Not so long ago, I was walking one of my dogs when a man coming towards us saw the dog, yelped, and leapt sideways off the pavement onto the road to avoid us. Bear in mind: this was a grown man, in business clothes, and the dog I was walking was a Maltese – small, white and fuzzy, and quite indifferent to people when on his walk. Nevertheless, this man felt that he was so much in danger from my vicious hound that he’d rather take his chances with the taxi drivers whizzing past on the four-lane road.
Similar scenarios occur wherever I go with my doggie charges, regardless of their size and/or appearance. Whether I am walking a Chihuahua or a Husky, people scream/run away/refuse to enter the elevator that we are in. And of course, there are the parents who say to their children, “Aiyah! Dog! Will bite you!” or my personal favourite: “Eee! So dirty! Don’t touch!” (To which I am always tempted to say, “Madam, my dog is probably cleaner than your grubby child.”)
What is it that makes Singaporeans so afraid of animals? I do appreciate the need for caution – any responsible parent will teach their child that one must always ask a dog’s handler whether it is alright to pat their dog, and not just to rush up and hug it. But why the terror that I sometimes see?
I used to feel offended on behalf of the dog, when people acted that way. But these days, I mostly feel saddened that so many Singaporeans are denying themselves the warm and uncomplicated friendship and affection that only animals can give. Are we so far removed from nature in our high-rise lives, that we are unable to interact with animals in even the most basic way, not even to stand next to them in an elevator for 30 seconds?
As dog-owners and dog-handlers, we have a part to play as well. We must ensure that our dogs are good canine citizens; not lunging or barking at strangers; and if we see that someone is not comfortable around dogs, we need to keep our dogs in check – even a friendly sniff can be intimidating to a person who is not able to read the intention behind it. We may love it when a big old slobbery dog rears up and puts his paws on our shoulders; but to someone not familiar with dogs, it must be as intimidating as a grizzly bear pouncing on you!
Take every negative encounter as teaching opportunity – when encountering a frightened child, I keep my dog on a short leash and tell them: “It’s ok, this dog is friendly. You can pat him if you want, he will sit down for you.” Hopefully, we can change the attitudes of Singaporeans, one child at a time.