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Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010
WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST
It's a dog's world — cute and crazy
I don't feel old and don't look old either, although my wife and bathroom mirror both disagree. Yet, I am approaching the age where I would not mind a grandchild.
You know . . . an impish little girl with curly hair and non-stop giggles. Someone to bounce upon my knee and play patty-cake with until her diapers say its time to hand her back to her parents.
From time to time I will mention this whimsy to my sons, both short of marriage prospects at the moment. They differ dramatically in personality, but in this case respond with identical comebacks . . .
"Why don't you get a dog?"
A "dog" they say?
And why not!? Isn't that the choice du jour of modern day Japan? Where a plummeting birthrate has been X-ed over by a skyrocketing puppy rate? Indeed, multiple Internet sources report there are more dogs in Japan these days than there are kids. Japan has gone to the dogs, whole hog.
Somehow this is cute. And somehow this is crazy. Cute and crazy — that's the Japanese obsession with pets. A sign of a healthy society? Or one in the dog house?
I meet the dogs of my neighborhood twice a day, once when I trudge to work in the morning and then again when I mosey home, both during prime dog-walking hours. Yeah, there's a golden retriever here and a Labrador there, plus a few mutts everywhere. But most of the dogs look like runaways from a knick-knack shelf . . .
Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, poodles, Pomeranians, Yorkshire terriers and some coffee-cup-sized breeds that make the others seem like Ultraman monsters.
These Disney-esque creatures parade around my neighborhood in their bonnets and bells and designer rain gear. One or two will glance my way and offer a happy wave of the tail — that is, if they're not too busy sniffing each other. Meanwhile, their owners cluster around in groups of two or three and sharpen their tongues on gossip.
A woman a few doors down is one of these, walking a Calvin Klein-style terrier so heart-stoppingly cute I can barely resist the temptation to tear it away and carry it home. And I might too, if it could play patty cake.
A woman I work with, meanwhile, cannot pass a day without jawing about the continuing adventures of her dog, "Betty," who lights up her life. The rest of us then reflect in the afterglow.
Like . . . "Oooh, you should have seen Betty this morning!" Or . . . "Betty did the funniest thing!" Or . . . "Betty has learned to poop in the very same spot each day! How clever!" (Hmmph. Not so hard. I do that myself.)
But it's on weekends that Betty really swings. That's when her owner drives her two hours to commune with her purebred "sister," so that the two dog siblings not lose track of each other. And then perhaps they all go to a dog cafe. Or to a dog-only pool. Or a dog onsen.
It is, after all, a dog's life.
Both my neighbor lady and coworker are peaches. There is not an ounce of Cruella De Vil in either of them.
Surely they've heard of the puppy mills that keep crafting out mini-creations for a land just salivating for cute and with the coin to pay for it. Never mind a genetic defect here and there. And shorter doggie life spans.
No, they are just workaday people trying to make the best of life in suburbia. Yet besides their pleasant natures and love of dogs they do share one other trait . . .
People go childless for a number of reasons and choice is often not one of them. There's a personal element here that is improper to joke about, especially with lame offerings like mine. I also know that in many households, dogs are not a substitute for children.
Yet in the exhilarating cuteness of the doggie boom, I cannot also help but sense an element of sadness. And I wonder what Japan will do if the number of dogs keeps outstripping the number of kids.
Will we have doggie cram schools, to train the mutts in piano, abacus and tea ceremony? Will we have man-to-dog English conversation classes, to teach Fido to yelp in two languages? Will we have doggie universities? With majors in Shepherding, Bomb Detection and Human Therapy? And will we have Japanese conglomerates interviewing pooches for jobs? After all, they'd probably work for table scraps. Plus office parties would be a howl.
In the end, even though I am fond of our four-legged friends myself, I cannot help but conclude that Japan needs less dogs and more kids.
Except in two instances.
"I have read," I tell my two boys, "that one of the best ways to meet girls is to walk a dog." While I do not know if cuter dogs connect to cuter girls, I do know dogs are instant conversation makers.
So — boys — don't tell your old man to get a dog. Go get one yourselves.
And hurry up. I'm ready for patty-cake.