Sunday, August 05, 2007


When it comes to domestic pets, a terrible thing has happened which I should have foreseen and which has unforeseeable consequences itself. The extreme end of the humane movement has been matched by the development of growing organization at the other extreme which has no name yet but an equally militant and intransigent nature. Similar to the gun-owner’s lobby and often overlapping, these people defend their right to own large, possibly aggressive, unregistered and intact dogs. Cats, shrug. Not so much interest and often the opinion that cats are vermin anyway. Like gun defenders, there are way more men than women. Humane societies collect women.

Partly these dog-owning defenders are entirely respectable hunters, including those who work with hawk-and-hound pairs; aficionadoes of classic working breeds like the big cart-pulling or flock-guarding dogs developed in rural Europe; citizens who feel the need for protection in their own homes; but then go along a continuum to criminals who keep dogs to alert them against law enforcement or competing criminals and those who promote dog fights for betting and blood sport. As the density of cities increases and the multiplicity of cultures grows more complex, we end up with intense battles over such things as how many dogs a household can own. In rural areas there is more concern about the government’s fixation on microchipping and tracking every cow, horse, pig, goat, pigeon or whatever. In the suburbs -- where people presumably live in for peace and quiet -- conflicts over animal noise, mess, aggression, and so on can build into what amounts to civil war.

In short, animals are a part of human culture -- have been for a very long time -- and are symptoms, manifestations and causes of everything human. As people go, so go their animals. They are not separate entities that can be considered apart from humans, so much as extensions of those humans. The worst part of this present polarization is that both ends of the spectrum increasingly take out their feelings in hatred of the government, humane folks feeling that they are not doing enough and dog-defenders feeling that they are doing far too much. If there’s anything we don’t need now, it’s further erosion of our civic trust and integrity. In fact, our only hope of resolving this development is through governmental and non-governmental democratic consideration and action, sometimes called “animal control.” But both ends of the spectrum habitually attack animal control.

Animal control across the country sometimes tries to travel under euphemisms (“dog wardens”), but in truth it includes both extreme philosophies within itself and has to struggle constantly to remain useful and professional. There are those who want to be armed and to forbid the ownership of vicious dogs against those who want to maintain a no-kill shelter and laws requiring the sterilization of all pets. In some communities animal control is contracted to humane societies and in others there is a pitched battle of hatred between the two. Some humane societies have excellent education programs that have led to innovations like dog parks and programs that neuter feral cat colonies. Some humane societies think up ridiculous projects like making the town of Ringling, Montana, change its name because the Ringling family is connected to circuses and circuses can be hard on elephants. Politicians rarely know enough to play a confident role in these turbulent processes, but they are keenly aware that the dynamics can make or break an election.

Recently “animal hoarding” has come to the front burner. Usually the story is about old or alcoholic individuals who accumulate shocking numbers of animals until they far exceed the ability of the keeper to feed, doctor or clean up after them. Often they are inbred or feral. Sometimes they are represented as a “puppy mill,” an economic endeavor gone crazy. Yet reporters, often young and bemused, rarely link animal hoarding with the universal social practice of putting the elderly or ailing into understaffed nursing homes where they are not fed, doctored or kept clean. They don’t think of the link between the proliferation of puppies and a household overrun with unparented children and no real income.

We have split attitudes towards people of great wealth and high status, but don’t connect them to the AKC concentration on showing off dogs as a sign of status and prosperity and weird fads like conventional surgical alterations of ears. The drive to own an ever more exotic and rare pet has a very dark side indeed as people kidnap species from the wild or make a certain breed so desirable that they are bred hastily without the high standards and constant culling that created the virtues of the breed in the first place. Churches, which used to remind people that with great advantages come equal obligations to the world at large, are now diminished into safety and prosperity promoters, blessing the animals on St. Francis’ day. Animals come are discussed in terms of dominion and souls, some feeling that people own and can use animals as they would machines and others feeling that pets have souls that will take them to heaven while their owners burn in hell. One of the deepest religious problems is coming to terms with the realization that we ARE animals, indisputably proven so by science. Some, esp. the young, think that if they stop eating animals, they will defeat the death of animals. Death is also a religious problem.

If humans are inundated in floods, so are the animals. If humans are trapped in conflagrations, so are the animals. If humans starve, so do the animals. We feel that if humans must have Real ID, so must the animals. As we do to humans, we do to animals: sex, torture, neglect, murder. Normally our culture would guide us through our decisions and practices, but our culture is in uproar -- there is no consensus about what is normal.

The impulse of most people in the face of all this is to pull off into enclaves, wall ourselves in, and develop our self-righteousness. Nothing could be less helpful. Instead we need to admit the continuousness in relationship of every entity on this planet, whether animate or inanimate, so that we become aware that what one of us does affects all of us, one thing is entwined with another. It’s a pretty high standard to impose on both the Mexican who brings his love of fighting cocks and the starlet who loves her purse pooch, but in the end the treatment of these small players and their foibles will affect our ability to deal with climate change, global bird flu, food animal contamination, endangered species, and unstable human societies.

