What does it mean to be a dog in the Lowcountry?
At one end of the spectrum, there are people who are into the Michael Vick thing: dog fights, gambling and general thuggery. They don't think dogs merit any kind of special protection, never mind pampering.
At the other end of the spectrum there are people who treat dogs like people. Think Tinkerbell Hilton, companion to Paris, although maybe that is not the best example, because there are rumors that Paris is not the world's best pet parent.
But that brings us to the point: Some people love on their dogs as if they were babies. At night, when the parent goes to bed, baby jumps right up there and lays its head down too. Or maybe baby has its own $5,000 luxury bed with designer linens and aromatherapy pillows. Some of these people think you are being cruel to your dog if you fail to brush its teeth twice a day.
One cannot ignore the money at stake here. The dogs-as-babies fashion and décor industry is big business and it continues to grow. And parallel to this trend, illegal dog fighting continues to gain ground as a lucrative black-market blood sport. That's a lot of big money at either end of that spectrum.
I can't neglect mentioning that there are people who are way out in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum – the ones who love dog so much they want to eat it. There are indeed people who live here in the Lowcountry who come from cultures where dogs are considered a perfectly acceptable source of meat. I won't go there right now, but just wanted to make sure that concept is on the table. So to speak.
Although maybe I do need to go there, because the story of dog eating, and its decline, is an example of cultural change. And maybe we need to be open to some cultural change here in the Lowcountry. But back to the dog-eating.
In many countries the eating of dogs (and in some cases, cats) used to be no big deal. There are still some old-fashioned hangers-on who don't want to give up their culinary traditions. They don't see anything wrong with eating dog or cat. They see no reason to change.
But those folks are increasingly outweighed by the globalized, PETA-fied youth of their nations. Because there is more advocacy against dog eating, it is becoming increasingly difficult – and in some cases illegal – to sell dog meat. And even in places where the sale of dog meat is still legal, it is no longer as socially acceptable as it once was.
Here in the Lowcountry, the issue isn't whether we eat our dogs; it's how we treat our dogs. And it is not as simple as pitting the dog-fighters against the dog-fanciers.
Pitting may be an ill-advised metaphor given the topic at hand, but so be it. Here in Beaufort County, when the treatment of dogs is approached as a matter of public policy, people are at each others throats.
We saw this in 2007, when an organization called Chain Free Beaufort worked with Beaufort City Council to create an ordinance that limits the chaining and tethering of dogs. It breezed through the city pretty easily because a lot of our urban folk were on board. They were tired of seeing dogs chained up all the time.
And when I say all the time, I mean ALL THE TIME. 24/7. As long as the dogs had adequate food, water and shelter, it was perfectly legal. They could be tied up for years on end and it was fine in the eyes of the law.
City Council approved the ordinance against tethering on January 8, 2008.
I wish the story had a happy ending but it doesn't, at least not yet.
The city's ordinance could not be enforced. That's because the city does its animal control through a contract with Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff's deputies cannot enforce the city's ordinance until Beaufort County has a similar ordinance.
Here's the rub. A year has passed, and Beaufort County has yet to come on board. The reasons for that?
Let me try to explain. There is a pretty rigid process for presenting a proposed ordinance to County Council. Stuff does not get onto a County Council agenda on a whim. When County Council votes on something, it has generally been in front of a committee for weeks, if not months, and sometimes years.
Committee meetings are where the real nitty gritty discussions take place. During these committee meetings, council members review and discuss the issues in front of them. This is the place to hash it out. And there is a lot of hashing.
When it's all hashed out, there's a vote. If a majority of committee members agrees a matter is ready to move forward, then and only then does the matter come before County Council.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, that works pretty well.
But when it came to dog tethering, the proposed ordinance did not fare well in the Community Services Committee. In the view of some committee members, anti-chaining advocates were trying to force cultural change on an unwilling rural populace. So they ditched the ordinance and it never went before County Council.
And so the matter died. For a while, at least.
NEXT TIME: County Council Chairman Weston Newton has requested that the Community Services Committee reconsider the proposed ordinance on dog chaining and tethering. I'll take a look at what's happening with that, and we'll revisit the possibilities for cultural change.
A Lowcountry Dog’s Life: Part One
What does it mean to be a dog in the Lowcountry?