Barry Saunders

A dog’s life for your humble columnist

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world and I’m wearing Milk Bone drawers.”

That was either Shakespeare or Norm on the TV show “Cheers.”

Regardless of who said it, that describes my current state of mind. After telling you about a recent encounter with a dog that didn’t cotton to me for one reason or another, I have been maligned, insulted and called every name you can think of – and some you can’t.

It is, let me tell you, an extremely sobering experience to learn that you are less popular than a dog.

Entering a local antique shop, I was approached by the store owner’s dog, Chester. He and I exchanged a long, suspicious look before the owner approached. “He doesn’t like black men with hats,” she said.

Chester’s HUGE fan club

She said that, not I. Yet, the first letter I received in response said, “Shame on you! Did you not learn anything from a certain reporter named Brian Williams? Was it a slow day and you thought perhaps the world needed something to further widen the gap in race relations? First of all, Chester has been going to the shop with the proprietor for many, many years. He has a HUGE fan club in the community. Obviously I am one on them. No, he does not care for men wearing hats – no matter what color they happen to be.”

The column, this woman wrote, “was fictitious, it was mean, it was untrue. ... I did not hear the shopkeeper say, ‘Chester doesn’t like black men in hats.’ I heard her say, ‘Chester doesn’t like MEN in hats.’ I’ve heard her say it before. I could be wrong, but I highly doubt it.”

Psst. Yes, you are wrong. Highly.

In response to my noting that the owner said the dog was a “therapy” dog, that same letter-writer wrote, “As for ‘therapy’ – I think it is a waste of time to ponder whether the shop owner said that Chester was a therapy dog, or IN therapy. A better utilization of your time might perhaps be therapy for YOU.”

Another Chester fan wrote, “The article you wrote is b.s. (T)hat dog is great. ... (R)ecant. Liar.”

Another asked, “You going to sue the dog now?”

Bow wow!!!

Reader Julie urged, “Please don’t judge Chester too harshly. Many years ago when I lived in Georgia, my dog had an uncharacteristic reaction to a black gentleman from a utility company. ... My dog growled, barked and lunged at the screen door. ... Naturally, I was mortified. I stuttered and stumbled my way through a profuse apology, but I wondered after he left what he must have thought of me. ... My second dog went nuts when my brother-in-law visited wearing a baseball cap. ... If you ever visit Chester’s establishment again, just remove your cap and have a Milk Bone in your hand.”

A reader named Anne wrote of a similar experience. “In the mid-1990s, I adopted Spot, a female spaniel/border collie mix,” she said. “Spot loved me, but she was pretty indifferent to everyone else. ... One day an African-American man came to the door – I think he was with FedEx. Spot went ballistic. I mean, full-on Cujo ballistic. It was awful. I couldn’t apologize enough. ... I can’t imagine what that poor man felt. I know I did not teach her to be that way, and knowing her former owners, they wouldn’t have, either.”

That – “Chester’s owner didn’t seem like someone who’d teach him to bare his fangs because of something as arbitrary as race” – is the same thing I wrote. (Of course I never said Chester bared his fangs at me, despite what some writers claimed.) I interviewed a dog trainer who said dogs sometimes react violently to people who look strange to them or who wear hats.

Bone summit?

Since writing about Chester, I’ve been called everything but a ham bone. Speaking of bones, I’d gladly sit down and share one with Chester if he’s willing – a bone summit, similar to the president’s beer summit.

A response from a reader named Bruce offered yet another possibility. “Hi Barry, Ever think of the possibility that rather than racially profiling, Chester was ugly profiling?”

Not until this minute, I hadn’t.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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