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  • Barry

Dogs and Culture Wars in Paradise

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

This photo of two cocker spaniels makes me think of an old saying: "Let sleeping dogs lie." It also makes me think of my years as a snowbird.

My wife Barbara, our dog Chelsea and I used to spend the winter months in Naples, Florida, known to the locals as "paradise." The rest of the year we lived in a suburb north of Detroit. As lifetime liberals, we came to realize just how sheltered our lives were in Michigan. All our friends and family were pretty much in agreement on most things.

In Naples, though, we lived on a golf course, and although our neighbors were cordial, they were almost all of them chest-thumping conservatives. Whenever politics came up, they took it for granted we shared their views. As new kids on the block, and greatly outnumbered, we bit our tongues and kept our opinions to ourselves.

What was so weird was how these same defenders of gun rights, and government small enough to drown in a bathtub were as doting and mushy toward their dogs as we were toward ours.

My neighbor across the street was a likable retiree. As he sat on his driveway, his favorite thing in the world was Debbie, the overweight cocker spaniel roaming and rooting around under the coconut palms in his yard. “How’s Debbie today? How’s my sweetykins? That’s a good doggy, you get those geckos!”

He'd settle again in his lawn chair, head back, eyes closed. Having washed his beautiful Mercedes convertible, he was now catching some rays and listening to the radio. The voice coming from his open garage was that of a local Talk Radio host, barking out contempt for anything or anyone not to the political right of Louis XIV.

That was my problem: How could I square my neighbor’s unconditional love for his overfed cocker spaniel with his politics?

But seeing him like that--sunning himself and listening, now and then cooing sweet nothings to Debbie--always reminded me of a simple truth: without a shared allegiance to our dogs, things would have been much chillier in paradise.

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