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January 13, 2016

Take the lead

There’s not much point going to a bar if you can’t take your best friend, argues Rory Kennett-Lister.

  • Words: Rory Kennett-Lister
  • Pictures: Andy Nowell

Dogs. I have a theory that they can be a litmus test for personality disorders: in a nutshell, if you don’t like them, you’re probably a psychopath.

I’m not saying that you need to have committed to dog-worship as a way of life – to have gone so far as to carry dog treats in the pockets of your elasticised jeans so as to ingratiate yourself with every loping canine that crosses your path. But – fair warning – if the phrase “I don’t like dogs” blunders from your pursed lips, chances are you’re a little bit dead to me.

Clearly, the people of San Francisco agree with me. Earlier this year, I visited the Bay City and was immediately taken by the number of dogs I saw. And not just pawing the pavement. In restaurants and bars, greyhounds curled around stools, staffies tucked under tables, sausage dogs on their owners’ laps, gazing longingly at plates just out of reach.

According to advertisements plastered across walls and zooming past on bus-sides, San Fran is the ‘dog-friendliest’ city in the U.S. Though I haven’t visited all 19,429 municipalities, my thorough collection of anecdotal evidence inclines me to agree.

One night, at a bar, I was greeted by a bouncer. He was about 50, with the grizzled tattoos and beard that in Australia pass as grounds for arrest. Under his arm, a female companion – a Chihuahua named Sally. (“Who’s your bitch?” I asked. (No I didn’t.))

“…the dogs had managed to transform the venue into some kind of alcoholic nirvana.”

There were two more canines inside, and despite the heavy skew towards drunken humans, the dogs had managed to transform the venue into some kind of alcoholic nirvana. People knelt at the feet of strangers to rub the ears of a loyal pooch. A man drinking alone was dragged into discussion by quizzical sniffing. Tummy rubs and butt-sniffing all above board.

Later, after drinking with Sally and her owner, talking to someone with whom I normally would have avoided eye contact, the dog a conduit for conversation, I wondered: why can’t we have this cross-species utopia at home?

To revisit my posited theory, my first thought is that we are governed by people without a capacity for empathy. The legislation governing this topic supports this thesis toward sociopathy, both in form and substance. According to the Food Safety Standards, excluding assistance animals, no pet can enter an indoor area in which food is “made, manufactured, produced, collected, extracted, processed, stored, transported, delivered, prepared, treated, preserved, packed, cooked, thawed, served or displayed.” Christ. The fact that they omitted ‘levitated’ and ‘hologrammed’ can assumedly be put down to human error.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. To put on my ergonomic, OHS sanctioned, approved government hat for a moment, maybe these laws protect us. Bringing dogs indoors could result in problems. There are safety concerns, sure. And health concerns. Perhaps a waiter scuffing past in Birkenstocks might trip on a leash sending scalding coffee into the air, which could come down on a patron’s MacBook (on which they’re putting the finishing touches on the great Australian novel), causing a short circuit which burns down the establishment, thereby damaging not just commerce, but the future of artistic excellence in this great country. Maybe we need to protect against this.

Or, we don’t.

San Francisco, I was surprised to learn, actually has laws very similar to our own. In fact, until recently it was illegal to allow dogs near food and drink, even in outdoor areas. The difference is that for years, throughout the city, establishments said, “fuck it” and let people bring their dogs anyway. And they could do this because the city’s Department of Public Health openly acknowledged, “It’s not a burning issue for us”. Genius.

Here’s a thought: let’s let ourselves off the leash, as it were. Turn a blind eye to our inhibiting legislation. Let’s police the issue with a communal expectation that people will be responsible with their dogs. If they’re not, let’s ask them to leave then get back to our food and drink.

While we’re at it, let’s push a little further. We can try standing up outside with our drinks (something Parliament is apparently considering) or letting common sense, rather than complicated laws, dictate the amount of outdoor seating we can have. Let’s see if a little social disobedience can’t flip the established method of risk-aversion over benefit analysis.

I don’t know. Maybe this is some American libertarianism rubbing off on me. Just a little bit. I still believe in a safety net. In healthcare for all.

I don’t want full blown revolution. I just want to see this country go to the dogs.

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