Dog act: I’m sorry, but your ‘fur baby’ is not the same as my child

I was sitting at a cafe last week with my three-month-old son when an older woman approached our table and pointed at the baby. “He is so cute,” she said, and I agreed.

We then played out a familiar script that normally follows in these kinds of situations.

How old is he? Three months. What’s his name? Archie. Is he a good baby? So far, so good.

High tea with your pet. This is a totally normal thing happening between a dog and its owner at The Langham in Sydney.

It was a pleasant interaction but one that had reached a natural conclusion, so I smiled and returned to staring at my coffee. Until the woman thrust a leash toward me, and connected to the leash was a small, fluffy white dog. “This is my fur baby, Willow.”

I looked at Willow, who looked either at me or through me and then back at the woman. She asked me if I would like to pat Willow, which forced me into uttering the six words I knew would turn this exchange sour: “I’m not really a dog person.”

At this point, a second lady with a dog of her own joined our group (were we a group now?), and the cycle began from the start. “Oh, what a cute baby. How old is he?” she asked.

Before I could answer, Willow’s owner (her fur mother) cut me off: “Don’t worry about him; he’s not a dog person.” And with that, the two ladies, and their fur babies, turned and walked away.

For the longest time, I tried to hide the fact I was not a dog person for this exact reason.

Australia is a country obsessed with dogs. There are an estimated 28.7 million pets here, and we have one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world, with dogs being the most common.

We love all types of dogs in all kinds of contexts. We take our dogs to work, to the beach and to the salon. No doubt there are dog-friendly pubs in your suburb, not to mention cafes that proudly serve puppucinos for their loyal doggo customers. There are even hotels that offer Pet Staycations, so you can holiday with your hound.

Dogs are so ingrained into our national psyche that our most recognisable cultural export is Bluey, a show about a family of blue heelers.

None of that bothers me. Despite being someone who is not fussed about dogs, I am happy to co-exist in a world where they reign supreme. Sadly, the reverse is not true.

To publicly out yourself as a non-dog person is to admit you are a monster. We are living in arguably the most progressive time in history, where people are largely free to be whoever they want to be. Unless, of course, you’re not into dogs.

Now it’s worth putting on the public record that I don’t actually hate dogs; I’m just not a dog person. Ironically, I do hate cats – but everyone hates cats except for cat people, who we all know to be strange anyway.

When it comes to dealing with dog people, there is no reasoning. Unless you are prepared to drop to your knees and scream “DOGGO!” whenever one crosses your path, you are nothing short of heartless.

This perhaps explains why it seemed easier to live a lie than risk becoming a leper.

If I encounter a dog in a group setting, I join the chorus of oohs and aahs, petting the dog while counting down the minutes until I can wash my hands.

I pretend to care about what breed a stranger’s dog might be when accosted outside the supermarket. Cavoodle, you say? And what is that crossed with?

Friends make Instagram pages for their dogs, and I enthusiastically hit follow despite having a visceral reaction to anyone who types in the first person as an animal.

I might’ve continued masquerading as a dog person had it not been for the arrival of my child. One of the upsides of parenthood is that you can blame your baby for almost anything.

To publicly out yourself as a non-dog person is to admit you are a monster.

“Sorry, he’s scared of dogs” is one of my most used phrases now, even though he’s not really scared of anything except for being awake longer than an hour.

Eventually, I realised hiding behind my son was, for lack of a better term, a dog act. So, I have started telling people (quietly, in a whisper) that I am not a dog person.

For the most part, the response has been predictable: disgust followed by shock followed by desperate attempts to convert or guilt me. Don’t you know dogs are scientifically proven to make you happier? Don’t you know people who don’t like dogs can’t be trusted?

Every so often, a brave soul will meet my eyes and whisper back: “Me neither.”

It’s comforting to know there are others out there like me, a secret society of non-dog people doing their best to keep a low profile.

Ultimately, I think we must focus on the larger picture here. We don’t have to agree to get along; it’s fine to be a dog person or a non-dog person.

The thing I really don’t get are those who don’t like babies. Like, who wouldn’t want to hold my baby?

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