At the risk of flouting the “NEVER EVER EVER LET A SHIBA OFF LEASH!” rule by which many Shiba owners and rescues wisely adhere, let me propose that there is actually an alternate universe where pet owners are crazy enough to raise their Shibas off leash from the get-go.
This Taipei night market Shiba was spotted darting between stalls and burrowing underneath roadside tables for scraps of food. She had on a collar, a good coat and good weight, and despite the airplane ears in the photo (because of the scooter that had just whizzed by), she wasn’t skittish around strangers at all and let me pet her. My guess is that this was a routine part of her days — giving “free feeding” a whole new meaning!
Frankly, this was such a typical sight that I often wondered what I was doing wrong with Bowdu during his puppy days in Taiwan, as he never gave us any indication that we could trust him off leash in such dense, urban settings. Perhaps his temperament dictated that he would have been one of many puppies fated not to survive into adulthood, had he been raised Taiwanese style. Those that defy the odds end up being extraordinarily traffic-savvy.
Because I was looking for dogs, I saw them everywhere. They were often pressed against walls, skulking with head bowed to the ground, weaving and moving so as not to attract undue notice. Often, they were unaccompanied.
Indeed, free-roaming city dogs are part of the landscape, for better or for worse. Even unchained, they knew to stick close to home turf. There were dogs in my former neighborhood that were as reliable as signposts: “Go straight past the corner with the two tugou, turn right, and you’re there.” Six years ago when I lived in the area off Minquan East and Dunhua North Road, these same two dogs used to hang out just like this, in the intersection. When I returned during this trip, I was grateful to see that they haven’t been run over… yet.
In the States, we keep our dogs close for their safety and our own (though we call it “public safety”). Off-leash privileges are regarded more as a result of training, not adaptation. It’s not that the Taiwanese don’t care about their dog’s safety, it’s that safety has a different situational context altogether. The end goal is still not to hurt or kill, and you’ll see some amazing reflexes in action as drivers avoid colliding with unexpected canine roadblocks. Nevertheless, there are frequent casualties too. Rescues are never short on half-paralyzed or wheelchair bound dogs due to urban traffic, as well as other things like gin traps (to be discussed later).
So there is a time and place for leashing, too. Bigger dogs (defined as anything one cannot fit into a purse) may not be welcome in convenience stores, so this guy waits outside…
And this Shiba accompanies her owner inside a pet store, on leash.
Wherever I go, I make it a point to observe how dogs live with or alongside humans. Sometimes the shared spaces are less visible or obvious as having a person and a pet attached to opposite ends of a leash. The way that pets are kept, or even defined in the first place, gives insight to aspects of everyday sociality that this blog attempts to document and take seriously. If you’re a regular reader, you already know this. But I still appreciate that you endure my fixations as I consider these bonds not only by breed or cultural standards, but more importantly, on an intimate, one-on-one basis as well.