Petting Takes On New Meaning
Look, I’m antediluvian, a fossil, old as dirt. You can’t expect me to keep up with a culture that stands on its head every twenty-four hours. My idea of a ripping good yarn is a Dorothy Sayers mystery set in Oxford. The Wodehouse comic adventures are equally engaging; I’d pit Bunter up against Jeeves, valet to valet, anytime.
The which is to say, I’m several steps behind in almost every area of contemporary social life. I do watch television, of course, and generally allow most ordinary commercials to wash over me without noting the particular products advertised or the particular methods by which they are touted, fearful that I might again see an animated bear wipe its hindquarters with Charmin, leaving less paper behind (as it were) than rival tissue brand, Cottonelle Ultra. In the woods.
Every once in a while, however, something pulls me to the screen, my will is thwarted, and I get the message an advertiser intends me to get, as in a recent unguarded moment when I was made aware of groundbreaking investigative reporting on pet dating sites as presented on rover.com.
I have seen examples of speed dating and know couples have found each other on line. Rumors of a nether world of exotic “dating” applications have reached me, but, as I have not yet figured out how to answer my new phone, these remain obscure. A quick scan of less frequently accessed, relatively conventional, sites, however, informs me that bearded men and those who seek bearded men can meet on Bristlr, a social network and dating site which promises, “… beard dating on a global scale.” My viewing tastes, which include National Geographic Wild and Farm and Ranch TV, have made me aware of Farmers Only, which, to confuse the viewer, announces that you don’t have to be a farmer to avail the services of Farmers Only, you only have to like farmers, or people who like farmers. Equestrian Cupid similarly matches “cowboys, cowgirls, and equestrian singles”, whereas Trek Passions helps Trekkies find Trekkies available for “trekking”. Tall Friends helps vertically advantaged people who apparently can’t assess size at a glance. Need a partner for a luncheon date? Salad Match is all over it, but you might be better served in accessing GlutenfreeSingles.
Let’s remember the days gone by when lonely hearts, singles, the shy and the reclusive found each other by posting quaint and plaintive coded messages in the personal columns of daily newspapers. Some were virtually indecipherable — “I saw you. Did you see me?”, some all too particular — “Man seeks woman not a cheating skank like Marcy Teddle.” The digital age has allowed great specificity of search, so it should come as no surprise that dating has now brought dog addled singles together as well.
The pet economy is recession proof, jumping up from the sixty billion dollars spent on pets last year, adding another two billion. Of course that reflects dollars spent on kibble, treats, and pet meds, but also includes the three hundred and fifty million dollars spent last year on pet costumes. Dogs know each other by their scent, of course, so it should come as no surprise that aspiring dog matchmakers would spend seventy-five dollars for “Sexy Beast”, an apparently irresistible dog perfume, and so it goes.
Those seeking their “forever person” with whom to share a new leash on life now have a wide range of digital doorways through which to whistle up a partner. Twindog/Tindog has been called Tinder for dog owners, but actually offers two services. Registered hounds can seek pals for play dates, and their owners can swap photos of pets and selves in order to find, well, play dates. The most unfortunate corporate branding is probably DateMyPet.com, a site not actually promoting cross-species frivolity. They would rather be known as, “…the leading free online dating website created exclusively for pet lovers. Whether you are looking for a life partner, a buddy for your pet or just someone to hang out with…”. Whew.
The very well received guide to finding the right dog-enhanced match, Leashes and Lovers: Where Dog Owners Meet, has broadened its base, now maintaining FetchaDate (“Find a date or even Love with Dog Lovers Like You”). The FetchaDate website does not mess around; whereas others present portraits of singles or a stationary happy couple, Fetch jumps to a video, up-close-to and slightly-ahead-of a laughing couple, each partner holding a squirming Parson Russell terrier while riding on a motorcycle. Neither human nor any of the dogs is wearing a helmet; the countryside rushes past the bike, the happy pair chortles, the dogs squirm, and the viewer’s stomach lurches at the thought of terriers flying as the bike takes a tight turn.
The book’s website is more restrained, well, slightly more restrained. We see a woman of middle age lounging against a sporty white convertible. There are dogs in the picture; she has one arm over the chunky head of a large dog of indeterminate breed while a sharp snouted collie -mix of some sort watches with vigilant nervousness from the back seat. Perhaps the word “slinking” or “draping” would be more evocative than lounging. She’s wearing a Leashes and Lovers t-shirt, low-slung jeans, and offers a smile that is simultaneously panicked and predatory.
The book itself does encourage the establishment of healthy relationships through a series of articles by dog loving writers of some celebrity. Cesar Milan takes a turn as one might expect, but contributors also include Rachel Ray, Monica Seles, and Howard Stern. The idea is that dogs can teach us valuable lessons about ourselves, thereby freeing us to become the person we are meant to be, and thus, suitably attractive to other completely self-actualised dog fanciers.
I’m not completely self-actualised yet, but a dog fan myself, married to an even more actively committed dog person, and we have both learned important lessons from our dogs. I’ve seen dogs actually correct unfortunate behavior, as was the case with a friend whose first impulse was to shout and toss his arms about when facing disagreement. His dog, a retired Dog for the Deaf, in those moments shrank sadly, refused to be patted, and moaned softly. My friend couldn’t take it; he learned to soften his voice and gestures, and the dog relaxed.
We did too.
I so believe in the ability of dogs to makes us better people that I am dismayed that this reasonably helpful book is marketed like a late-night infomercial. The cover is alluring. A woman’s long and perfectly shaped legs, crossed at the ankle, encased in delicate fishnet stocking, fall from the side of an overstuffed red chair. She’s lying sideways in this chair; we assume she’s reading the book, although, since we see only her legs, she might be experiencing any number of moments of pleasurable relaxation. There’s a dog, of course, a French Bulldog, peeking alertly from the depths of the chair, but there’s no doubt the book is marketed to women in search of ravishing romance and for a few men who find legs, fishnet, and stuffed furniture irresistible.
I find all bulldogs pretty irresistible, even though I know Darwinians take issue with breeds that are likely to develop hip dysplasia, cherry eye (don’t ask), deafness, brachycephalic respiratory syndrome, Stenotic nares ( narrow nostrils), and patellar luxation. Also, they pant, and the larger ones slobber. And yet …
It seems likely that folks who like dogs a lot probably do better in relationship with folks who share or have a high degree of tolerance for the dog-centered life. There may have been pet dating organizations back in the 20th Century, but I happily stumbled into a dog-centered life without really knowing that I love dogs as much as I do. I’ve loved all of our own dogs, but it’s significant, I think, that I’m more than eager to meet dogs of any size shape, or breed.
No slinking against convertibles for me, no wallowing in the embrace of armchairs, but I may send away for a t-shirt that simply asks: “Can I pet your dog?”