It’s an issue the Chinese are also pondering, although not always from the same perspective. As critics of the country’s proposed anti–dog slaughter legislation have argued, why ban the killing of dogs for food unless you ban it for other animals, too? In the United States, defining ethical treatment presents its own set of challenges. That is, protecting dogs from a brutal death (and life) is a reasonable standard for animal welfare. But once that benchmark has been met, the “ethical” approach to our relationships with other species is not so clear. Is humanization the same thing as treating animals humanely? Or is there another way?

Is humanization the same thing as treating animals humanely? Or is there another way?

The answer may be wagging its tail outside Portland coffee shops, grocery stores, and farmers markets, where on any given day, dozens of men’s best friends are tied up, waiting anxiously for their owners to emerge. It’s a phenomenon I’ve come to think of as “dogs in waiting.” And perhaps even more than doggie yoga or Prozac, it symbolizes the emerging canine identity crisis. Tethered in a kind of limbo, dogs are neither fully one of us nor free to be completely what they are. We can take our pets to day care, feed them organic food, and treat them to massages. Or we could just loosen the leash.