NYT etiquette columnist in the dog house over chained pup

UPDATE: We are pleased to report that Galanes heard the pleas of Betsy Sherman - and apparently several hundred others - who thought he ought to have referred the questioner to local humane officers. Here's what he wrote on Sunday (7/28):

Last Sunday, I answered a question about friendly neighbors who keep their cocker spaniel chained up all day. The letter writer wanted to improve the dog’s life, while preserving her relationship with its owners. In my zeal to foster good (human) relations, I neglected to note that chaining up a dog all day might be abusive and is outlawed in many areas. I also missed several signs that the spaniel’s health was possibly being neglected.

Not to worry: several hundred trusty readers let me know I missed the boat. Most suggested an anonymous call to the Humane Society, the local animal control agency or a veterinarian, all of whom might provide help — and improve this pooch’s quality of life. Good thinking, readers.


Reading the New York Times over breakfast has been a Sunday ritual since my childhood. The Styles section, with its society coverage, party pics and wedding announcements, is dessert.

The addition of Philip Galanes' "Social Qs" column has made the section that much more enjoyable. A modern-day Emily Post, Galanes takes questions on every imaginable sensitive or awkward social situation with humor and dispatches pointed advice.

Then just last week Galanes, well, stepped in it, with his response to a question about a neighbor's chained dog. Here is the Q & A:

We live in a university town with sharp racial and town-and-gown divisions. So we value our good relationship with our neighbors, who are on the opposite side of both divides. We maintain a shared driveway together, chat across the fence and give each other’s children gifts. Just one problem: They have a cocker spaniel, which they chain up outside, all day, every day. He is skinny, has matted hair and never goes on walks. We feel terrible every time we see him, but don’t know what to say. Is there a way to improve this dog’s life without ruining our relationship with the neighbors?



If it takes a village to raise a child, why shouldn’t it take a neighborhood to raise a cocker spaniel? Many will sympathize with your (and the pooch’s) plight. I know I do. But I suspect that any pet pointers you give your neighbors will go over about as well as nutritional lectures to the parents of children wolfing down Happy Meals. Nobody likes a scold — especially when he’s right.

How about knocking on your neighbors’ door and saying (with a big smile) that you are going to start walking in the evening for exercise. Then add, “Would you mind if I took Spot along?” It’s hard to imagine their saying no. It may even kick-start their own pet-ownership skills. And a peaceful walk may do you the world of good, too. If you don’t want to pitch in, that’s fine. But you should probably keep quiet about this one, and remember your decision the next time you look into those sad spaniel eyes.

 Virginia resident Betsy Sherman wrote to Galanes expressing her outrage over his answer. She said he was ignoring a clear case of animal abuse and that the authorities should be contacted at once. She points out correctly that a growing number of municipalities are banning chaining itself.

"The welfare of the suffering dog should take precedence over etiquette concerns. What on earth were you thinking?" she wrote.

A chagrined Galanes - whose column reaches 2.3 million readers - sent  Sherman a note saying she was right and explained that he must have been preoccupied with the idea of getting the dog walked. "As a dog lover myself I can't imagine what I was thinking," he wrote.

Galanes said he contacted the questioner to urge them to report the situation to authorities and promised to try to address the subject in this Sunday's column.

Thank you Betsy for enlightening a columnist with a huge global reach about animal welfare issues and for sharing the exchange with me.