The anti-dog movement does not advocate for the killing of dogs. That is the first rule emblazoned at the top of the r/Dogfree subreddit, where 46,000 subscribers gather every day to dream of a better world. There shall be no “suggesting, joking, wishing for, or celebrating” the destruction of canines; all cruelty, even in hypothetical terms, is a no-go. That said, you shall also not include mealy-mouthed clauses like “I love dogs, but,” or “I don’t like dogs, however,” at the top of your posts, for that demonstrates a fundamental misreading of the community. This is not a place for people who are mildly aggrieved by dogs, or who don’t like a specific dog, or who think that the frilly obsessiveness of the average Upper East Side French bulldog owner can be a little much. No, there are people on this planet who believe that our environment, infrastructure, and society would be a lot better off without the presence of man’s best friend—and once you get past the unthinkable taboo of that premise, you may begin to see that they have a very strong case.
“This is a ‘safe haven’ where our members can engage in discussion about an unpopular opinion,” said one of the moderators of r/Dogfree, when I sent him a message over Reddit. They declined to elaborate further, fearing that a media spotlight would bring unwanted attention from raving, frothy-mouthed dog lovers to their forum—naturally destabilizing the Zen. I found myself more sympathetic to this plea than I thought I’d be. It is hard to think of a single element of Western culture less controversial than dog ownership (putting the fraught question of pit bull bans aside). The owning of non-pit breeds is not a wedge issue between political parties, or an armament in the culture war, or a retrograde regional quirk. No, we have all agreed, for centuries, that owning a dog is normal, which is a consensus that has solidified despite the fact that our sidewalks are paved with feces, and that owners of canines now bring them into environments where they were previously prohibited (gyms, bars, airplanes, and so on). If you witness the purifying intensity of that paradox, as these dog-free posters have, you’d probably go a little crazy too.
The r/Dogfree subreddit unfolds like a catalog of every possible grievance in the anti-dog category. Some posts are basic, open-mic rants, detailing the ironies of pet ownership. “Fuck people who care more about dogs than people,” reads one. “I miss when dogs were pets,” pleads another. (That poster, in particular, harbors a distaste for the sort of unmarried, childless millennials who refer to their pooch as a “fur baby.”) Other regulars put forth longer, more serious tales of canine malfeasance. Here, someone snaps a picture of their cat’s unmarked grave, after it was (the poster said) tragically killed by two unleashed dogs. (“She was very gentle and very curious. She probably thought they wouldn’t hurt her.”) Elsewhere, a poster recounts a story in which they got a patron—and her pit bull—kicked out of the restaurant where they were eating. This is one of the few victories the subreddit can claim. (“I’ve lost many battles on this very subject recently so I felt really vindicated today.”)
The subreddit is popular enough to spawn a handful of sister forums, which are a little less exacting in their tone. For instance, here is r/DogfreeHumor, where you can find some honest-to-God anti-dog memes, while r/TalesfromtheDogHouse brims with personal anecdotes from those who hate dogs but are forced to live with them, often due to an unresolved tension in their marriage. In that sense, the forum is not dissimilar from r/Childfree, where Redditors gather to gripe about societal pressures to reproduce. These are not arenas for actionable political advocacy; the anti-dog contingency is not petitioning the White House or writing to their local Congress member—there is no dog-free bill moldering away in committee. The people here know they’ll be in the stark minority for life; commiseration is their only option.
“I don’t really think there are any solutions. Society has gone too far. I think the world is at a point of no return. If anyone were to suggest anything that would in any way control or regulate dogs, there would be an uproar. It would never work,” says a restaurant manager in Norway who is a frequent contributor to r/Dogfree. We’ll call her “Vivian,” because like everyone else I spoke to for this story, she wishes to remain anonymous. “I use the subreddit as a place where I can vent and feel seen and heard. Almost everyone these days are dog nutters. … I could say I hate a person and that would be OK, but saying I simply don’t like dogs and [don’t] understand the hype? People act as if you committed a literal crime.”