Remarkably, while the two extremes go to war over animal issues, the sensible center continues on. Daily and quietly they manage their own lives to support what is around them and accept the ordinary blessings of good things like dogs and cats. They have no names or organizations except "democracy."


Steve Bodio said...


PBurns said...

Ditto here -- Brilliant.

I am adding a quote from this to the terrierman blog with a link to the rest and a push to read it all.


prairie mary said...

Thanks, Patrick. I admire "Terrierman."

Prairie Mary

Anonymous said...

This has been a morning of education and your thoughts will have me thinking for quite awhile. I think the only thing missing is how we can preserve the middle.


Christopher Landauer said...

Sailed in from the excellent Terrierman blog and I am both impressed and disturbed by your post. Perhaps that's a good thing, since the ultimate failure in persuasive speech is apathy, no?

But let me get to the finger waving. You're playing fast and loose with your continuum of dog ownership. I don't buy your logic and I think your glasses are tinted too much by your politics.

I would put money down that you're a big tent Democrat (echoes of "It Takes A Village," several appeals to "democracy," hope for consensus, sneering at men and guns and machismo, disillusionment with Religion but enough kumbayah sentiment, cheap shot at the rich, belief that you're in the righteous moderate middle, etc.). And I think that Pat and Steve are willing to give you a pass on those minor points because your observations are keen, but those points irk me.

The way you phrase your continuum incorrectly implies that the extreme is the logical progression of the moderate, that to belong to the "entirely respectable hunter" group places you closer to the criminal thug group and that the ideals that put you in that group are just watered down from the ethics of the boogey man group.

I also sense that you feel that the tolerated hunter group is between you and the lunatic fringe, as if you'd have to wade through a little independence and libertarianism before you'd ever find yourself on the dark side of the problem you address.

That stance reminds me of the horrible and simplistic to a fault continuum that teachers who agree with your politics just love to foist on unsuspecting civics students. You know the one, where conservatism is one click away from Hitler and liberalism is one click away from Stalin, and those two men who share so much in common are supposedly as far away from each other as you can get!

The deficient high school continuum can be easily expanded with multi-dimensional charts like the Nolan Chart. But I don't know how to fix your continuum except to point out that the only real connection I can see between the groups is that they both do things with dogs that you do not do, nor do you think you will ever do. That's it.

Civic Trust? Integrity? BAH! These things don't exist and never have, at least in the form I think you are invoking. Call me a cynic, but I think the outgrowth of these ideals as you see them are brainwashed cults.

Integrity implies agreement, adoption, and conformity to an agreed upon set of values, and the more complicated and intricate those values, the greater need for peer pressure. Pledges, prayers, and uniformity. Doctrine and dogma. Indoctrination and propaganda. Forms to be approved. Papers!

I think the civic trust you opine for is a mythical product from a time when this country was more uniform, when neighbors looked like each other and thought like each other and elements that cause strife, namely deviance from the "norm" were kept hush hush and in closets. In other words, it was a pleasant fiction then and it's not so much that it's gone, but that we're now disillusioned that it ever really existed.

Think of Police Officers. The rich see them as annoyances because the usual interaction is either speeding tickets or noise violations. The poor see them as predators because they witness the iron fist. No one likes a cop until they NEED someone who is willing to take a bullet or shoot a bullet to protect their interests. That's why everyone likes firefighters. They're all upside and no downside, unless you're an arsonist.

The same can be said of every arm of the government. Whether you're on the giving end or receiving end, all can agree that the bureaucracy feeds itself first and is lazy, sloppy, and inefficient.

I don't really understand what "governmental and non-governmental democratic consideration" really amounts to. The nasty things are already illegal. There's just spotty enforcement. As for non-governmental democratic consideration... that sounds like PeTA/HSUS to me, since the alternative is essentially the status quo: independent people already vote with their dollars.

That's really the only democracy in this country, economic freedom. And that's really the best kind. I'd rather keep the tyranny of the mob out of government since the mob thinks that the government should enforce the totality of their culture, not simply the fundamental elements that are necessary and sufficient for a civilized society.

So let me get your list of "terrible" things straight: gun owners. large dogs. possibly aggressive dogs. unregistered dogs. intact dogs. the unsophisticated brute who doesn't fawn over cats. more men than women. anti-cop criminals. dog fighters. And spoiled purse riders with ear jobs.

The only noun in that list that can harm me are anti-cop criminals, and I avoid them by living in the burbs. The only other one I see as "terrible" are the dog fighters.

You lump gun owners with gang bangers and claim that it's simply a shade of grey. You lump hunters and herders with pit fighters and claim that it's simply a shade of grey. Let me break you of your misconception.

The gun owner lobby has nothing to do with gang bangers, and it certainly isn't a stop along the express track heading in that direction. Just because you have some issue with guns, you mistake two groups who have a specific interest in them as being alike or two sides of the same coin. They are not. The gun lobby pushes against the government because they respect laws and wish to maintain the rights of free and responsible men. Gang bangers have no interest in rights, no interest in freedom, and no interest in responsibility. A gun is simply a tool to extend their corruption. Gang bangers don't waste time paying dues to pro-gun organizations or lobbying congress for looser laws. They don't respect or follow the law in the first place and their purview is decidedly lower than the halls of congress.

