Although A DOG’S PURPOSE by W. Bruce Cameron sounds like it would be strictly for DOG PEOPLE, it is, in fact, a great book for all human beings. Told from the perspective of a dog who goes through several lives, it is funny, wise, and moving. You should read it. (PS—Thanks to Jane Plenge for the recommendation!)
If you are wondering whether you are a DOG PERSON or just a regular person, following is an essay I once wrote for The Sandpaper that should clear it up:
Many people believe the world is divided into two kinds of people: cat people and dog people. What they fail to see, however, is that there is a third category: DOG PEOPLE. Technologically-inclined readers will wonder why I am shouting. The answer is simple: I want to make sure the DOG PEOPLE can hear me over the barking.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that although I was raised among dogs, because of job constraints I have become more of a cat person. I’ve had two cats for most of my professional years, and we live in bliss, oblivious to my brother’s remarks about their eating habits (“Hey, Sa, how are your horses—I mean cows?”). Nevertheless, I am genetically and environmentally predisposed to like dogs and have had extensive exposure to the DOG WORLD. My mother is, in fact, a legendary DOG PERSON. She began breeding and showing bichon frisées when I entered kindergarten, and for a number of years was secretary of her dog club. All 85 of her dogs—to be more precise, bitches (as DOG PEOPLE say without flinching)—are champions. OK, maybe there aren’t 85 at the moment. Maybe it just sounds that way when I walk in the house, between the usual crew and my brother’s yappy wiener dogs (who seem to be perpetually visiting) and the puppies in the new dog room. All I’m saying is that as a result of my upbringing, I’ve encountered hundreds of dogs and their owners. I know DOG PEOPLE. Some day I plan to write a book about them called THE TIP OF THE DOGBERG.
One way to understand the difference between dog people and DOG PEOPLE is to consider these distinctions: some people have dogs as pets, while others put an addition on their house to accommodate the latest litter. Some people occasionally mention their dogs in conversation; others have, as my father puts it, “absolute, total recall of every dog show they’ve ever attended” and it is impossible to have a conversation with them that doesn’t revolve around dogs. For example, you could say, “It’s a nice day out—sunny, but windy,” and a DOG PERSON would respond, “It was like this five weeks ago at the show on Saranac Lake.”
People who attend dog shows of their own free will are clearly DOG PEOPLE. Apparently they enjoy the taste of burnt hot dogs and leftover liver. They remain unfazed by the pervasive aroma of dog poop and hairspray. Nor do they mind having to constantly watch where they step. And their lifestyles are largely nocturnal. Not content to travel short distances in daylight hours, they prefer to get up in the earliest hours of the morning (some call this “the middle of the night”) to drive hundreds of miles for the opportunity to run in circles for three-to-five minutes in hopes that the judge doesn’t hate them and will point at their dog for its champion qualities rather than someone else’s dog who obviously did not deserve to win.
As for those who do not show their dogs, the fastest way to tell if someone is a DOG PERSON is to put him or her in the same room with a known DOG PERSON. Until recently, I considered my sister-in-law Elaine (owner of the aforementioned wiener dogs) strictly a lowercase dog person. That was until she spent 45 solid minutes before Easter dinner talking to my mother about agility pre-training, the pros and cons of different collars, the most effective flea and tick spray, and how often she should wash her new dog’s ears. Elaine is living proof that you don’t have to attend dog shows to be a DOG PERSON.
Though it may be harder to identify DOG PEOPLE who do not go to dog shows, most DOG PEOPLE are easy to spot (no pun intended). They spend a lot of time together and they care as much about their dogs as most people do about their children. Not long ago when I went to visit my parents, I found them hosting several DOG FRIENDS who wanted to see the puppies. My mother introduced me, and one man nodded approvingly, noting, “We used to have a Great Dane named Sarah.” I glanced at my father and he bit his lip. He loves dogs, but says he “lacks the qualities that would make [him] a qualified DOG PERSON,” including but not limited to obsessive discussion of dog features (which he finds “often hard to distinguish”), dog pedigrees (“arcane and mystifying”), and dog shows (“utterly subjective”). I would describe him more as a DOG PERSON BY ASSOCIATION, also known as a DOG SITTER. He doesn’t attend shows (preferring to stay home and move the wood pile from one end of his property to the other, then back again, using only a wheelbarrow and thick gloves), but periodically he invents dog-related contraptions such as elaborate string-and-hook gates, dog-door awnings, and pooper scoopers with extended handles. He has lived with my mother for long enough to know that he should sit quietly during lunch with DOG PEOPLE and not leave the room screaming, despite that temptation.
So, being a DOG PERSON requires hard work and devotion, plus a high tolerance for other DOG PEOPLE. And being a DOG SITTER can be equally demanding. When my mother goes to shows, she leaves my father in charge of the remaining dogs. Dog-sitting is not as easy as it sounds. I remember one bright summer day when I stopped by and found my father sitting in the back yard, reading the newspaper while several puppies frolicked nearby. The setting was deceptively peaceful. My parents live on a Christmas tree farm in the middle of nowhere, populated mainly by deer and giant hawks, and I noticed several hawks with six-foot wing spans circling overhead. At any moment one could swoop down and nab a puppy. When I asked my father how he was doing, he said, “Hold on. Let me check.” He lowered the newspaper and counted the puppies. “OK,” he said and wiped his brow. “The pressure’s really on.”
I asked him what he would do if a hawk were to scoop up one of the puppies.
“I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that,” he said, “but I would obviously have to leave town and join the Witness Protection Program.”
Though I didn’t mention this to him at the time, it occurs to me now that no matter where my father ended up, he would invariably bump into some DOG PEOPLE. And they would probably know my mother. Even the Feds could not protect him then.