With recent events, one story has emerged that illustrates the growing weaponization of pets.
On Memorial Day in New York City, a black man, Christian Cooper, who also happens to be a Harvard graduate and board member for the local chapter of the Audubon Society, asked a pet owner to leash her dog.
The white woman, Amy Cooper, an investment banker with Franklin Templeton, was walking her dog in a protected area of Central Park called the Ramble. This is somewhat of a wilderness area that is home to delicate plants and wildlife. Reportedly the dog was tearing through the underbrush. Christian was bird watching, and the dog was disrupting this activity. But when he asked her to leash her dog, a confrontation ensued.
Let us stop here for a moment. First, people that belong to the Audubon Society are all about protecting the environment for birds and other wildlife. That is why they ask pet owners to not let their cats roam free and potentially destroy small mammals. They are dedicated and serious about the need to protect birds that are getting decimated by urbanization and predators.
Next, protected areas are just what they are. There is a reason that dogs should not be roaming free in these areas. But when Christian asked Amy to leash her dog, she argued with him and refused. She tried to justify why it was OK to let her dog rampage. She then called the police and said an African-American man was threatening her life. This false and racist report at a time when the country is literally in upheaval over race could have created a real disadvantage for the man. But he videoed the experience and the truth came out.
For her part, Amy Cooper has been put on administrative leave from her job and the Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue has taken back Amy’s adopted dog.
But is this a one-time event? Absolutely not. It is becoming part of an ongoing cancer with some pet owners. Mostly it has to do with dogs that are aggressive and reactive and should not even be out in public. When asked to get control of their pets, some become verbally hostile and start screaming demeaning and angry threats. The denial often includes how great their dogs are. It seems like a deep-seated hostility about respecting others.
According to authorities, dogs on the beach are allowed to be off leash if they are well behaved and under voice control. This is a joyous privilege that we do not want to lose. However, certain potentially negative dynamics can be created when off-lead dogs charge up to leashed dogs. Thus, it is nothing short of proper etiquette that if you see someone coming at you with a leashed dog, you do the same to yours then give a friendly wave. It tells people that you respect their rights.
Plenty of people get scared of off-lead dogs or do not like them. There are those that walk with bats and golf clubs intending to do harm if approached — elderly people afraid of being knocked to the ground and breaking a hip; fearful children.
With the pandemic, social distancing and now all the anger in the country over inequality, it is not a time to place our pets over the wellbeing of others. What I mean by this is when we are out in public with our pets, we need to take a moment and consider the needs of other people first. Respect their space and boundaries. Realize that they might be going through some real economic or family crises. Being compassionate and respectful, waving and smiling, leashing your pets, all say “I care about you.” You could change their day with those simple acts.
As the state parks start to reopen, please remember the rules are no dogs off lead in the parking lots or trails. You must get to the sand and get away from the entrances before letting your dog loose, and only if it does not infringe upon others. Also, please always pick-up after your pet. Leave no footprint behind.
Jane Laulis is an avid pet lover. She hosts a pet talk radio show and is involved with pets from research to retail, nutrition to pet food manufacturing. She lives on the coast with her scientist husband, ocean faring dogs, indoor cats, exotic snakes and a charm of hummingbirds. She may be reached at [email protected]