Shabbat shalom! You don’t mind dogs, do you?” This was the greeting I received on a recent Friday night, from the hostess at the Jerusalem home of a lovely family I was eating with for the first time.
It seemed a fellow guest had felt the need to bring her large, energetic pooch along with her to dine with us – something the hosts had made no mention of in advance.
Having a generally pleasant but distant relationship with pets (being that the most we interacted with animals in my childhood home was with a series of anemic goldfish), I responded, within earshot of dog owner: “No, as long as they don’t get too physically close to me and lick me.”
I assumed this would be enough. There would be no problem keeping Cuddles outside, or even on the other side of the room, right? Wrong. Our new dog friend was allowed to roam free, periodically sticking its furry face on the table, close to the platters of (delicious) food, its snout dangerously close to... my plate. Yes, it seemed that Cuddles could sense I was not wanting to bond at that time and, thinking I was playing hard to get, decided the right thing to do was crawl under the table and situate itself under my legs.
Already very ill at ease with the situation, I looked directly at the dog owner sitting across the table and said, quite desperately, “I am not OK with this.”
Surely this would be enough. In normative society, don’t human beings come before animals, especially at Shabbat dinners? Imagine my surprise and dismay when she ignored me. I considered bringing it up to the hosts and asking them to handle it. As an assertive individual, I usually have no problem stating my case. But seeing how much the host family seemed to love the dog and its antics, I felt my plea wouldn’t be well received. (At one point, Cuddles almost toppled the table with the lit Shabbat candles, yet no one seemed to mind.) The pooch was mild-mannered enough. I decided to deal with it and left, hours later, with copious spittle on my bare legs.
The disquiet stayed with me. I ran the issue by my Facebook universe to see if I had gone crazy. Was it normal to bring man’s best friend to dinner? Should the host have interceded? Opined Toby Klein Greenwald, “Not all dog people think everyone likes dogs. Only dog people who are not so smart.”
My sister chimed in from New York City: “I agree with you that it’s inappropriate and wrong. I think the pet entitlement thing has gotten worse over the years. A few weeks ago, I took [my 4-year-old son] to an outdoor event where they closed off the road. He was happily playing with a friend and they were thrilled to be able to move freely, being so young. A dog owner had her dog on one of those invisible leashes at least three meters away from her. I asked her to move the dog closer to her so the kids wouldn’t trip and she literally rolled her eyes at me.
“About a week ago, a woman had a dog unleashed in public and it came too close for comfort. I asked her to leash the dog and she blatantly ignored me.
“I also don’t love dogs, and I am starting not to like some of the owners, too.”
Mara Schecter wrote: “Since when, how and why is it appropriate to accessorize with a dog as a guest? ‘I’ll be bringing wine and my St. Bernard.’ “If the host allows this, then the onus is on them to determine with each guest if this is OK with them or not.
“Something is incredibly off – and this is coming from someone who likes dogs more than humans.”
Noted fellow Jerusalem denizen Tikva Azulucir, “This is another reason why I’m not living in Tel Aviv. I happen to resent being thrust off the pavement when a dog and its owner are taking up the entire width.”
Suggested another friend: “Just lie, tell them politely and forcefully that you’re allergic and would they please arrange a proper distance. (You are allowed to lie for the sake of shalom bayit [peace in the home].)” “I brought my pet bat once to a dinner and people were not happy,” recounted Jerusalem Post Opinion Editor Seth Frantzman whimsically. “But why one pet and not others?” he asked, quite reasonably.
Yes, why not an antelope or a ferret? I reasoned.
Why not a snake to slither across the flower-festooned table? Who could object to the love an owner has for a pet? I can laugh at the situation now, but the truth is: Should I be forced to lie in order to ensure basic civility (shalom bayit dispensation or not)? Isn’t the fact that I was made to feel deeply uncomfortable reason enough to warrant action on their part? What about those who are not naturally assertive? Moreover, some people are deathly afraid of dogs for various reasons (perhaps they were attacked at a young age, perhaps they are uncomfortable around animals) – how would they have dealt with it? The word that sticks out to me in this situation is “entitlement.” I, and many others I’ve spoken with, feel the world has become a much harder place to live in these days – largely because of the lack of human consideration some people have for others – coupled with the ubiquitousness of smartphones in the public sphere, which allow users to play videos or music at high volume, have loud, often highly personal phone conversations, and receive texts with Chinese torture- like dings and bangs.
In another example, just this morning when I got on the bus, I felt the onset of a headache due to the loud conversation being conducted by a woman a few seats back. The passenger in the seat next to me, who had been riding for longer than me, had enough and began shouting at the phone yakker that this was a bus, not her home, and would she end the conversation.
Trying to defuse the situation and thinking that perhaps the talker’s elevated volume was due to her wearing earphones, I approached her, told her that her conversation was disturbing others and asked if she could please lower her voice.
A simple request, non? But instead, I got a nasty “This is a bus, not a library,” and the cacophonous phone conversation continued apace.
Yes, I am aware that Israel is a Middle Eastern, hot-blooded society in which people are passionate and love to express themselves loudly and gesture freely. But this doesn’t account for or excuse out-andout rudeness.
This is a problem around the world, not just here. Or at least in the US, based on what my sister (and others not mentioned here) have observed. The selfish me-me-me culture of selfies, smartphones and 24/7 tweets has bled into all aspects of society, be it the home, the street or politics.
Beyond me and my friends, I’d love to know – should it stop? Is this inconsideration for others a minor annoyance to be tolerated and allowed to continue, or is it part of a larger issue contributing to a societal slide that we should try to do something about? What role should we all play? What do you think?
Sound off at firstname.lastname@example.org