I took Jake for a walk this morning, and it struck me that if it weren’t for him, I might be invisible in this new place. And if it weren’t for other dogs, the people at the ends of their leashes would remain part of the faceless crowd for me as well. Our dogs barrel through all this reluctance to connect; they invariably stop and greet each other. Their lonely humans are then forced to stop and face each other with a smile, a nod, maybe a few words. After a few such encounters, we start recognizing each other’s dogs, and eventually, each other. The reticence dissolves, and we become part of each other’s community.
I confess to a ridiculous thought: When I first moved here and took Jake for a walk, I wondered whether dogs that were trained to respond to different human languages would still be able to understand each other in doggy language. Would a Canadian dog understand a German dog? Silly, I know. I guess I was so pre-occupied with not being able to communicate in words, I forgot that they aren’t always necessary to get the job done. In fact, they sometimes get in the way.
So when I read this article by an Arab-American who writes about people’s reactions to his new puppy, I was very touched:
I noticed something new was happening out there, something Arab-Americans have rarely experienced since Sept. 11. People on the street, in their cars, in the parking lot, and at the supermarket were giving me a new look—a friendly one.
Interesting how an animal can give us a human face.
Love My Dog, Love Me
The great Arab-Muslim-American puppy story.
By Ahmed Tharwat
Posted Friday, Nov. 12, 2004, at 9:44 AM PT
Having a dog in an Arab/Muslim household is an exhausting proposition. Who wants to wash or take a shower every time a dog touches or licks you, as I was brought up to do back home in Egypt? In Islamic tradition, Muslims are prohibited from touching the saliva of dogs. If you do come in contact with a dog, you’re supposed to wash your hands seven times before you pray. Most Muslims will avoid dogs at all cost to stay clean for their daily prayers. There are a few closet Muslim dog lovers, but they tend to keep their dogs outdoors.
Still, after a long nagging from my daughter and a few Internet pictures of an angelic beagle puppy, I reluctantly agreed to let a dog into our home under a few conditions. The dog was to stay downstairs in what is now known in our house as the bunker, and my praying area would be designated a "no-fly" zone for the dog.
We brought home the 6-week-old, 3-pound beagle on a cold, crisp Saturday afternoon. We named him Oliver. A few days after he had arrived at our house, I had to take Oliver with me to the supermarket. I noticed something new was happening out there, something Arab-Americans have rarely experienced since Sept. 11. People on the street, in their cars, in the parking lot, and at the supermarket were giving me a new look—a friendly one. Strangers who used to skillfully avoid eye contact now wanted to engage me in warm conversation. Patriotic national hotline tippers, who are usually more concerned about Muslim sleeper cells, now stopped me and cordially inquired about my puppy’s sleeping habits, breed, and big black eyes. Families congregated around me with their children to see the cute puppy, and they talked to him as if he should know what they were talking about
As a hyphenated-American, I discovered that owning a dog easily accomplished what many diversity training programs have failed to do for years. Regardless of our race, color, religion, or country of origin, we were one community of civilized dog lovers.
I now take Oliver everywhere I go. He is my post 9/11 homeland-security blanket. Arab-Americans: Get a puppy, now that you need a real friend.
Ahmed Tharwat produces and hosts the Arab/Muslim-American television show Belahdan in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.