Seattle’s Dogs and Their Owners

Seattle is a city of over 150,000 dogs and only about 100,000 children, the second-most distorted ratio after San Francisco. I spent my first 8+ years here working at a company that allows dogs to accompany their owners to work. I’ve adapted to a city where dogs are firmly in charge.

Before I moved to Seattle in 2006 I was the furthest thing from a “dog person.” A few of my friends and relatives had dogs but I usually avoided or ignored the pets during visits and parties. I had also never worked at a company that allowed employees to bring a dog to work; less than 10 percent of companies do so.

A Seattleite and their dog must never be separated. In one of the nastiest exchanges I saw on a widely-subscribed mailing list at Amazon, my colleague Sean said that he was allergic to dogs and requested that others honor the rules stating that common areas of buildings remain dog-free. One outraged dog owner responded that if he couldn’t take his dog everywhere at work, he would demand that Sean couldn’t take his son to work in revenge. The dog owner also insisted that Sean take pills to treat his dog allergy, a demand that I later learned was illegal in the U.S. When threatened, dog owners are scarier than their pets are.

Despite rules and laws that ban pets in supermarkets, in restaurants, in coffee shops, and on city buses, enforcement is lax. Some owners try to skirt the law by falsely claiming their pets to be service animals. At my nearest coffee shop, the few negative reviewers include dog owners who are upset that baristas enforce the no-pets rule. Norm’s Eatery, a restaurant near my office, openly flauts the law by allowing pets inside. Hungry and thirsty dog owners presumably cover any fines that Norm’s receives. Dogs are legally welcome at breweries and beer stores which lack kitchens and at food trucks with their lack of indoor seating.

I’ve also come to accept the insistences of my dog-owning friends and colleagues that big dogs are well-behaved. Most of the time this is true. The logic goes that small dogs are yappy and exciteable because they’re unlikely to do much damage, while some of the larger dogs look like they could drag their owners down the block and knock humans down if they got out of control. I’m impressed that in over eight years at Amazon I can only recall a few issues with dogs making messes. In some cases the owners had to bring a troublesome dog home and leave it there. That’s good news. If a dog and its owner are a package, what’s the etiquette for “my senior manager took a dump next to my desk?”

In addition, I’ve learned about the social cues of dog culture. When meeting a person with a dog, it’s expected to acknowledge and greet the dog with only a token greeting to its owner beforehand. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about dog breeds including the ubiquitous Labradoodle. Even though my current employer doesn’t allow dogs in the office, I’ve had a few colleagues bring their dog just outside the office to a hero’s welcome.

This is part 7 of 10 Years, 10 Things to Love, a yearlong series commemorating my 10th anniversary of moving to Seattle.