Judge Not

Why dogs just be might better judges of character than humans

By Leslie Phelan


I don’t mean to brag, but I like to think I have a bit of animal magnetism going on. Critters love me! I’m like Snow White, but with a tan.

I believe I owe this magnetism to the very gentle, very “I won’t hurt you” vibe I try to give off to any creature I might beckon. Furry souls, be they wild or domesticated, trust me and let me in close. I like being liked by critters; it makes me feel like my aura projects an inviting and non-sketchy glow. Honestly, my fellow humans can think what they want of me, but the day animals stop liking me based on first impressions, I’ll know my first impression needs work.

Some dogs are friendly and love everyone, while some are much more selective. I’ve known dogs that were wary of children, some who simply didn’t like men, and, laughably but unfortunately, I’ve even known dogs who seemed to demonstrate a very obvious racism, one that continues to perplex my mixed-race friends who’ve had their dog since it was born.

So yeah, dogs may have the capacity to love unconditionally, but they also have the capacity to make a snap decision about how they feel about you, and no amount of tasty marrow bones can make them change their minds. In the case of my dogs, they like to bark up a storm any time they see a homeless person, or any person who is out of their head on drugs and booze.

One time the three of us were on a stroll and found ourselves at a park we like. It has a nice water fountain down the middle lined with young maples. There are also built-in stone chess tables, which always seemed to attract many older European men, while the shaded areas around the fountain tended to attract a junkie or two.

Now, whenever the pugs pass a derelict, they growl and bark without fail, never seeming to appreciate the more transient members of our society. It’s a little embarrassing, because it’s like they’re bullying someone who is already in a pretty sad state of affairs. Simply put, it’s unnecessary and rude. But they’re honest! You’ve gotta give ‘em that.


This particular day, we passed an especially unfortunate looking fellow—I’m pretty sure I had seen him the night before heating up a crinkle of tin foil and sucking the smoke through what looked like an empty Bic pen. It was the first time I’d seen someone free-base! I felt so downtown.

As we went by him, I pulled the leash in a little closer hoping to deter the pugs from barking. They barked anyway. But when the guy sat up and smiled at them, they ceased barking immediately and began to pull towards his outstretched hands, eager for a pat. It was so strange! Normally they’d bark at a guy like him without mercy, but to my surprise, they were softening up and inching towards him for some love. I guess they caught his vibe. I guess he looked harsher than he was, and they could sense it. And I guess that means street junkies can have magnetism, too.

While I was proud of their sudden open-mindedness, I hesitated to let it happen, what with being their mom and not knowing what germs could be hiding on his hands (fair, I think). But when I saw the joy their faces brought this dude, I let them approach him so the three of them could have a beautiful moment while I scanned the ground for syringes and other dangers.

Point of the story: sometimes the judgmental make exceptions, and sometimes it’s worth the entire bottle of doggie shampoo to let your little sunbeams shine a bit of love on someone who’s a little down’n’out.