Vivian, like most of the people on the subreddit, can point to a specific instance that triggered her anti-dog radicalization. A roommate she shared a flat with owned two unruly hounds, and living with them, she said, leached the childish pro-canine delusions from her body. “Humans forcing dog culture down my throat only makes me dislike them more,” explains Vivian. Another poster I spoke to—a 26-year-old data entry operator named Ivy, from Bulgaria—also loved dogs as a kid, until the realities of her home country’s stray feral dog problem hardened her to Fidos of all types. (Eastern Europe, for what it’s worth, is in the midst of an unhoused canine epidemic.) “Some of these dogs were known to be aggressive and had bitten some of our neighbors, and me and the other kids knew to avoid those particular dogs,” she says. Like Vivian, Ivy found herself disgusted by the rampant inequality and precarity facing her fellow humans, while dogs lived rent-free—literally—in our heads. “Can you imagine what we could achieve if we gave that unconditional love and support not to dogs but to humans?” she asks.
These are not uncommon stories; I’d reckon that most human beings have had a negative encounter with a dog. In fact, approximately 4.5 million Americans are bitten by canines each year. (Many pit bull–specific bans on ownership, passed in response to dog-bite stories of the 1970s through the 2000s, are still in place, if controversially so.) But a person doesn’t need to be bitten to have an uncomfortable run-in with a dog—for some, being jumped upon or chased around the yard may count. The difference is that those in the online dog-free community, unlike most people who have had a bad dog experience or two, do not believe that the pros outweigh the cons. A world without dogs, says Vivian, would be a world with less drool, less poop, less noise, and fewer allergens—which is the sort of argument that brings to mind the activists who complain about motorcycles. Here are two beloved traditions adored by a sector of the public—dog ownership, motorcycle riding —that create an unmistakable strain on those outside the immediate orbit of the hobby. The anti-dog radicals are tired of making concessions, and on paper, I can’t blame them.
“From my point of view, it is insane how dog people will literally take this animal out of its natural habitat, imprison it behind four concrete walls while they’re out at work and expect it not to go crazy,” says Ivy. “They go completely nuts in a completely unnatural environment for them and they can’t do anything about it because the dog person has taken their freedom away.”
I am likely more sympathetic to this argument than you are. A few weeks ago I wrote a story campaigning for an uncompromising canine ban in New York City because, as Ivy mentioned, I cannot think of a single more inhospitable place for an ambulatory quadruped than a Lower East Side studio apartment. I’d go as far as to say that every single dog I’ve ever met in an urban environment seems to vibrate with anxiety, and if we’re being honest, maybe some sort of backyard access should be compulsory to pet ownership. That said, there is a ruthless fanaticism to r/Dogfree that I can’t quite get behind, and I suppose that makes me more of an anti-dog moderate. One Reddit poster I interviewed laid out a list of potential balms for his dog issues, including “citations for noisy dog owners” and a euthanasia policy for any hounds that display “aggressive qualities.” (They added that they were a huge animal lover.) I also caught wind of a YouTube channel, called simply, “I Hate Dogs,” which is popular in the dog-free community and roils with an ugly rage for all forms of canine companionship (one choice video title: “Dog Lovers Are Dishonest, Delusional, Perpetual Liars”).
All of this, I think, is indicative of how digital camaraderie can supercharge a whiff of exasperation into a keening, white-hot boil. It is abundantly clear that there are bigger issues facing the world than the indignities of a culture that normalizes dog ownership. But a subreddit like r/Dogfree has a way of encouraging the brinkmanship of posting—posters prodding one another further and further out on a limb to solidify their revolutionary bona fides. After 2016, everything has become factional and polarized—normalcy has gone out of style, and ridiculous, intractable stalemates are all the rage. That goes for our politics, and that goes for people who don’t like dogs.
But perhaps, someday, moderates like me will have their day in the sun. We will set aside our euthanasia mandates and curdled invective, and instead ask some commonsense questions. Why is that Siberian husky living in a 30th-floor one-bedroom apartment? Why is that Rottweiler running around the cul-de-sac unleashed? “Humans deserve better treatment in society, and dogs deserve that too—like a more suitable environment for them to be themselves,” says Ivy. Now that’s the sort of sentiment that haters and lovers alike can get behind.