Most people who know me would agree that I prefer the company of animals to that of my own species. As a child, when other kids might have had imaginary friends, I had imaginary pets. A homeless person on the side of the road might be ignored or rationalized out of existence, but seeing a malnourished dog or cat will stick with me for the rest of the day. I'm pretty immune from news stories of man's inhumanity to his fellow man (or rather, his humanity towards his fellow man), but stories of abused animals sicken me.
Anyway, when I was a child, there was a particular phenomenon that made me dread going up to the counter of most restaurants: The Crying Dog Animal Donation/Extortion Bank! If you've seen one of these, I'm sure you could instantly describe it, down to the smallest detail. You also understand why I'm writing about it. If you have NOT ever seen one of these calculated, inanimate manipulators, I'll educate you.
The Crying Dog Animal Donation/Extortion Bank was a plastic piggy-bank type device about 10 to 12 inches tall. It's form was that of some sort of yellowish hound dog, with long flowing ears, matched only by its long face. Its eyes welled with tears, with a single drop spilling onto it's cheek. There was almost always an attached placcard or business card for some local animal shelter with the following poem (which has been etched into my mind for at least the last quarter century):
"I'm so hungry I could cry. If you don't help me, I may die."
No doubt early super-computers were used to optimize the heart-tugging at work here. I'm pretty sure that the RAND corporation had some of their excess post-Vietnam War analysts work up some 10 volume set detailing the exact means to squeeze the hearts of children right in their chests. Needless to say, I was highly susceptible to this sort of manipulation. I would usually deposit money if I had any or, for days after I'd regret not having any.
I don't know if this is a Southern thing or just an '80s thing. I don't see them at restaurants as much anymore, which I am conflicted about. I like not getting depressed every time I go to the counter of A&W to pay for my Coney dogs, but I hate that a potential funding stream for homeless animals might be drying up.
If you missed out on this delightful cultural icon, don't worry. The RAND folks are still hard at work in their cramped basement offices, cranking out pure sadness and pathos. Now they'll beam it straight into your living room…and this time they've got SARAH McLACHLAN helping out.