Last week, La Salle University introduced a new “initiative.” The school’s officials decided to open one of its residence halls to dogs. Students will now be able to apply to have dogs join them at the Philadelphia campus. All that is required is that the dog meets certain specifications (under 30 pounds and not a member of certain breeds, including pit bulls) and that all the roommates agree.

“Allowing students the option to bring a pet to campus provides many opportunities for self-growth,” said Alan Wendell, assistant vice president of residence life and community development, in a release on the university’s website. “Owning a dog helps teach responsibility and compassion, both of which are important life skills we hope to instill in our students.”

This may not seem like a remarkable development. And in the grander scheme of things, it really isn’t. But it is, I think, one more notable step in our culture’s wholesale embrace of dogs. Dogs are nearly everywhere now. And no one seems to have consulted people who might not be happy with that.

I should pause here to qualify myself. I am not a “dog person.” I don’t own a dog. But I like dogs. I’m always happy to pat a head, scratch a back, etc. My primary reason for not having a dog is that I really don’t need one more thing for which to be responsible. Dogs have always seemed like a lot of work.

That extra responsibility hasn’t stopped a majority of Americans from having dogs. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, 60.2 percent of American households cared for at least one of the 89.7 million dogs that lived in the U.S. in 2017. And, according to the American Pet Products Association, dog ownership rates have climbed nearly 30 percent in the last decade.

It’s no wonder dogs are making their way into college dorms, restaurants, airplanes and big box stores. Their owners are the majority.

While I don’t mind dogs in public spaces, I can’t help but wonder how those who are either afraid of dogs or don’t like them are faring in our new age of dogs. To make matters worse, some dog owners seem oblivious to the fact that there may be some out there who would rather not have dogs out and about. They walk into offices, shops and other public places, with dogs wandering off leash as if they have as much right to these spaces as the people in them.

I don’t think we should restrict dogs from all public spaces. But I do think we need a new etiquette for dog owners who should put some effort into considering what places are and aren’t appropriate for their pets. More importantly, they need to be sure that a dog off a leash is welcomed by the people in that space.

At the risk of ticking off dog owners, I do think public spaces should be for people first. Even in Chestnut Hill, where I don’t doubt that dogs are more popular than the national average (and probably more popular than people in general). Just think before you take a dog into a public space. That is all.

Pete Mazzaccaro

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