Two Different Worlds

Those who know me are aware of my aversion to country living. For me it is all too quiet among the trees and very, very dark at night. Then there is the cacophony of the evening crickets and the cicadas to break through the silence along with an occasional pickup truck racing its engine down some nearby road as its youthful occupants hoot and howl. However, I do enjoy the distant sound of a dog howling for who knows what, which makes me feel like I’m in a Jack London Novel. Late at night, I’m never sure if the caterwauling in the back comes from raccoons fighting over the spoils of the trash cans (lidded tight, of course) or if it is a clowder of lusty cats out on the prowl, courting a willing female, waiting her out. This is from a man whose entire life, from the beginning to the current moment, has been on the streets of two cities. I was born and raised in Philadelphia until I went into the service at the tender age of eighteen. Since then, I have spent more of my life in New York City than any other place. With the exception of four years in the military and two years in San Francisco I have never left Greenwich Village where dogs are all on leashes and cats are never seen on the streets unless they are in the cuddled arms of their devotees scurrying to or from a vet’s office.

So, what’s so different now? Well, being a formerly married man who is still breathing, I occasionally leave the big town by train to see a lady, her daughter and her two dogs and sweet cat all living, you guessed it, in the country. Although she is an expatriate New Yorker she has been up there for a decade and a half and couldn’t be budged from her rural existence. She adores her pets and gives them the lifestyle that everyone else does in the sleepy hamlet where she lives. It is a beautiful, tiny town consisting of one street, a general store/café, a post office, and a fairly nice restaurant and bar that has live western music on some night of the week, which I cannot seem to retain. What strikes me the most about this tiny town, much admired, by the way, by vacationers and passing tourists, is that there are a great many free-roaming dogs. The mind-set about this is so disorienting to me.

Living in Manhattan as I have I have been very strict about walking a dog on a leash and never, never, never, never allowing a cat out of the house on its own. The net result is that in thirty-five years I have never lost a dog or cat to traffic or wander lust. I have written about this caution many, many times. It is my eleventh commandment. Imagine then my amazement to see dogs out on their own wandering around this small town on their own, checking out the wildlife and occasionally making a mad dash into the woods or splashing delightfully into the large duck pond off to the side of the town. Of course, most of them are a bit tubby because everyone loves to give them treats.

I have been told about an incident that took place a couple of years ago at the general store/café, before I started visiting the town. The old country store has rustic tables and chairs, a blazing potbelly stove, and examples of local artists hanging on the wooden walls. The place is a magnet for Sunday morning New Yorkers enjoying a weekend out of town. Like most inveterate city slickers, they must have the Sunday Times, sip fancy coffee and have bagels and all sorts of pastries and sandwiches to enhance the quiet country morning. The thing is, the doors are open to all and including the town dogs who love to wander in and out, sniffing under the tables for crumbs or perhaps a handfed tidbit. No one seemed to mind this. Of course, it violated another dictum of mine about not allowing a dog to beg for food at the table. I must tell you I was uncomfortable with all this in the beginning. However, it was not my town, not my store, not my dogs. It was, in fact, none of my business.

One day, as the story goes, a summer time couple was sitting reading the Times and having eggs, bacon and English muffins. He was reading the Arts & Entertainment section of the Times and she was doing the very difficult Times crossword puzzle. And in sauntered Moose, the largest Golden Retriever in existence. He sniffed around the floor and finally came up to the table where they were deep into themselves and their breakfast. The amiable dog put one paw on the lap of the man insisting on getting his attention. The couple, obviously not dog people, were startled. The man started to yell for the owner, a very busy middle-aged woman of reasonable sophistication.
“”Get this damn dog off me, will you? What kind of a restaurant is this, anyway?””

The proprietor puffed herself up like an animal preparing for combat and said, “”Mister. I’ll tell you what kind of a place this is. That dog, whose name is Moose and is a member of this community, is more welcome in here than you. I suggest you finish your eggs and drive off. As a matter of fact, forget the eggs, forget the check, and forget this general store. I want you to leave.””

Like humiliated children, the couple gathered up their coats, their Times, and their souvenirs, sulked out, and drove off, never to be seen again. Now that’s what I call a dog town.

Nevertheless, I must cap this off with the fact that I have on more than one occasion had to pluck off a deer tick from the body of my friend’s daughter. These were obviously brought in the house by her two dogs and cat that are allowed to run freely out of the house for a half-hour at a time for exercise in the woods and in the duck pond. Who is right? I won’t even touch it. I live in the city where the dogs are on leash and the cats sit inside on the windowsill, watching the cars go by.

Mordecai Siegal is the author of 31 books about dogs and cats. His most recent book is “”The Good Life. Your Dog’s First Year (Simon & Schuster)”” and the 10th Anniversary Revised Edition, of “”I Just Got A Puppy. What do I Do?”” He is also the President Emeritus of the Dog Writers Association of America.


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