Peti­quette: It be­gins, ends with man­ners

Peo­ple, it seems, have no fil­ter when it comes to other peo­ple’s an­i­mals.


On many days, Linda Buesching, past pres­i­dent of the West Val­ley Bird So­ci­ety, likes to take her hy­acinth macaw, Max­ine, out and about for a bit of so­cial­iz­ing. She gen­er­ally knows what she’s in for.

“It hap­pens all the time: Peo­ple will come up to me and tell me it’s ter­ri­ble that I keep birds, they all should be f ly­ing free, that I should send her back where she came from,” Buesching says.

Ran­dall Glad­stein gets com­ments from strangers as well about his Ger­man shep­herd-boxer mix Tiger Lily. Dur­ing one walk, he re­calls, he came upon a woman with a small dog. “She says, ‘Keep your pit bull away,’ even though she’s noth­ing like a pit bull,” he says, laugh­ing. “I say, ‘I don’t take it per­son­ally, but my dog does.’ ”

Peo­ple, it seems, have no fil­ter when it comes to other peo­ple’s an­i­mals: how they should be­have or how their own­ers should be­have. Let’s just call it peti­quette.

Some­times it’s not the com­ment per se — “Oh, you didn’t res­cue?” — but the amount of acid drip­ping off each word. At other times, it’s the great un­spo­ken dis, per­fectly com­mu­ni­cated in other ways, like peo­ple de­lib­er­ately cross­ing the street when they see a per­son walk­ing a cer­tain type of dog.

Ac­cord­ing to a for­mula de­vel­oped by the Amer­i­can Vet­eri­nary Med­i­cal Assn. and re­ported by the Los An­ge­les Al­manac, of the 3 mil­lion house­holds in Los An­ge­les County, nearly 2 mil­lion own ei­ther a dog, cat, bird or mul­ti­ples and com­bi­na­tions of the same.

More peo­ple, more pets and less space for all can cre­ate its own ur­ban ten­sion.

Dogs, pos­si­bly be­cause they nearly al­ways are phys­i­cally at­tached to a hu­man, tend to gen­er­ate the most com­ments. Big-dog peo­ple see lit­tle dogs of­ten as the prob­lem. Lit­tle-dog peo­ple find fault with the big dogs.

There are ver­bal clashes be­tween the leashed and the un­leashed, and be­tween those who refuse to spay or neuter their an­i­mals and just about ev­ery­one else. Val­ley and hill­side peo­ple who let their dogs out in their yards can face crit­i­cism for pos­si­bly sub­ject­ing their an­i­mals to a coy­ote at­tack. “To date, I’ve re­sisted telling my neigh­bor that he’d make a much more fill­ing meal,” one notes.

There can be a great di­vide be­tween those who find their pets in city shel­ters or through res­cue groups and those who choose to pur­chase a pure­bred.

Ali­son Nieder has owned res­cue dogs but now has two pure­bred Wheaten ter­ri­ers. “Peo­ple are snooty about pure­breds. They’ll ask, ‘are they res­cues? When you say they are not, it’s a con­ver­sa­tion en­der.”

Cat peo­ple are not im­mune from crit­i­cism ei­ther, although own­ers are given a bit of slack since cats, as ev­ery­one knows, will be cats. Kelly Sayce, who with hus­band Philip owns 17-year-old Gra­nola and the feral Cal­liope, who will live only un­der the house, gen­er­ally have a very good re­la­tion­ship with their neigh­bors on ei­ther side. How­ever, Sayce re­lates, “They’ve com­mented that they can smell the pee from our cats. I al­ways just apol­o­gize, and I’ve sprayed things and tried to make it smell bet­ter.”

But, she adds, “I’ve got­ten a lit­tle more pro­tec­tive and de­fen­sive about it. Cer­tainly, in my mind, I am think­ing, ‘Why are you say­ing it’s our cats? Like, prove it. How do you know?’ ”

(The big, and some­times heated, de­bate for cat own­ers is whether cats should be al­lowed out­side. Buesching, who owns a f lock of birds and no cats, has a firm opin­ion about that one. “Cats be­long in­doors. They kill a lot of birds for play.”)

For most of us, pet eti­quette is largely a mat­ter of com­mon sense and thought­ful­ness. “The No. 1 rule is clean up af­ter your dog,” notes Anne Sin­gle­ton, who owns Sadie, a Ger­man short-haired pointer. Rule No. 2: “Pay at­ten­tion to your dog.”

When all goes right, in this town where many peo­ple are strangers, pets can serve a greater pur­pose. Rather than f lash­points, they can be bridges to build­ing new re­la­tion­ships. “The first thing, you ask about a dog’s name, how old a puppy is,” Nieder says. “It is an ice­breaker. It cre­ates neigh­bor­li­ness.”

“That never hap­pens,” Nieder adds point­edly, “when you have cats.”

Getty Im­ages

FOUR-LEGGED or two, use com­mon sense and be thought­ful. It could end in a new friend.

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