Animal or Accessory? 'Ask Amy' Weighs In Do you tuck your dog in your handbag as your personal travel accessory? Chicago Tribune columnist Amy Dickinson has received many letters about this growing trend. She discusses the fad of canine friends as shopping companions.
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Animal or Accessory? 'Ask Amy' Weighs In

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Animal or Accessory? 'Ask Amy' Weighs In

Animal or Accessory? 'Ask Amy' Weighs In

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Right now, it's time to ask Amy. There are some dogs that are meant for carrying in handbags - Chihuahuas, Pekingese, Bichon Frise, and, of course, any dog with teacup as a prefix. Certain tiny breeds are portable and their devoted owners can't seem to go anywhere without them, including on a Saturday shopping spree. But the sight of someone's precious, fuzzy mongrel sniffing at a Macy's displays or the butcher's meat case make some people wish that Fluffy(ph) or Fifi(ph) would end up as some meatier dog's lunch.

Amy Dickinson syndicated "Ask Amy" columnist for the Chicago Tribune has been getting a lot of letters about this miniature canine interlopers.

Do you bring your dog everywhere from the frozen food aisle to the office supply store? Or do you shudder to see a tiny canine head peep out of someone's purse? Give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is And you can also comment on our blog. It's at

So it's Thursday, in time for our visit from Amy Dickinson. She joins us as she does every other week to help us with behavior both human and in this case, canine.

And Amy, welcome.

Ms. AMY DICKINSON (Columnist, Chicago Tribune): Hi, Anthony. Hey, I'm talking to you today from Manchester, New Hampshire.


Ms. DICKINSON: And there's a wonderful town and there's a great story in today's union leader about pet ownership.

BROOKS: Oh, good. Let's hear it.

Ms. DICKINSON: Yeah, there are 70 - more than 70 million pet owners in this country, and that's up over 7 percent, they think, from just last year. So there are a lot more pet owners. And I think at several million of them seemed to own a teacup dogs.

BROOKS: So what's this issue all about - these people carrying these dogs around? What - I noticed that you took this up in your column. What are you hearing?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, I ran a letter from somebody who says she was in a store and a gentleman, I think, it was - pulled a - as he was at the, you know, the belt where you put your groceries - he pulled his dog out and put it on the counter while he was getting out his money. And she said, I - my kids are allergic. I really don't want to see dogs inside these buildings where I'm going to shop and bringing my children who are exposed to these allergens. So I ran the letter, I weighed in. She mentioned Paris Hilton. And okay, I took the opportunity to blame everything on Paris Hilton. And, you know…

BROOKS: Always a good idea. Right, yeah.

Ms. DICKINSON: Who wouldn't? Right.

BROOKS: Of course.

Ms. DICKINSON: It's just good policy. And so this unleashed a tide of responses, many from dog owners who frankly want to bring their dogs everywhere.

BROOKS: But, Amy, what did you - I mean, what was your advice? You said you weighed in. What did you tell her?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, what I said was that, you know, I think that any time you see anything in the store that you don't think belongs in the store, you should actually go to the store manager, ask them their policy. And, you know, the person should be informed. Actually, dogs should not be permitted in food stores. I think that's just basic good sense.

A lot of stores in Chicago where I live have relaxed their policies about dogs coming into shops. But food - you know, food stores should not permit dogs in there.

BROOKS: Well, we want to hear from our listeners. 800-989-8255. 800-989-8255 -that's 989-TALK.

Let's first go Chad(ph) who's calling from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Hi, Chad.

CHAD (Caller): Hi. How you doing?

BROOKS: Very well. Thanks. Thanks for the call.

CHAD: I've got a Chihuahua who - it's not a teacup Chihuahua. It's an adopted mix, a mutt really, a great dog that's really friendly. We love her to death. And it would be nice to take her around. She's a great pet. She keeps a lot of good spirits and isn't anything to pester anybody.

