I was on my way out of St. John the Divine, on 112th Street, after a Saturday night concert when I heard a woman behind me say in a loud, distinctly annoyed tone of voice, “But I don’t understand; why don’t they allow dogs in here?”
At first I was taken aback. For heaven’s sake, how ridiculous, I
thought. Dogs in a cathedral? With the barking, the peeing, the
panting—maybe even the biting? What kind of an animal fanatic was this
woman, anyway? The concert we were coming from had featured solo harp
music, during which even bodies shifting in their seats made too much
noise; I could only imagine what a dog whimpering away would have been
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a cat owner. Cat owners and
dog owners are a bit like the Jets and the Sharks: In general, dog
owners think cats are cold, finicky, standoffish animals; conversely,
cat owners are enormously bewildered that anyone would intentionally
structure his life so he would be regularly picking up his pet’s poop in
the rain at 6 a.m.
However, on my way home, I started thinking about Paris and the way
people there are allowed to take their beloved pooches to restaurants
and cafes. Who can argue with the super-civilized behavior of the
French? After all, dogs are loyal companions, and it would make a big
difference to a lot of people if their owners could take them with them
more often. Under New York City’s health code, pets are not allowed
inside restaurants unless they are service animals, even though some
restaurants allow it anyway. But why not? Is the toting of small dogs in
carriers really that much different than bringing babies in strollers?
Is my health really endangered by the close proximity of a lap dog?
By the time I got to my apartment, I was feeling some solidarity with
the complaining stranger. After all, this kind of “uppity” behavior is
one of the things I love about New York City. Where else could anyone be
totally incensed that her Cairn terrier was not allowed to enjoy Bach’s
Fugue in D Minor at a famous Episcopal cathedral? The brashness, the
feeling of freedom and entitlement and desire for progress that
Americans are traditionally known for is intensified in New York.
In D.C., Boston, London—indeed, in most other Western cities—people
will line up in an orderly fashion at the train station. In New York,
they tend to rush the gate. It’s not a myth; we really are pushier here.
I may have been brought up by mild-mannered parents, but after 20-plus
years of living in New York I find myself challenging the rules, testing
the boundaries, pushing the envelope much more than if I had lived
somewhere else—though I always try to smile when I find myself saying
something like, “That doesn’t work for me; is there any way you can make
New Yorkers are the best in the world at moving the line just a
little farther than where it started. If a rule does not make sense, we
challenge it. This keeps things stirred up, but also engenders progress.
We are always demanding our rights (or what we see as our rights),
always wanting more, never satisfied with the status quo—Why can’t I use
my mobile device everywhere I want? Why can’t I eat my dinner on the
subway? Why can’t I bring my kid to this adults-only thing? Why can’t I
take flash photos of this museum exhibit? Why can’t I buy exotic fruits
from Japan all year round? Why can’t I go topless in public? Why can’t I
bring my dog to the harp concert?
Dogs might not be able to get into St. John the Divine, but what they
can do in New York is get married. What was reportedly the most
expensive dog wedding in history was held just a few weeks ago at the
Jumeirah Essex House Hotel on Central Park South. It cost
$158,187.26—though, alas, it was not a church wedding.
Keep on pushing, New Yorkers. If you don’t, who will?