DOGS AND CULTURE WARS IN PARADISE





DOGS AND CULTURE WARS IN PARADISE

In recent years, my wife Barbara, our rescued border collie Chelsea and I have shared life in two places: a bedroom suburb north of Detroit, and Naples, Florida. In subtle ways, our dog's gentle, trusting manner has sharpened the contrast between these two addresses.

As Michigan snowbirds, and lifetime liberals, my wife and I at last realize how sheltered our own lives have been in Michigan. Before retiring, Barbara worked for a labor union. I taught college undergraduates. All our connections were with like-minded people.

In Naples during the winter, Strangers in a Strange Land is how we think of ourselves. We live on a golf course, and although our neighbors are cordial, they are almost all of them chest-thumping conservatives. Whenever politics comes up, they take it for granted we share their views. As new kids on the block, and greatly outnumbered, we bite our tongues and keep our commie-liberal-socialist opinions to ourselves.

What’s so weird is how these same defenders of gun rights and government small enough to drown in a bathtub are as doting and mushy toward their dogs as we are toward ours.

My neighbor across the street is a thoroughly likable octogenarian. He’s sitting right now on his driveway, in the sun. His favorite thing in the world is Debbie, the overweight cocker spaniel roaming and rooting around under the coconut palms in his yard. “How’s Debbie today? How’s my sweetykins? That’s a good doggy, that’s right, you get those geckos!”

He settles again in his lawn chair, head back, eyes closed. Having washed his beautiful Mercedes convertible, he will now catch some afternoon rays and listen to the radio. The hollow-sounding voice coming from his  open garage is unmistakably that of Rush Limbaugh, barking out the latest venom related to anything or anyone not to the political right of Louis XIV.

That's my problem: I don’t know how to square my neighbor’s unconditional love for an overfed cocker spaniel with his conviction that those in need deserve their fate, and that they are in no way a matter of our collective civic responsibility.

But seeing him like this--sunning himself and listening to Limbaugh, now and then cooing sweet nothings to Debbie--reminds me of a simple truth: without a shared allegiance to our dogs, things would be much chillier for me here in paradise.
HERE'S THE BOOK

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