But the thing is, though, I agree with not in the food stores. That's a hygiene thing. That's a public safety deal.

BROOKS: I see. So you don't take her around, right? And you certainly don't take her to food stores, but you don't carry her around anywhere?

CHAD: I - you know what, I have been known to, just to test the waters, you know. It's different everywhere you go. And even in the same store, depending on what time of day or who's there, it could be different. I've actually gone to - I used to live in California, in the Safeways out there, one store there was totally fine with it.

BROOKS: Interesting.

Ms. DICKINSON: That's interesting. Hey, Chad, do you see people using, as I do increasingly, doggie strollers? Are you aware of those?

(Soundbite of laughter)


CHAD: Oh, God. Thankfully, no. I haven't run into that.

Ms. DICKINSON: Oh, my gosh. This is the latest thing, is doggie strollers, because some apartment buildings, for instance, that let you have dogs, but they want the dogs walking on the lobby carpet. So you have to take the dog in and out in a stroller. No kidding.

CHAD: Oh, God. Yeah, I've never run into that, though, I am all about the public being a little bit more concerned about our animal populations, whether it be through shelters or whatever. This is taking it a bit too far. However, I think it's incorrect to blame Paris Hilton because the lapdog goes back way before her.

BROOKS: That's a good point. Chad, thanks…

Ms. DICKINSON: But these aren't lapdogs. These are like hand dogs. These are like so tiny. I mean, one issue I have with people carrying these dogs in bags. If you watch the "Dog Whisperer" as I do, he talks about these very small dogs. They're not trained in any way. They have no - they don't lead a disciplined kind of doggie life. They lead like some weird in-between half-life between a pet and like a beanie baby.

BROOKS: Amy, for the benefit of some people who might spend too much time listening to Public Radio, why the reference to Paris Hilton? That might be lost on some of our listeners.

Ms. DICKINSON: Oh, well, Paris Hilton, who by the way, was named worst dog owner by a magazine and this is a real magazine, it's called Hollywood Dog, Fancier or something? She actually owns not just one. She owns more than a dozen of these very, very tiny, miniature, teacup, you know, breed dogs and carries them everywhere.

She's always, you know, her most famous dog was Tinkerbell, who she was photographed with very frequently, basically carrying the dog in a handbag or in her hands or, you know, around her neck like a mink stole. I mean - and this has become a fashion accessory almost. So a lot of young women ran out to buy these dogs the way they run out to buy handbags.

BROOKS: I'm told by my producer that Tinkerbell actually has her own Wikipedia page. Is this correct?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, of course, she does.

BROOKS: Of course. I should have known. I'm sort of ashamed of myself. Well, let's take a call from Susan(ph) who's calling from Philadelphia.

Hi, Susan.

SUSAN (Caller): Hi. I don't know if you can hear me.

BROOKS: You're on the air. Yes, I can hear you loud and clear.

SUSAN: Okay, because you're coming in very faint. I'm calling from Philadelphia. And FYI, Amy, when you go to Dublin - well, a cleaner city you couldn't find - you can practically eat off the streets, everybody takes their dogs into every single restaurant, even dogs on leashes, not just little ones. And they don't seem to have a health problem there.

And as for taking them into supermarkets - I don't own a small dog. But as to taking them into supermarkets, I don't see where that's more as a health risk than people who put their toddlers in their dirty diapers on the counter belt, which I've seen. And I've also, at my supermarket, routinely, toddlers are running around. They put their hands on their diapers, their hands on their mouth, and then the next thing you know, they're grabbing - they're helping mommy by grabbing the lettuce. I just don't understand. There's something about this country.

In France also, people take their dogs everywhere and nobody gets excited.

BROOKS: You know, Susan, it's funny…

SUSAN: There's something about this country that can make a misery out of any pleasure.


BROOKS: Let me…

Ms. DICKINSON: And, Susan, your…


Ms. DICKINSON: …comments - and certainly, the tone of your comments - are absolutely exactly what I'm hearing when people responded to this issue in the pages of my column. People get very, very, very upset at the idea that others want to limit their dogs' access to public spaces and always, always compare them to babies with dirty diapers.

