YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Good boy: Sit, heel and join the peace movement

June 02, 2003|AL MARTINEZ

I came home the other day in about as foul a mood as I have ever been due to the depressing nature of the news, and the dog greeted me at the door smiling.

I couldn't tell what kind of a smile it was, but I think I detected a certain smugness about it, the way feminists used to smile when they began flexing their muscles. It is a combination of eyes and mouth working together to suggest a secret knowledge.

"Why is the dog smiling?" I said loudly to no one in particular.

"Well, well," said my wife, coming down the stairs, "Harold Happiness is home from making the world a more cheerful place."

"He's smiling in derision," I said, pointing to Barkley, who has a habit of looking me straight in the face, as if he's trying to figure me out. Usually, though, he isn't smiling. He's just looking. God knows what he's thinking.

"I'm teaching him to be joyful," Cinelli said. "You're next."

Someone gave me a book called "97 Ways to Make a Dog Smile." For example, "Start by lifting your dog's lips to inspect his teeth and gums, all the while repeating the word 'Smile!' " We haven't given Barkley a lesson yet. The smile is his own.

The book, one of many dog books on the market, is another indication of a growing obsession with pets, especially those of the canine variety. An article in Time magazine reports on the dog fixation and on the efforts of mass merchandisers, drooling like St. Bernards, to cash in on it. A decade ago, says writer Joel Stein, Americans spent $17 billion a year on pet products. This year, the figure is expected to almost double. That's more than we spend on some wars.

Stein quotes a professor of animal ecology at Purdue University's Center for the Human-Animal Bond as saying that the desire for more dog space, i.e., dog parks, is part of a civil rights movement for animals, and I say that's going too far. So OK, dog massages, dog beauty pageants, dog movies, dog magazines, dog furniture and dog fashions -- but gathering their needs under a banner of civil rights portends a full-fledged social revolution with sit-ins, bark-ins, howl-ins and scratch-ins, and we don't need that.

Sci-fi movies in the 1950s depicted what could happen if animals or bugs took over. One word: chaos. The films were usually based on mutations caused by atomic radiation, like the 10-foot-long mutant ants that ran amok, killing and eating us fat, juicy humans in the classic "Them!" We banded together to wipe them out, but not before they'd served up a lot of us like uncooked pot roasts.

"I'm not sure animal uprisings aren't possible," Cinelli said.

"Can you imagine Barkley hitting the streets like some kind of canine radical?" I asked. "What do we want? Steaks! When do we want them? Now!"

"I don't think that dogs alone could swing a revolution," she said, "but if they joined forces with cats ... well, that's a horse of a different color."

She was referring to the latest animal idiocy sweeping the country, in which communities are passing laws, or thinking about passing laws, to prevent cat owners from declawing their pets. West Hollywood, where a lot of strange things happen, was supposedly the first city in the country to outlaw cat declawing. Santa Monica and Berkeley are on the brink of passing similar laws. God save the cat.

I feel that the same motivations that drive gun advocates fuel the passions of those who loudly oppose disarming, I mean declawing, cats. While there is no constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to bear claws, animal activists are shaking their fists at those who would deprive felines of their weapons. We'll have to pry their claws out of their cold, dead paws, they warn. That's OK with me.

"All it would take," Cinelli said, "is a rabble-rousing cat to stir the dogs up and they'd be marching on Washington. Cats are troublemakers and dogs are followers."

As I thought about it later, it seemed that might not be such a bad idea. Humans marched on Washington to no avail in an effort to stop the Iraq war. Since dogs and politicians have about the same intellectual capacity, perhaps there would be a better rapport between them. If the pols failed to respond, a platoon of pit bulls could simply bite them on their behinds and send them running for cover.

Forget teaching dogs to smile. I'm tutoring mine in the grand tradition of American liberal pacifists in case he ever does make it to Washington. Whenever I feed him, I pat him and whisper, "Atta boy, no more war." When I give him a dog biscuit I say, "Nice Barkley. Give peace a chance." Tomorrow we start on "Make love, not war." Smiling is optional. Good boy.


Al Martinez's column appears Mondays and Fridays. He's at

Los Angeles Times Articles