Friday, June 28, 2013

Barking up the Wrong Castle

I always stop to have a chat if I see a person walking with a greyhound. Back home, my family has rescued four greyhounds over the past decade, and I have a great affinity for the breed. As I have traveled through England, this tendency I have developed has been aided by the fact that the country is so dog-friendly. In my travels, I have currently chatted with three greyhound owners (although one of the dogs was a mix that baffled me because it had a greyhound's body with a face not associated with the breed). In this country, dogs seem to be almost ubiquitous in daily life. I have seen people walking with their dogs in every community I have visited (most notably a black and white breed that I can't identify that seems to be extraordinarily common here). England most definitely has a strong pedestrian culture, with near-constant access to scenic views and winding hilly roads. In this environment, dogs are a great traveling companion. I have seen people take their dogs places I never imagined would be allowed, inside second-hand bookstores, stately house museums, and ruined castles. In England, it seems like dog accessibility is the default for any outdoor site, with signage being required to bar dog owners from bringing their pets with them.

The experience of seeing dogs at ancient places has challenged my views of where pets should be allowed. I initially shuddered at the idea of a pet defecating upon the grave of a fourteenth-century monk or digging at the ground where, perhaps, valuable archaeological finds could be buried. After all, a dog doesn't have the knowledge or appreciation of the past that humans have developed. As I continued to notice visitors who brought their pets to sites, I quickly retracted this line of thought. Even if animals do not have an inherent respect for historic sites, it would take the most negligent owner combined with the most destructive dog to truly negatively impact the historic location. On top of that, greater access for visitors to bring pets would no doubt increase their number. As it stands, sites, especially those operated by English Heritage, put an emphasis on family and youth events. I know from experience that the responsibility of pet ownership tempers the amount of time you are willing to spend outside the house, as the longer you are away from home, the more you  picture your dog hungry, bored, and possibly fouling the carpet. In a country where most sites are technically within driving distance, at least for a day trip, the ability to bring along a beloved pet would enhance your experience while allowing you to spend more guilt-free hours at a historic location. If a family brings a dog along, children who might otherwise be quickly put off by a historic learning experience will learn to associate sites with good times and family, driving future generations to return and perhaps purchase National Trust or English Heritage membership. If heritage conservation is a business, fun and family are crucial to its marketing. Perhaps some dog poop on ancient things is a necessary ingredient for the future of the field.

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