SUSAN: But, Amy, the thing of it is I don't even own a little dog. I don't take my dog into these places. But you have to admit, I mean, what do you…

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, well done.

SUSAN: What do you say about of France and Dublin?

BROOKS: Well, Susan, you know, I'm going to - Amy, I'm going to chime in on Susan's side here. I spent a big chunk of my life growing up in Italy. And there, too, people were always allowed to take their dogs, if they are well behaved, into a restaurant. They could sit under the table. In some cases, they would even take them back in a kitchen and feed them. You know, there was never an issue about hygiene or a difficult situation there. I mean, I just wonder if Susan is on to something here about this idea that we have this idea that isn't really rational about a dog in a store.

SUSAN: Yeah. Americans…

BROOKS: So wait. Let us let Amy respond to that.

SUSAN: It's not about pleasures. Do you know what I mean? It's just like…

BROOKS: Well now, you're taking it farther than I did. But, Amy, go ahead.

SUSAN: I really do think that there's not a pleasure that you can find that Americans don't get upset about and want to regulate. And it's just fascinating.

Ms. DICKINSON: Right. Including the pleasure of taking your baby anywhere, which people also hate, I have to say. And I totally agree with both of you. I actually love dogs and I can't get enough of them. You can, you know, they can be anywhere. I actually took a trip to France this year and really enjoyed that. I loved the interplay between animals and humans and I feel that we should show the planet. But, in this country, and I'm not sure why Americans just seem so much more sensitive in terms of our allergies.

People bring up allergies quite frequently, that they feel they get sick. Their children get sick. And they don't want to, you know, I think they have a point. If I don't own a dog, why do I want to spend a lot of time with your dog?

BROOKS: Let's take a call. Let's go to Mitch(ph), who's calling from Hollywood, Florida.

Hi, Mitch.

MITCH (Caller): Hi. I've got a four-pound Yorkie and I've got a bag that I travel with her in when I'm, say, going into a store. So, I mean, she sleeps inside the bag. It's a mesh bag. You can't get to it. She can't get to you. And I hate to agree with Susan, but the 3 and 4-year-olds in the supermarket, sitting in the shopping cart grabbing at everything, seem like they're more unsanitary than my dog is.

BROOKS: Okay, Mitch. Well, another…

MITCH: Additionally, the only complaint I've ever gotten about her was from one woman who was very upset that her kids would want one.

BROOKS: Okay. Well, Mitch, I appreciate the call. There's another vote in favor of dogs in stores. We're talking to Amy Dickinson who writes the "Ask Amy" column about whether you should be able to bring your dogs anywhere you want, especially those little ones. You can give us a call at 800-989-8255.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's take call. Let's go to Alex(ph) from Winston-Salem. Hi, Alex.

ALEX (Caller): Hi. Good afternoon.

BROOKS: Hi, good afternoon.

ALEX: I find the subject very amazing today because I'm coming from Winston-Salem in North Carolina and I'm opening a European cafe downtown.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ALEX: One of my provisions is to have a doggie station outside the cafe so people can bring in their dogs. I also lived in Europe for many years and in different parts of the world, and dogs are part of the people's - everybody's lives.

BROOKS: Now, Alex, how would this work? How would the dog station work in your cafe?

ALEX: Well, it's not working yet because we haven't opened yet, but what I…

BROOKS: Right, but what's the idea?

ALEX: Well, we'll have a space outside the cafe designed for dogs, you know, where they can have a bottle of fresh water and maybe a treat or a cookie for dogs.

BROOKS: That's nice. So will you actually provide service for the dogs?

ALEX: Sorry?

BROOKS: Will you actually provide service for the dogs?

ALEX: I won't provide a service, but I will allow people to come with their dogs and see them, then sit down and enjoy a meal.


