(RNS) My mother was a gold mine of practical advice. She used to warn us, "There are two things for which you will never be forgiven--criticizing people's children or their pets."

She included the latter category because of her hunch that the measure of a person's loss could be found in the size of emotional investment in his or her dog or cat. If this is true, the misery of America may be the subtext of a recent story in The New York Times.

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The story sounded like something out of the civil rights era: a crowd of 500 people chanting as they banged on the windows of a meeting to restrict what they considered their rights.

This was not, however, about the franchise to vote but rather about forbidding dogs from running free on national park land. Their rumbling demand was not "Freedom Now" but "No leashes! No leashes!"

It would be easy to poke gentle fun at this saga of the social ascent of American dogs to a position in which they "get braces for their teeth and antidepressants for anxiety and attend the church of their owner's choice," as the newspaper put it.

So, too, were there not the hint of an emotional chasm beneath their protests, one could lampoon and dismiss claims that "ordinances banning certain breeds of animals are the equivalent of racial profiling of dogs."