Fair warning: dog lovers may not wish to read this essay. It is not all complimentary of “canis in speciebus,” the proper Latin name for “man’s best friend.” Some of what follows may offend those who believe that a dog can do no wrong or harm. Maybe not all dog owners adhere to this belief, but read what follows at your own risk.
Rome, like most large cities, seems to have a sizeable canine population, at least in the historic center of the city where I live and walk. I presume there are strict leash laws in place here and people seem to obey them. Rarely do I see dogs running loose and when I do I am surprised. But I have on occasion. One such dog appears to be very old and nearly blind, living at a little art studio near the Piazza Farnese. He takes strolls alone in fairly close proximity to home and no one seems to care. Apart from such aberrations, dogs are only seen on a leash, with master or mistress in tow.
Speaking of which, do people not know who the boss is? It sometimes appears otherwise as owners or walkers are going where the dog leads them and not vice versa.
There seems to be strict “clean up after your dog” laws in Rome as well. Sidewalks and streets are clear and there’s no need to jump over or avoid stepping in anything. The same laws clearly apply to the forty or so horses in town, whose owners use their equines to transport tourists around the city, as in other tourist haunts around the world. I know that “horse and buggies” is a controversial topic in places like New York City, and seems to be somewhat so in Rome as well, as least a few years ago, judging from some articles that a Google search turned up.
Staying on the topic of horses for a moment, I can honestly say as one who has worked with horses much of my life, that the ones I see in Rome appear well cared for and not treated cruelly. They are, of course, the bread and butter of their owners, so presumably handled with tender loving care.
Navigating heavy traffic and cobblestone streets are certainly downsides of the occupation and a potential hazard, but thankfully I have yet to see an accident (“incidente,” in Italian). There are laws in place that determine when the horses may be on the streets according to times of day and temperatures outside, and an expectation of regular rest and water when the horses are at work. Fines are imposed on owners caught doing otherwise.
Now back to the world of dogs. On my daily exercise walks I usually encounter men and women, perhaps more women than men, walking their dogs. Sometimes I also see what appear to be hired dog walkers, though with rarely more than two dogs. I say this because in New York I have seen people walking up to eight or ten dogs at a time, which is quite a sight to behold.
I suppose one’s living space dictates to some extent the size of dogs in Rome. We live in the midst of countless apartment complexes and not private homes, so I presume the limited space indicates that pets should be on the smallish size. Not surprisingly, I observe mostly small to tiny dogs here. An occasional Great Dame or Saint Bernard appears on the scene, but very rarely. Maybe they are with out-of-towners.
The canine pets I see on the sidewalks of Rome look friendly and harmless enough, but I always make a point of not walking too closely to any dog, on or off a leash. My purpose in doing this is to avoid having my heels, ankles or shins bitten. That happened to me once in Scotland when an innocent looking little dog lunged at me as we crossed paths in a wooded area, even though the dog was on a leash.
I can also recall from my youth that my brother and I were chased and perhaps even bitten by a dog in our suburban neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. We were both very young and probably traumatized by the experience. At least I was. I remain on the cautious side when it comes to meeting dogs, even sixty years later. Our mistake as youngsters may have been running from the attack dog, which of course eagerly chased us.
My simple “avoidance of dogs” plan seemed to be working fine in Rome and at times I wondered why I even bothered with it.
No longer do I wonder. Recently a dog on a leash took a serious snap at a tourist passing by just a little too close to the dog. “There you go,” I said to myself, “these innocent appearing canines are quite capable of flipping their wigs at any moment and biting the innocent.” The owner of the pet seemed “oh so surprised,” but I wasn’t in the least. The poor tourist was quite frightened by what had just taken place and thankfully did not act angrily toward the owner of the dog and just kept walking. I might have done otherwise.
Admittedly what I saw is the exception to the normally tranquil passing of people and dogs on the sidewalks or streets, but the exception adds weight to the adage: beware of the dog. Or in Latin: cave canem.
More than once I have thought that though they may look innocent and friendly, a dog may in fact be otherwise, if in some way provoked or threatened. Most owners seem to have little or no control over such mood swings in their pets. I will continue to keep my distance when encountering man’s best friend, but I’m afraid not mine, in the city of Rome.
And what about cats? They also deserve an essay, of course, which I will pursue at another time. I will say here that as you may have already guessed, I am more of a cat than a dog person. In fact I regularly take photos of cats I encounter in Italy, which I quickly send, thanks to WhatsApp, to a friend who does not like cats. Yes, even monks are mischief makers, not just dogs.