The light bulb popped on over my head a few days ago after, in the space of five minutes, I saw four different people each walking two or more dogs on the streets near my Seattle home. Four solitary humans with nine or ten lively pets. For me, it’s the link that helps explain the phenomenon known as the Seattle Freeze.
The Seattle Freeze is something that people have been talking about for a long time. There’s a reference of sorts to it in Farthest Reach, Nancy Wilson Ross’s 1941 social commentary travel book about the Pacific Northwest. The concept has its own Wikipedia entry as well as 53,400 hits on Google, a spot in the Urban Dictionary and lengthy online threads. It’s the belief that newcomers find it hard to make friends with earlier Seattleities who prefer to hang out with existing acquaintances. The condition been blamed on everything from a supposedly very reserved Nordic culture (although descendants of folks from Scandinavia account for less than 6% of the population) to the many days of drab, no-sun weather, which supposedly dulls the personality.
There are those who deny the very existence of the Seattle Freeze. In my experience, very few of the deniers are, like me, New To Seattle. I certainly think the Seattle Freeze is alive and well. But it’s my most recent encounter with dogs and their owners that is giving me some fresh insights.
As I see it now, the Seattle Freeze is simply a fear of humans being rejected by other humans. Ergo all the dogs, who provide their owners with unconditional love and, thus, no chance of rejection.
One cannot understate the degree to which Seattle residents fancy their dogs. According to the Seattle Animal Shelter, there are 153,000 dogs in Seattle. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there were only 94,000 children (persons under age 18) in all of Seattle. So dogs outnumbered kids by better than a 3-to-2 margin.
How unusual is this? Nationally, the number of children–73 million–is roughly equal to the 78 million dogs estimated by the Humane Society of the United States. In Seattle, a city of 609,000 humans crammed into 280,000 households, a home seems far more likely to have a dog or two rather than a kid or two.
You think I’m making too much of the numerical dog-kid imbalance in Seattle? This is the only city I have been around where I routinely see a dog–and sometimes two–being wheeled in baby strollers down sidewalks. Seattle has more off-leash dog parks (12) than neighborhood public high schools (11). To me, dogs in Seattle clearly take the place of human family members and, if I am right, friends. (Dogs are also cheaper to maintain than human descendants but still can be pricey.)
Visitors to this space may recall my earlier musings suggesting lack of a sense of humor among Seattleites and their defensiveness about the weather. I’m starting to realize these, too, might be linked to the same fear of rejection I perceive as the core of the Seattle Freeze. And, for all I know, what I have described as a certain collective inferiority complex might simply be a similar fear of getting hurt.
Like what might happen to me if I don’t get out of the way of the next pack of oncoming human-guided dogs. Click.