animals, Just bitchin'

#JeSuisChien…I Am Dog

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By now, if you follow Twitter, you’ve seen the massive trend #JeSuisChien.

For those who don’t know, it honors a French police dog named Diesel who perished in this week’s raid on a terrorist cell in the wake of the Islamic State attack on Friday the 13th in Paris.

What you might not have seen is the somewhat feeble backlash. There have been those who question the ‘morality’ of the outpouring of grief on a dog’s behalf when no such phenomenon accompanied the deaths of individual humans. And there have been some who openly laugh at how twisted they believe the world to be when an animal is honored above men.

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My first, gut reaction to these backlashers was anger, because their opinions don’t mesh with my own. But after the initial emotional glitch, I had to give their words some thought. They are opinions after all, and have every right to be voiced.

So…why does the death of a police dog elicit such a deep welling of pure sorrow? Why does the death of a human make my heart sore for a moment, but that of an animal sticks with me and shatters that same heart in a howl of grief?

Well…I’ve never been mugged by a dog, but I have by a man. A dog has never jumped out of the shadows with a knife and stabbed me. A man has. A dog has never broken into my apartment. A man has.

But that’s not enough of a reason.

Think deeper.

When a dog misbehaves, I can usually understand why. Not so with humans. Mankind is capable of a depth of depravity unequaled by other denizens of the animal kingdom.

Man is the only creature capable of true cruelty. Animals don’t have it in them.

Some people will say cats are cruel…the way they play with a mouse instead of killing it outright. That’s instinct. Mankind’s cruelty is by choice.

There’s a tremendous difference.

So, as unbalanced as it may seem to some, I will continue to be more deeply affected by the death of a dog than seems appropriate. I will trust animals more readily than humans. I will welcome a dog into my life more quickly and wholeheartedly than a person who must earn my trust over time.

And even though it was started a bit tongue-in-cheek, I am touched by #JeSuisChien and the gallant animal whose demise it honors. Because just as cruelty abounds in humans more than any other member of the animal kingdom, the opposite is true of nobility.

Dogs have it in spades. Precious few humans do.

RIP, Diesel.

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Alternative Rites of Christmas

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Every family celebrates the holidays with a touch of individuality.

Those little quirks acquired along the way eventually transform into tradition.

The earliest remembrance I have of mine was around the age of four.

We’d been decorating the Christmas tree, that huge pine-scented presence that brought magic and happy expectation into our home. Someone of my tender years wasn’t allowed to do much. While the others adjusted lights, draped tinsel, and placed strategic puffs of angel’s hair, my primary task was to put hooks on the ornaments. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, I pulled each delicate, blown-glass piece from its nest of tissue paper, attached the wire hook and placed the finished product to one side for someone else to have the honor of hanging.

Low to the ground, I saw things the others didn’t. Like the way the tree’s water supply was already littered with pine needles. Like the way the cottony-white skirt sprinkled with glitter caught the light, shimmering like an echo of the magnificence towering above it.

Like the family dog, Tio, having his way with a light bulb.

All our decorations were handed down from grandparents I’d never known. The lights were antiquated: large, heavy things, tapering from a broad end with the screw cap to a rounded tip. Tio had managed to engulf the whole ensemble, leaving only the tip poking between his lips like a glossy, green bubble.

Neither Tio nor I recognized the danger of the situation. He wagged his tail in contentment, sucking on his new toy. But my laughter at the ridiculous picture he presented alerted my mother. Scolding, she pulled the bulb from Tio’s mouth, then replaced it with a green-tinted biscuit.

Dogs are smart. They remember.

Every year thereafter, Tio demanded a biscuit in return for refraining from mouthing light bulbs.

At some point, we began leaving the biscuit on a low-lying branch of the tree. Tio would snatch it up and consider his ransom demand met.

But that made the cats jealous.

Food wouldn’t placate Buffy and Phoebe. Oh, no. They wanted the crash and dazzle of breakage. They wanted an interactive batting practice. And so began the tradition that still continues today.

The Rite of the Sacrificial Ornament.

It must be large. It must be shiny. It must hang low.

Its demise must be met with a humble, human willingness to clean up the mess.

If these conditions are not met at the outset, then woe to the entire tree. It will not survive. However, make the sacrifice and nothing else is required.

It astonishes me that this bargain has passed from generation to generation of pets as well as people. At least that’s how I see it. I put up my first tree on my own, in my own apartment only to have it decimated by Boots, a cat who had never been party to previous Rites of Sacrifice. It was with an almost occult shiver of skepticism that I righted the tree, cleaned up the damage, and then, with disbelieving fingers, hung a sacrificial ornament.

