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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Pet-Parent

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When it comes to my pets, I have always been one of those people.

You know the kind: the ones who take guardianship of their fur-children very, very seriously indeed. The ones who always have a weather eye out for any slight change in demeanor or habits. The ones who pounce on opportunities to better the all-too-short lives of their charges.

It’s a gradual evolution.

You begin as a child who loves the family pet. The child who can’t sleep without Fido or Fluffy nestled close. The child who sobs uncontrollably when their fur-sibling eventually departs, often becoming the first lesson in the incalculably final loss that death bestows.

And then you learn the corollary: that loss does not end the heart’s capacity to love. So another pet pads its way into your life and the pattern of lifelong companionship begins.

I’m unaware of exhibiting overt signs of the fierce protectiveness that has evolved with the advent of each successive fur-child. But now I’m wondering if I’ve gone attitude-blind; if I emit something akin to a rank odor that warns the rest of humanity to give me a wide berth.

This dawning suspicion reared its head following today’s annual vet appointment for my oldest cat, Ebony.

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Having owned animals all my life, I consider myself a connoisseur of veterinarians. I know what they should ask. I know how they should present themselves. I’m very, very picky and have no qualms about abandoning a doctor who doesn’t meet my stringent requirements.

But this is the first time a vet has quietly stood to the side and asked me how I’d like things to go. Exam first and shots after? Or vice versa? Or maybe the Benadryl shot for allergies first to mellow the cat out, and then exam, and then final shot?

I am impressed. I opt for exam first and then shots, knowing how my cat will be hyper to get away once needle pierces skin.

It isn’t until after I leave, cat in tow, that I realize the entire staff is behaving with extreme caution, because they recognize the most dangerous of all animals is in their midst.

The Mom-Of-Fur-Children.

Shudder in her presence, for she will stop at nothing to protect her own…

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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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