Are we going to the dogs?
I used to think that cockroaches and furniture hawker Ted Sadler would be the only creatures left alive after a nuclear holocaust or horrible natural disaster. But I’m beginning to think dogs, those canine friends of ours, might claim that distinction.
Dogs are everywhere. When I was a kid in Seward back in the 1950s, people let their dogs run loose. But compared to today, there didn’t seem to be that many of them. These days it appears everyone has at least one dog. Doggie detritus litters our roadways. I once made a disgusting computation on the weight of those deposits. All I can recall is that on an annual basis, it amounted to thousands of pounds.
According to the American Humane Association, about 40 percent of U.S. households own a dog — and the overall U.S. dog population is currently estimated at more than 70 million.
The Municipality of Anchorage (MOA) estimates there are about 75,000 dogs in the Greater MOA, which includes Chugiak-Eagle River. That must be an extremely conservative estimate, in that many houses that I pass while walking have barking dogs. And invariably, almost every person I pass on the streets has one or more dogs in tow.
The most popular purebred American Kennel Club (AKC) breeds are Labrador retriever, German shepherd, beagle, golden retriever and Yorkshire terrier. But throughout the Eagle River-Chugiak area, every breed and combination of breeds can be observed.
During my lifetime our family has owned several dogs, including miniature and standard poodles, Yorkshire terrier, Airedale terrier, Belgian shepherd, Great Dane and Newfoundland — the last of which was my all-time favorite.
We currently have a beagle, which is basically a nose on four legs. Compared to others we’ve owned, he is a handful. He is easily bored, wants continuous exercise and is perpetually hungry. I shouldn’t complain, however, since his persistent nature also gets me out of doors for much-needed exercise. There are only a few things he won’t eat...cardboard, for example. Lately, with the money I’ve spent on vet bills, I could take an exotic vacation. But then, because of good care, he’s an extremely healthy and vigorous 12-year-old dog.
I’m convinced that I’ve learned more from my dogs than I ever taught them. They taught me about patience, tolerance, respect and mostly, unconditional love. We might try to bring out the best in them, but without trying, they have the ability to bring out the best in us.
It’s common knowledge that dogs are pack animals that don’t like being left alone. Dogs that don’t receive any attention really become problems, especially for nearby neighbors. If chained up outside and left alone, they bark incessantly. An Eagle River friend of mine who has no pets has lived with barking dogs for many years. They continuously interrupt his sleep and have basically degraded his family’s quality of life. Talks with his neighbors, MOA Animal Control, the police, have failed to change the situation. I told him that at this point, I would sell the house and move. He holds out hope that he’ll outlive the dogs and that the situation will change for the better. I doubt it.
I can recall a dog situation that caused me to postpone building a cabin near Talkeetna. From my undeveloped property I was continuously serenaded by about 10 howling dogs directly across the lake. The owner also had the property so junked up that it reminded me of the old TV sitcom Sanford and Son. The Mat-Su Borough finally forced the woman to clean up the property and she later moved away, dogs and all. I then promptly built my cabin.
In all of this I put the blame squarely on dog owners, not the dogs. Owning pets and maintaining control of them is a responsibility that too many people don’t take seriously. If people can’t control their pets, if they can’t afford to get them spayed and/or neutered and if they can’t afford to take them to the veterinarian when required, then they shouldn’t own pets.
Dog over-population has become a serious problem in our country. Here’s a very sad statistic: About 2.7 million healthy, adoptable cats and dogs — about one every 11 seconds — are put down in U.S. shelters each year. Spay/neuter is a proven way to reduce pet overpopulation. Ideally, every pet should have a family to love them.
For information on how to get (low cost) assistance in having pets spayed or neutered, contact the Alaska SPCA at 562-2999 or go to their website, www.alaskaspca.org.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer and columnist who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank, email [email protected].