To Bring, Or Not To Bring The Dog
Picture it. The rolling lawns of a Beverly Hills estate in California decked with tables for a posh afternoon English tea party. Chilled champagne with a plump strawberry is the drink du jour and the sounds of social chitchat and laughter are offset by a string quartet providing background mood music. Suddenly, a red convertible zooms up the driveway and out jumps a boisterous Golden Retriever barking madly. He rushes to the nearest white Iceberg rose bush and lifts his leg, narrowly missing the cellist. His pet parent, after handing her car keys to the valet, ambles over, pats her pup on the head and tells him to "go play" before heading off to greet her hostess and mingle with the other guests.
What the uninvited canine did next managed to lift even Botoxed brows. He nipped around to investigate the tables laden with food and "taste-tested" the quiches and assorted sandwiches, leaving guests to pick their way through what remained. The hostess, furious at the owner's unconcern over her pet's social "faux paw" had to send an urgent SOS to her caterer and vowed to remove the guilty interloper's parent from her guest list forever.
While these days few dogs are stay-at-home creatures and many establishments have petfriendly policies, there are still places and events where it's deemed inappropriate to bring along small children-never mind the fur kid.
In fact, a recent survey conducted online by MSNBC revealed that 68 percent of readers felt it was out of place to take dogs to smart restaurants and similar places. Nevertheless, uninvited pets are showing up at funerals, symphony concerts, art exhibitions, and even weekend house parties and functions.
When it comes to restaurants, states like Florida and cities like Chicago are by-passing health laws to officially accommodate controlled pet dining. In other parts of the country, pet owners don't seem to care about the legal niceties, blatantly bringing their four-footed companions along. And, if questioned, the excuse is that Fido, wearing the latest outfit from Little Lilly and being toted in a plush Puchi bag is "an emotional service dog," which supposedly justifies th canine support needed to pick through a few lettuce leaves and sip Perrier!
According to New York psychologist Dr. Joel Gavriele-Gold, author of the best-selling book When Pets Come Between Partners, real emotional support is when an animal offers a person a way of dealing with situations which they are unable to negotiate alone.
"However, this is not to be confused with yuppie emotional support in which the underlying motivation, conscious or otherwise, is entitlement and repressed arrogance," explains Dr Gavriele-Gold.
"There's a built-in sense of entitlement in bringing either dogs or kids to functions when their names don't appear on the invitation. It's clearly a control issue; wanting to be in control or just being out of control."
Very often, it's the very same people who used to drag their kids to social engagements when they were young that are now toting a dog as a way of dealing with empty nest syndrome.
One Chicago hostess was appalled when the family she invited to attend a Bar Mitzvah decided without permission to add the daughter's boyfriend and the family Chihuahua to the guest list. To top it, they had been invited to stay for the weekend at the host's home and the incumbent dog was also not amused.
"The host pet felt threatened and wouldn't stop barking," said another houseguest. "Thankfully, they took their dog and moved into a nearby hotel, claiming the home was too overcrowded and there weren't enough bathrooms."
According to animal communicator Dr. Monica Diedrich, of Anaheim, California, author of the book Pets Have Feelings Too! many of her doggie clients have confided that they love being considered family members and would love to be included wherever their pet parents go.
"That's their pack mentality," explains Diedrich. "But some people have no boundaries and don't understand that bringing your precious pet uninvited is a violation of someone else's comfort zone. It's only polite to ask. After all, lots of people are allergic to dogs and there are others who are afraid of them, too. Good manners for people translate into good petiquette for pets."
"I was under the impression our dogs, Hal and Blue Roses, both large mutts, went everywhere with us," says Patti Neff, of Seattle, Washington. "But after a few incidents, I realized that ‘everywhere' was defined as parks, beaches, and mountains. They rarely went to other people's homes and had no social graces.
"When we received a dog-friendly invitation to the annual company picnic, of course they went along. It was held at a company executive's house and you can imagine my embarrassment when Hal rushed inside and put his muddy paws on the newly renovated kitchen granite top checking for snacks! While this was going on, Blue Roses was terrorizing the cat. Fur and comments flew and needless to say we've never seen the hosting couple again socially and this year's picnic invitation says ‘no dogs allowed'."
Justin Rudd of Belmont Shore, California, and his Bulldog, Rosie, are inseparable. They dine out together every evening at one of the numerous dogfriendly restaurants on Second Street in Belmont Shore. While everyone knows Rosie and she has a very full social calendar, Rudd says there are certain times when he leaves her at home to watch TV.
"She often gets invited to cocktail parties, but I always decline because she's a little loud and would possibly overeat," he confides.
Rosie has even been invited to a wedding. But Rudd, in his wisdom, sent his regrets, saying his canine partner with her lolling tongue and breathy Marilyn Monroe wheeze would have been a huge distraction during the "I do's," possibly even upstaging the bride.
Audrey, a 10-pound Italian Greyhound, has also received a personal wedding invitation. Her "mom," Allison McCabe of New York City, didn't accept because she felt it wasn't a suitable canine occasion.
"However, she goes just about everywhere with me, including book signings, work conferences, and dinner parties," says McCabe. "Despite the fact that she's very well trained, I never take her anywhere uninvited. As a pet owner, you develop a sense for which stores do and don't love dogs and I shop accordingly. I have a list of dog-friendly restaurants. In fact, very often people complain when I don't take her places. I get a lot of ‘where's Audrey?'"
So the doggie camp remains divided and many dog owners admit that often they take chances, relying on their pets to cooperate.
Deann Zampelli of Los Angeles, California, designer of the now-famous Puchi bag that helped promote the trend of taking pups places with the advent of Bruiser in the Legally Blonde movies, confesses that she's one of them.
"We sneak our Pomeranian, Zulu, into lots of no-dog zones, like the movies," she confides. "He knows when to hold it in and not pee. He even makes it through long films. I know it's taking a risk. Most of the time we get away with it because people think he's cute. The only place I definitely wouldn't chance it is to a cat convention."
The celebs who tote their pets everywhere are obviously not only getting away with it, but are thriving on the attention their pups' presence attracts. Can we really blame the average besotted owner for pushing the limits of social propriety in a similar way? ■
Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer based in California. Her work appears regularly on MSNBC.com and in various national and international publications. She is a member of the Dog Writers Association of America and is a besotted pet parent.