Tuesday, October 09, 2012


Fluffy just woofs me off.  Or more accurately it’s fluffy-headed people like the two writers about dogs in the dialogue linked here.  Sooooo cute!
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/07/books/review/susan-orlean-and-julie-klam-discuss-dog-books.html   They’re talking about the dumb assumptions by readers of dog books, like the idea that people who write about dogs never write about anything else.  Or that books about dogs are always light and lovable -- never about serious matters.  Everyone loves to make dog puns.  FAR too many people have lost the line between dogs and children.  

Julie Klam  http://www.julieklam.com/  refers to “sad books about how to train your schnauzer.”  (If she knew any schnauzers, she know how sad an UNtrained schnauzer can be.)  Susan Orlean  http://susanorlean.com/books/   thinks ugly children are sad, but ugly dogs are funny and cute.  It doesn’t get to her that most of the ugly dogs are deformed by in-breeders and suffer from the deformations.  THAT’s sad.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4TSWvyYNos  Here’s a sad video made by these two.  Forget the dogs -- these women need training.  It’s meant to mock dog training, but comes off like four-year-olds playing grownups.

Klam thinks that dog feelings are limited:  bad, good, or being bad or being good.  This is completely out of whack.  I used to train new animal control officers by assigning them to sit in front of a kennel with a clipboard and write down at five minute intervals what the dog was thinking.  True enough, they didn’t see much at first, but by the end of a half-hour they had begun to realize just how much the dog was taking in and what it to chose to pay attention to.  The first thing the dog did was sit down to figure out what this guy with a clipboard was up to.  If the observers repeated the process with a second dog, they usually saw how different the two dogs were in their reactions to basically the same boring scene of chain-link and people.  Of course, dogs that had been left alone in close confinement all day every day were like zombies.  Feral dogs reacted to faint and far sounds and lifted their noses to every wandering scent.  Pets listened for their people.

Orlean thinks it’s a rare person who actually dislikes dogs.  She means people LIKE HER rarely dislike dogs.  She doesn’t know there are very different folks out there.  Partly it’s a class issue and partly it’s a Third World issue.  In high-crime neighborhoods dogs are meant to be weapons and they are.  Sometimes on behalf of the criminal.  It has been hard for Americans to understand why Muslim people are so terrified of dogs, because they don’t even “see” the feral dogs in cities -- they think they are stray pets.  Feral dogs in America are garbage eaters, not carrion eaters.  In poor countries they are “pye” dogs, pariah dogs.  It is dogs, pigs, rats and vultures who clean up shit and bodies -- ALL bodies.  They lap up the blood of children.  They tear out the guts of soldiers -- it’s so much easier once they are ripped open by wounds.  And they eat shit.  In almost all the war movies shot in North Africa or Eurasia, there are dogs constantly passing through, looking for death and carrying disease, possibly rabies.  The only shots they get are from guns.

Orlean confides that people tell her that they won’t buy a dog book in which the dog dies, because it’s just too sad and depressing, so there is very little chance that anyone will publish a book about dogs in war zones where it is the people who die.  Even in America “Cujo” had to be sold as a horror story.  The number of dogs that kill people in the US -- mostly children -- are not much noted.  (327 between 1979 and 1998, according to stats compiled from hewspapers by the CDC.)  The stories rarely hit the newspapers unless there is a lawsuit or there's some other sensational aspect, like the two giant mastiff-type dogs who nearly killed a small woman in the hallway of her apartment while she fought to get her key in her lock and the owner stood by, shouting.

In the social media where people twitty-tweet back and forth, dogs are considered a “safe” subject, like one’s fav song or movie.   Show and tell grips the list.   Even on the scholarly listservs, where some strong opinion might be met by a terse rejoinder or two, an inquiry about dogs can trigger days and days of cute little tales (“tails” !!!!) accompanied by photos.  (Don’t even ask about YouTube.  Cats don’t always rule.)  These two authors say that everyone wants to show them THEIR dogs, either in photos or in the fur, and they encourage it, arranging for pets to come to their readings.  Soooo cute.  Cruising dogs.

Strangely, there is not so much written about dogs in the cultures where they are actually integrated into the way of life to share work: hunting dogs, guard dogs, herding dogs, retrievers, cop dogs, helper dogs.  A book remains to be written about the tragedy of greyhounds.  When I write a story about Native Americans, regardless of the time period, I always put dogs in there.  Doing things.  Figuring things out.  Working hard.  And sometimes being cooked and eaten.  Talk about faithful service.  

I’m only being tongue-in-cheek to a small degree in this post.  In fact, the denial with which the urban privileged can close themselves off into a fantasy world, all the time purporting to be helping others, is Evil.  Evil is what prevents getting to the roots of bad outcomes instead of feeding off them with sentimentality.  But sentimental makes money -- ask Hallmark.

There is another Evil aspect to this way of thinking, and it is specifically religious though it could be called anthropology (the study of people).  It is ambivalence about the distinction between humans and other animals.  Labeling everything humans don’t like as “bestial” gives away the narcissistic conviction that the human animal is different -- NOT an animal at all, though it’s perfectly obvious that we are.  Religions assure their adherents that they are NOT animals and tell them they should give up all animal practices -- like sex.  Or not tithing.

Julie Klam is a Boston Bull rescuer.  She’s a little confused about individuals because there were so many.  They’re very stubborn, energetic, screwy little dogs, basically Jack Russells with pushed-in-faces, meaning that unless you’re right there in sync with them all the time, they are going to do things you won’t like.   And they have a lot of breathing and eye disorders. Carelessly acquired, mostly neglected, they will be anything but lovable.  Fluffy is mostly what Mommy makes him.  Don’t even dare to think about the children Mommy might make.

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