Comments: Week of February 8, 2010

1. John Homans’s cover article on the shifting relationship between man and dog (“The Rise of Dog Identity Politics,” February 1) sent many readers to to compliment the story and proclaim their love for all things canine. A sampling: “My dog is a member of my family and actually causes much less angst than they do.” “This is the most perfect canine study I have ever read, and it is also a love story. It is obvious that the author loves and understands all dogs.” “I had swine flu earlier this year. You know the only one who would come near me for two weeks? That’s right … my dog.”

Of course, the piece raised more than a few hackles, particularly among the many dog-oriented organizations mentioned. A member of PETA wrote in to defend its approach to neutering and euthanasia: “While it’s true that some lucky dogs live pampered lives as ‘honorary humans,’ countless others know nothing but suffering. That’s why PETA does what it does: pushing hard for spay/neuter legislation; providing veterinary care; and providing a peaceful, painless passing to broken beings for whom it is undoubtedly the most humane option.” Proponents of the American Kennel Club also felt they were given short shrift. “While most folks’ perception of the AKC is formed through watching events like the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual show, the AKC also endorses a multitude of performance events held across the nation in herding, lure-coursing, earth-dog trials, agility, obedience, tracking, and more. To say that modern purebred dogs are no longer used for their originally intended purpose is totally inaccurate.”

The most strident objectors were the pit-bull lovers, who felt their favorite pooch had been unfairly maligned. “This breed is the one that needs to be adopted and not shunned,” wrote one. “Maybe you should have put more thought into this article. As it stands, you look like a poseur dog lover.” Homans went online to respond. “Take it easy! I wasn’t criticizing pit bulls … I think they’re great dogs, in a lot of ways … But I do think that the fact that pit bulls are the predominant dog in many urban shelters is a situation that demands thought and study.”

2. Jennifer Gonnerman’s inside account of the Tryon juvenile facility in upstate New York (“The Lost Boys of Tryon,” February 1) left commenters deeply divided and thoughtful about the need for juvenile detention. Many came down strongly in favor of Commissioner Gladys Carrión’s efforts to close the program. “Commissioner Carrión seems like the only person in this sorry mess who seems to understand the problem, wrote one supporter. Other readers thought Gonnerman’s story neglected the need for, and some of the real benefits of, programs like those at Tryon. “[Carrión] is against juvenile facilities and what they represent and cannot imagine any good happening for kids in them,” says one former OCFS staffer. “The truth is that a lot of good, caring people have worked at Tryon and other OCFS facilities over the years and have changed a lot of kids’ lives.” A few former residents of Tryon also shared their complex feelings regarding the facility. “Between the years of ’03–’06 I would of loved the fact that Tryon was thinking about being closed,” said one former resident. “But I now understand what it would mean if it did. I was in for 34 months, and I don’t regret one day I spent there or meeting the people I did. I agree that there needs to be more money put into the system so kids such as myself can learn important life skills. I believe that with the skills that I learned there I was able to obtain the job that I have now.” An OCFS employee wrote, “A touching and thought-provoking article. This state can certainly do better with regard to the treatment of juveniles. While Commissioner Carrión decries the horrors of the agency that she runs, she has done precious little to improve conditions. I have worked in this agency for 30 years and have never seen facility conditions as bad as they are under this present administration.” Last Tuesday, more Tryon-related news broke: Justice Milton Tingling ruled on behalf of a Tryon resident who was kept in shackles for fifteen hours, repealing an OCFS policy that had juvenile offenders regularly shackled when transported between facilities.

3. Mike Vilensky’s “Intelligencer” interview with Ben Whishaw and Hugh Dancy (“Role Play,” February 1) opened with the assumption that both actors were straight—an assessment that was challenged (in regards to Whishaw) by Michael Musto on his Village Voice blog and by Out magazine editor-in-chief Aaron Hicklin. Whishaw never corrected Vilensky’s assumption, but we respect his privacy on the matter. The mix-up sparked a conversation on between Vilensky and Daily Intel co-editor Chris Rovzar (both gay themselves) on how to address an unknown sexuality. A snippet:

CHRIS ROVZAR: It’s funny, I feel like it doesn’t bother me to be confused for straight. Really, it’s a safe-ish assumption for someone to make. Most people are straight. What’s actually offensive is when straight people are offended to be confused for gay.

MIKE VILENSKY: Which, in a way, makes it offensive that someone would be offended by being confused for straight.

ROVZAR: Yeah, it’s like, “I’m not straight. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

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Comments: Week of February 8, 2010