/ 8 November 2010

Basic respect has gone to the dogs

Basic Respect Has Gone To The Dogs

Most black people are scared of dogs. I have no scientific and conclusive evidence to prove this, however I know it to be true.

I would venture to say that even when we aren’t scared of dogs and keep them as pets, we are unlikely to fuss over them and let them roam free inside our homes in the way white people do. Yes, it’s a racial matter.

I don’t know why that is, but it’s just the way it is in our country. I like dogs, but in the hierarchy of life, humans should rank higher. I grew up with three dogs as pets: Zerro, Face and Husky.

We thought that Zerro, because he was big and strong and behaved like a superhero, deserved a name befitting his antics. Face had a long, sad face with droopy eyes resembling the character of the same name in the ’80’s skop, skiet and donner TV series, The A Team, and Husky was Husky because, well, she was small, white and fluffy.

Note how I don’t mention what breed the dogs were, because we didn’t bother to find out. Not that we didn’t care, but there were more important things to worry about. They were simply our pets, we loved them and fed them and they kept us amused and entertained.

However, when we roamed the streets, we knew to keep them on a leash and when we were expecting visitors, they were locked up, because we knew that not everyone would share our fondness for the three mutts.

We also understood that their playful shoves and habit of leaping on to your shoulders, while signs of affection to us, were enough to terrify others. As a result, we showed others respect by restraining them. Man before ­mongrel was the simple rule.

I don’t know where the fear of dogs comes from among our people, but I would venture to say it’s located in our apartheid past.

In the areas where people were not allowed to live as result of the Group Areas Act, namely white suburbia, fierce-looking dogs would bark madly when a black person walked past.

In some instances police would set their Alsatians on blacks simply because they were black. I can understand this is not an aversion one shakes off easily.

That’s why it infuriates me that some people can be so cavalier about how they handle their dogs when we’ve had reported instances in which babies have been mauled and domestic workers attacked at their places of employment.

In 2010 apartheid is long dead and buried, so we can live wherever we please without the fear of being chased by menacing dogs. At least, that’s what I thought.

While running in my neighbourhood last week, I came upon a white woman walking her alarmingly fierce-looking bull terrier. She had a leash around her wrist, but it was not harnessed to the dog.

My blackness kicked in right there and then. The dog took one look at me and bounded towards me, barking ferociously. That was enough to stop me in my tracks while the dog owner just looked on passively.

I asked her to please control her dog and put it on the leash as it was very unnerving. In a patronising tone she told me at length to keep still and not shout as that would serve only to aggravate the hound.

So, I’m petrified silly but I’m the one who must stop running, keep quiet and be lectured on how to behave around an animal that I’m visibly terrified of when an easier option for all concerned would be for the dog owner to restrain her pet with the leash she has brought but chooses not to use. This nasty exchange carried on for a while. I was astonished that I had to negotiate my safety while a simple solution was within arm’s reach.

My first thought as the dog continued to bark and the woman lectured me in a condescending manner was “there’s going to be violence”, but I restrained myself, fearing a tabloid cover story with a headline screaming something along the lines of “Journo punches white gogo and dog chows journo”.

The terrier eventually backed down and I sped off, more out of fear that it might give chase than because of any new-found Usain Bolt speed on my part.

I was livid because the dog owner’s nonchalance signified such a deep disrespect for me as a fellow human being.

Yes, we are free to do and live as we wish in this country. Often though, in small, subliminal ways, we show that we don’t see or care for one other.

Dog may be man’s best friend but lesson 101 in our diversity development in this country should be that while dogs are cute, many of us — black folk especially — prefer them on a leash.