Ezra. You're completely out of line with this post. Really?
"just one more reason dog people are better than cat people"
I'm sure you'll say it's tongue-in-cheek, just having fun here. Well what if you had said:
"just one more reason that straight people are better than gay people"
or:
"just one more reason that Catholics are better than Jews"
or:
"just one more reason that healthy people are better than fat people"
I'm sure someone looking to make any of those arguments could find their own specious reasons for supporting them. Most of the folks making those kinds of arguments do not have the backing of a major daily newspaper. If you feel the need to make jokes or whatever do it on your own time. Some folks can't own dogs because their community will not allow them -- are they worse citizens for living in such a neighborhood? Some folks can't own dogs because of allergies -- are they worse people because of their allergies? Some folks don't keep dogs because their religion doesn't permit it -- are they worse people because they practice a religion? Some folks can't own dogs because they have small children and don't feel safe with a dog (or any pet) around. Are they worse people because they choose to protect their small children?

I could literally go on all night about reasons folks might not have dogs but still be excellent people. Even as a "joke" this post is in exceedingly poor taste.

Posted by: jjhare | January 5, 2010 10:09 PM | Report abuse

Tax credit for dog ownership, seriously. The average dog has the carbon footprint of driving an SUV for 7500 miles per year, yet they also give us the joy of added waste disposal and zoonotic infections and we want to encourage more of this. The guy that had 400 animals on their place in Missouri would be a regular Warren Buffett. Puppy mills, the new hedge fund. If you want a park, build a park. Fight crime, put in a UK style surveillance system. A tax break for you and your neighbors living out your childhood fantasies, do you want a tax credit for riding a pony to work?

Posted by: Jenga918 | January 5, 2010 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Being a retired teacher, I know a bit about crowd control. When local youth begin gathering a bit too thickly (a sure sign to a teacher that something is up) about the street corners, there's nothing like an old teacher walking her pug to disburse the crowd. Many of my neighbors in this working class, extremely diverse neighborhood have become regular dog walkers and we all clean up after our dogs. It's the law here.

Posted by: gelfling545 | January 6, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

"It always amazes me how urbanists hate and complain about crime, and then tell us how wonderful big city life is. Out here in the "real world" in a small city we can walk in our park day or night, or anywhere in the entire city for that matter, with or without a dog, and never encounter the least danger."

I live in a "small city" and I hardly ever see anybody walking. Many streets don't even have sidewalks. I also have to agree with jjhare. Many people here have dogs but this being a small city, many dogs spend their lives in the back yard. Dog walking is definitely seen as a big city, "urbanite" kind of thing. The barking of neglected dogs has kept me awake many times.

Posted by: carbonneutral | January 7, 2010 1:55 AM | Report abuse

argh. You as a "Klein" probably think that all names should start with a K, but my last name is "L"ayman not "K"ayman.

Thanks for the mention in any case, and for paying attention to the "symphony" of the streets.

Posted by: rlaymandc | January 11, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

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