Last night I watched the season premiere of AMC's Mad Men (thank God for DVR's)--and while there was much in that episode to sadden any viewer, dog lovers like me were most likely to focus on what's happened to the Drapers' Golden Retriever, Polly, since Betty divorced Don and married Henry Francis.
Apparently Henry doesn't like dogs, and Polly--who'd been very much a part of the family and had actually prompted Betty to shoot some pigeons in Season 1--has been banished to the basement. No protest from Betty, of course, but when Don brings the kids back from their weekend with their dad, he lets Polly out of solitary. The dog is lying at Don's feet when Betty and Henry arrive home. After Don leaves, Polly is returned to the basement once more, at Henry's insistence.
Seeing Polly exiled broke my heart, and not just because my Allie is a Golden Retriever, too. Forcing a social animal like a dog to endure prolonged solitary confinement is, quite simply, cruel. And yet, such practices were probably pretty common in the 1960's. I remember several families who kept their dogs in their garages. Other dogs were let out to roam the neighborhood all day, and when they didn't come back, the parents simply shrugged. One dog I remember especially well was driven to a field one day by the dad in his house, and dumped in a field--the guy actually congratulated himself because he was "setting Skipper free."
These days, many people consider dogs to be members of their families--and the growth of the pet industry reflects that status. That said, pockets of old-school laissez-faire attitudes about our best friends still persist. Still, I'd like to think that the dogs of today are more likely to be understood as the social animals they are than was the case a half-century ago.
(And yes, I know Polly's not the only dog who hasn't fared well on Mad Men. )