Gang bangers don't even respect the power of the weapon. They don't learn, they don't train, they aren't marksmen, they are simply hacks. Gang bangers are to marksmenship what a woodchipper is to banzai. Sure, both involve guns, but they are worlds apart.

I'll bet if you looked into it, you'd find that the gun lobby hunters who you smear with association are probably, as a group, less violent, more model citizens in every metric than the norm, especially in every area that the gang banger group you'd like to smear them with is deficient.

And I don't own a gun more powerful than a one pump bb gun, nor do I hunt, nor do I send checks to the NRA, in case you think you've offended my team.

SO too do dog fighters have NOTHING to do with dog workers. You might find both working against BSL, but that does not make them brothers. You might find them both spending a lot of money on specific lines of purebred or crossbred dogs. That does not make them kin. You might even say that they are both very passionate about dogs. But they are in no way on the same line of dog ownership, simply different shades of grey.

As long as you're on the interconnected unity train, why not simply observe that all life on earth shares a significant amount of DNA, arguably more so than not, and thus all life is simply a continuum and shade of grey and any further distinctions are pointless, and cavemen-like hunter men being genetically deficient are clearly closer to the lowlife end of the scale than you are.

And what of animal hoarders and a tenuous link with a supposed deficiency in governmental hand outs? You want to solve that problem by giving the old even MORE money and services? Psh. Cradle to grave socialism will solve animal hoarding, news at 11. I wonder why the mob is seemingly satisfied with euthanasia as a decent response to a plethora of unwanted animals, but not unwanted crazy old people. The mob is fickle indeed. Perhaps we should flip that situation and have more retirement homes where ditzy old dogs can live off the dole and stew in their disease. Oh wait, we already have no-kill shelters.

And what the hell is up with your jab at the rich, the AKC, and ear surgery? I don't really understand what you're trying to say. The mob doesn't use dogs as status symbols? PSH. Name one dog owner who isn't feeding a selfish need with their dogs, the RESCUE and SHELTER flag wavers MOST OF ALL! Are you trying to equate cosmetic dog surgery with cage fighting? Or is this some kind of "boo hoo, the poor dogs starve and die while the rich dogs get pedicures!" argument? Do you want us to walk down that garden path continuum again with this? I think you're confusing your exquisite taste with policy and ethics.

And why are you looking to a Church for answers? They're really good at selling a product that they'll never have to produce or give a refund for. They're not in the business of practical advice about dogs. Unless you're in New Skete, and they charge just like PetCo and BarkBusters.

And I'm all for pulling off into forts of like minded people and weathering the storm and attacking back from the safety of your high walls. It worked against the plague, it worked against Socialism and Fascism, it worked against slavery, it works every day in families of home schooled kids and charter schools, in community centers for at risk kids, in boyscout clubs, krump/step dancing troupes, in AIDS/abortion clinics, gated communities, and every club, special interest group, and family.

In college, there was a house run by the far out hippie types, vegans, and progressives and such. They were very into this come together and form a consensus crap. While the rest of us took 45 minutes to assign rooms based upon those antiquated and decidedly non-democratic means like seniority or meritocracy, the "Synergy" house required consensus on every room assignment. This process took days and days and was ultimately a test in stubbornness and holding out against the weak minded who quit in disgust. Now these people aren't known for bathing or for wearing clothes or shaving or any of those other pleasantries that you come to appreciate when you have to stay in the same room with dozens of people for long periods of time.

There is no consensus. And democracy is over rated. This country was started by special interest groups, specifically rich white men who didn't want to pay a pittance to a distant government and religious fringe groups. We weren't a democracy then, and we've never been a democracy since. Don't fool yourself with the hype. We started off really well telling the old guard off, figured out we needed some individual rights a few years later, and then we've spent the next two centuries having the mob try as hard as they can to make those rights meaningless and qualified and grabbing as much for themselves as possible. But thankfully, the mob is fickle and the pendulum keeps good time by swinging back and forth.

There will never be a community consensus on dogs for all the reasons you point out. They are with us, of us, and woven into every level of our culture. And that means that the "sensible" center is as much of a myth in dogdom as it is in politics.

prairie mary said...

Christopher, the vigor of your comment is amazing! Probably a continuum was not a particularly good metaphor for the clusters of extremes since the dimensions are not just north/south but rather clusters in a circle or something. But I write 1,000 words a day and sometimes take shortcuts.

Your assumptions about me are pretty shaky to the point of making those who know me laugh. I'm more practical than political. I suppose even a tag of "green" wouldn't be entirely accurate. But would it be accurate to hang my assumptions about border patrolmen on you? (You'd have to know what they are first.)

Anyway, that's the most vehement and detailed comment I've ever had! And it pretty much made my point.

Prairie Mary