ALEX: I think the problem is not prohibiting. We have to stop prohibiting things and maybe regulate how a dog can go or not go in to a store. For me, I feel dogs are much better than many people, you know, so it's…

BROOKS: All right, Alex. Alex, thanks for the call.

ALEX: All right, you're welcome.

BROOKS: Let's go to Angie(ph) who's calling from Burlington, North Carolina.

Hi, Angie, you're on the air.

ANGIE (Caller) Hi. I'm a first-time caller and I finally got through. I'm calling to mention, you know, I have multi-species in my home. I have a dog, a Weimaraner - she's 55-pound dog. I have a cat, I have parrots, I have multiple animals in my home.

My issue is that I don't think that somebody should take their dog out especially if it's not well behaved and not into venues like restaurants or where there's food because there's - not that, you know, everybody is saying there's a risk of contamination. But that, you know, or food-borne illness or what have you, but it's a matter of it's not sanitary because it's an animal, not because of disease or likewise. And I - you know, the lady who called…

BROOKS: But specifically…

ANGIE: …about babies diapers. I mean, that's not…

BROOKS: But what - but, Angie, specifically, what's not sanitary? I mean, what's the concern?


BROOKS: Did you say it's not sanitary to take a dog in?

ANGIE: Yeah. Well, it's not sanitary to the effect that - I mean, you can't take a dog into a school cafeteria.

BROOKS: Right.

ANGIE: You know, and I'm a cafeteria manager at a public school. And it's just - it's not okay to do that. And I'd like to see how that guy gets past the health inspector with having a dog area in his restaurant.

BROOKS: Well, he was talking, in fairness to him - he's not on the line with us anymore. I think he was talking about a dog station outside the restaurant.

ANGIE: Yes, and it's still going to be - because he's serving food there, that's going to be interesting seeing how he gets permits for that.

BROOKS: Well, maybe he'll call us back and tell us. Okay, Angie, thanks for the call.

Amy, what are you hearing? What's sort of the bottom line here? Good rule of thumb about this issue?

Have we lost - I think we lost Amy Dickinson. It looks like we've lost Amy Dickinson. So let's take a call.

Let's go to Sue(ph) in Anchorage, Alaska. Hi, Sue, you're on the air.

SUE (Caller): Hey. Nobody's talking about the poor dog. I feel so overwhelmingly sorry for the dog. It's not going to any doggie world. Leave the poor thing at home and greet him happily when you get home. I just feel so sorry for the small dog. They're thrust into environments that just aren't good for them.

BROOKS: Interesting. So your concern is for the dog being carted around like he's a sort of a prop or something.

SUE: Exactly.


SUE: They're meant to be out running around, having a good time, not going grocery shopping with you. For God's sakes.

BROOKS: All right. Well, listen, Sue, I appreciate the call. Thanks for calling.

I think we have Amy Dickinson back. Are you with us, Amy?

Ms. DICKINSON: I am. And actually, Sue brought up a great point. And this is a point I brought up in my column. It's that I feel that some of these human activities that we are carrying our dogs around with is denying them their dogness, you know. I don't really enjoy comparing dogs to children. I understand why people do it because the kind of people who love dogs seem to also be the kind of people who are very annoyed by children and vice versa. But I really don't appreciate that analogy. I don't really think it works.

BROOKS: Well, Amy, we have about 20 seconds left. What's sort of the bottom line here? What's a good rule of thumb about this whole issue in your view?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, I think that as our country changes, we need to be really aware of where we can go with our pets and our children and just respect, you know, other people. It's really that simple.

BROOKS: All right. Well, thanks, Amy, very much. Appreciate your joining us today.

Ms. DICKINSON: Thank you, Anthony.

BROOKS: That's Amy Dickinson. She writes the "Ask Amy" syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune. She joined us from Manchester, New Hampshire, with the help of WAIT WAIT…DON'T TELL ME. Great crew there. Thank you for that.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Anthony Brooks in Washington.

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