Fine, your dog can come to the pub. But I’m bringing my kids and their rats

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These days, seemingly everyone has a dog. Pandemic puppies, furry therapy, a reliable source of comfort, nature strips strewn with stinky landmines.

Melbourne’s a pet city like never before. Dog parks are full of hooning greyhounds and varieties of oodle. Dogs with names sewn to their vests as if they’re at a conference. Chatting owners. Wholesome. Natural. Part of the family. Almost human. Almost. Now, dogs go everywhere.

Many dogs enjoy a trip to their local.Credit: Pawtraits and Pawprint Pet Photography

So of course, there was outrage this week when the City of Yarra letter-dropped local pubs warning them that dogs should not be near areas where food is prepared, served or eaten. Which is, you know, most places.

Why the outrage? The letter made the fatal mistake of suggesting dogs were animals. “Animals can carry germs that can contaminate food,” it stated.

Clearly, the letter was written by a non-dog owner. One of them. Someone who would never understand what it was to love a dog. This warning was a throwback to the stuffy times before we had “wooftop bars” and barkeries (I made that up, but it sounds real).

In a matter of days, there was a petition with almost 9000 signatures, calling for an end to the persecution. Petition-maker Sam Roundtree said he had no intention of “shoving dog culture” down others’ throats, but wanted to be able to continue drinking with his canine.

Dogs are the best people. That’s well known.

If parents are blind to anything annoying about their offspring, dog owners are even more so. This is probably because dogs can’t talk. Unlike your child, who after being praised is likely to scream in your ear or tell tattletales about the time their sibling pooed in the bath.

If it were up to me as a non-dog owner, I’d probably prefer pub dog numbers to hover around zero. I like dogs, but I also like to choose when to engage with them. And dogs are not big on asking. They know they can get away with stampeding through beer gardens and sniffing butts because their owners will explain away any breaches. “She’s normally so well behaved!”

Admittedly, I have no moral high ground. I’ve spent years unleashing toddlers onto the eardrums of cafe patrons, mainly to play my part in controlling population growth. There were years destroying the sanctity of flight, as my children and I festered in the wailing zone at the back of the plane. Neighbouring passengers on long-haul flights may still be in therapy.

Pull up a pew, cobber.Credit: Edwina Pickles

All of which is to say that for every overeager blue heeler leaping up on my dog-shy children, there has been a corresponding irritation we’ve inflicted on the public. In fact, we have found entirely new ways of irritating people.

My youngest has an iron will, which is why she got two pet rats, Bubba and River. Not content to keep them in their cage, she took to smuggling them everywhere in her sleeves. I’d have to pat her down before taking her to kindy.

At the primary school gate, she soon found rats brought instant popularity with the older kids. She was rat keeper, chooser of the few lucky ones who earned a pat. When she was bored with the rat, I had to host it on my shoulder.

Afterwards, riding home, I’d notice people pointing and laughing from their cars. And when I wanted to stop off for a quick coffee, I had to either conceal the rat (near impossible) or flaunt it. When people saw our rodent, they would be either enthralled or disgusted. We had found the most polarising of pets. Cafe owners scowled at us, but no one kicked us out. One parent at the school gate praised our “open-mindedness”.

It made me realise that society is now basically a group of people who can annoy the shit out of each other without resorting to violence. There’s something to be said for that.

Which means I need to suck it up. Fine. Your dog can come to the pubs that welcome them. Unleash your crotch-sniffing semi-humans. Annoy me as intensely as you please. Because the time will come when I unleash my rat hordes or energetic children, and it will annoy you intensely. And I, like you, will not say sorry.

Doug Hendrie is a Melbourne writer.

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