Boots accepted it. The rest of the tree was left inviolate. And so it continued.

This rite persists. It is weird in its reliable performance.

But I suppose the same could be said of my family.

We are the practitioners of the Rite of the Sacrificial Ornament.

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Human Hubris

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I know a couple verging on senior citizenship. They are professionals. They are well-off financially. They are parents and grandparents. They are educated and well-traveled.

They send me cute, little e-mail greeting cards at the drop of a hat. New Year’s. Valentine’s Day. St. Patrick’s Day. Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Arbor Day. Thanksgiving. And Christmas…assuredly Christmas.

But not Halloween. Never, ever Halloween.

They associate All Hallow’s Eve with Satanism…Devil Worship…Eternal Damnation…

They worry about me. Because of my Celtic heritage and the way I embrace a night of costumes and folklore and imagination. They have recommended their church to me in hopes that I will join and ‘find the companionship that has so enriched our lives.’

But I know what they’re really saying. The poor girl with the Welsh ancestors needs saving. And being the good people they are, they will not shrink from the task of hammering out that pagan streak of innocence; replacing it with their own particular brand of Christianity.

I was raised Christian. I wear a fleur-de-lys cross . (I guess my French heritage passes muster with them, but I could be as wrong about that as I am wrong to celebrate Halloween.) I pray. I donate to charity regularly no matter what my financial circumstances of the moment. I cry when animals get hurt. I believe in things that are eternal and beautiful. And I have fun once a year in a shivery, fake-horror, too-many-sweets way.

And these people who cringe away from Halloween, who endeavor to live up to the standards they wish everyone would adopt, do things that horrify me. Most recently they confided that they were sorry they had to kill raccoons that trespassed on their newly-sodded lawn.

‘We spent so much to have it all made nice. We just couldn’t let animals destroy it.’

They trapped and killed the creatures themselves. ‘But we said a prayer for our souls with each one we put down.’

Well, I guess that makes it all okay, doesn’t it?

They believe such action is acceptable, because ‘animals have no souls.’

Ah, yes. The hubris of the human race. Like a story in the news some months ago. After extensive study of the electrical impulses in their brains and comparison to synonymous paths in those of humans, it was declared that dogs are indeed capable of feeling love.

Gosh, really? Did you really need to spend vast amounts of time with extremely expensive equipment to come to that conclusion? I could have told you dogs feel love. And cats. And pretty much any creature you take the time to know.

The hubris of the human race. Again.

Next thing you know, they’ll be announcing that animals…yes, even animals!…have souls. But first they’ll have to prove that humans do, so there will be something to use as a baseline comparison.

I’m not sure they can. At least, not all of us…. Must be that rebellious, Celtic streak.

 

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Incorrigible

boxerOver the course of a weekend, I was robbed. Three times. Three. All three while I was at home, not five yards from the epicenter of the crime.

Three. Thrice. Triple. Hat trick.

Three.

The culprit was possessed of uncanny expertise, unparalleled stealth, and I’m sure came from a long line of thieves. Only congenital disposition could account for such dastardly success.

The first theft was committed when I’d returned from an outing with friends. As I stored my hiking boots away… the criminal entered my home. It was a near perfect crime. If he’d wiped his feet before entering, there would have been no clue other than the theft itself.

But this burglar added insult to injury, leaving his large, ungainly footprints with flagrant disregard for secrecy. Such was his contempt for my security measures.

But these things happen. Feeling philosophical, I cleaned up the crime scene and resigned myself to the role of victim.

The second theft of the same nature occurred the next morning. This time I was alerted by the look of outrage on my cat’s face. Intruder! Come quick! Expel them! But I was too late. No footprints this time, but a plate licked clean where seconds before had been a full one.

Theft three happened mere moments ago as I idly channel-surfed, debating between book or television for an hour of recreation. Slowly, so slowly…ominously…the front door swung open.

“Who’s there?”

No answer. Instead a brown blur took its fate in its paws and rocketed past, going for broke, taking a chance, drawn by the inexplicable lure of Friskies. What is this tasty thing, and why is it earmarked for cats alone?

In a flash I pursued the transgressor. Too late. What takes a cat all day to nibble, takes a split-second for a canine tongue to demolish.

Yet in the midst of success…defeat. The sneak thief was trapped. No escape. But he was not without recourse. What speed can’t accomplish, a tilted head and large, pleading, brown eyes can.

He was punished for his multiple crimes with ear-ruffling and meat loaf.

He has learned his lesson: use the front door, and look soulful. His penance is a full stomach and clean paws for the rest of his days. Or until his owner comes forth…

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