How things have changed

I found a dog training book: Paul Loeb’s Complete Book of Dog Training, by (perhaps unsurprisingly) Paul Loeb.  Copyright 1974.

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The training advice is based around dominance theory, not really surprising, given the era.

Tierce:  I don’t buy dominance theory. I don’t care if you run everything. Saves me paperwork. Speaking of that, have you done your taxes yet?

Me:  Shut up.  Hey, you got off lucky with the housebreaking.

Tierce:  I came housebroken. What’s your point?

Me:  Take a look.

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Tierce:  And he has a helpful illustration. Are you sure this isn’t one of those witch hunting instruction manuals?

Me:  Pretty sure. I didn’t see any descriptions of thumb-screws or Iron Maidens.

Tierce:  Close enough, though. I agree with whoever annotated the page with, “I would never do this!  Barbaric + cruel”.

Me:  Yeah, pretty much.

Tierce:  Besides, why torment a defenseless puppy with just a taste of poop and not give them the whole thing?

Me:  I’m going to pretend you never said that.

Tierce:  If anyone tried that with me, their house would be smoking rubble within 12 hours.

Me:  Well, in that case, this guy has a solution…

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Tierce:  What is up with the vinegar and Tabasco fetish?

Me:  Beats me. Speaking of that, this is how I should teach you not to bite.

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Tierce:  ‘Set up possible nipping situations with the dog and the children.’  Now, that doesn’t sound like anything could go wrong there.

Me:  Sounds a little risky. ” Okay, Caitlin, take Puppy’s ears and yank really hard…”

Tierce. Ugh.

Me:  Doesn’t sound as bad as this situation.

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Tierce:  Who the hell are these people?

Me:  Well, people thought differently back then.  Dominance theory was probably the best explanation people had for dog behaviour.

Tierce:  ‘Back then’?  You were born in the seventies, weren’t you?

Me:  Well… yeah.

Tierce:  How old are you?

Me:  Let’s move on. Hey, you can tell this was made in the seventies.

Tierce:  Aside from the cover?

Me:  Yeah. First, look at this.

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Tierce:  That seems awfully specific. Hey, it says that I can have tobacco and liquor if prescribed by a vet.

Me:  Uh, no.

Tierce:  But beer tastes really good.

Me:  What?  When did you drink beer?

Tierce:  When we visited those friends of yours and someone spilled a Bud Light on the porch.

Me:  That’s what that was?

Tierce:  I actually liked the Canadian better.

Me:  What?

Tierce:  Someone else spilled that later.

Me:  No beer!

Tierce:  In dog years, I’m well above the age of majority.

Me:  No. No beer, no hamsters, no dead birds.

Tierce:  A predator is ever aware of opportunity.

Me:  Hey, this guy has a solution for that.

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Tierce:  That’s considerate of him to make sure a snack is always within my reach. And I can perfume the house with it. Like air freshener.

Me:  That’s never happening.

Tierce:  Aww.

Me:  He doesn’t seem to have a good opinion of attack trained dogs.

Tierce:  Neither do I. You have a 99% less chance of getting treats if you bite people, so they tell me.

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Tierce:  Holy shit, is that really what happens?

Me:  Not in my experience. I have no idea who this guy was chumming around with, but that’s not how RCMP dogs are trained. And the Schutzhund people I know don’t do that; they say that associating protection training with negative reinforcement is the exact wrong thing to do.

Tierce:  So, what’s the second thing?

Me:  This.

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Tierce: The Hell’s Angel of the dog world. Huh.

Me:  What’s missing?

Tierce:  Have no clue.

Me:  No mention of pit bulls.  Anywhere.

Tierce:  Interesting.

Me:  Yup.

Tierce:  I’m kind of glad you went with clicker training.

Me:  I’m sure we both are.

Charity Begins At Home

Max was missing for over a month.  He may not make it, but we're sure as hell going to fight for him.

Max was missing for over a month. He may not make it, but we’re sure as hell going to fight for him.

Help Bring Max Home

Tierce:  What is this?  What are you posting on my Facebook page?

Me: Friend’s cat is sick.  Needs help in the form of money.

Tierce:  I don’t help cats.  Cats are the enemy.

Me:  You were okay looking at him through the window.

Tierce:  Yeah, through the window.  He wanted to kill me.

Me:  He did not.

Tierce:  Yeah, when you weren’t looking, he stared at me.  And showed his claws.

Me:  He probably didn’t know what the hell you were.

Tierce:  But he was willing to see how I tasted.

Me:  Don’t be ridiculous.  He might be a little nuts, but that cat-

Tierce:  Threatened to shiv me if I came inside.

Me:  Well that was why you were left outside.

Tierce:  At the mercy of the elements.

Me:  It was spring!  It was sunny!  It was 18 degrees!

Tierce:  Could have changed at any moment.  Abandoner.

Me:  We were right on the other side of the damn drywall.

Tierce:  Petting the cat.

Me:  Look, if you were in this state, you’d better believe I would be trying to help you.

Tierce:  Because it’s your job.

Me:  So you should try to help other beings in the same situation.

Tierce:  Catshit.  Which is tasty, by the way.

Me:  Don’t be disgusting.  I’m putting this on your page.

Tierce:  What do I get out of it?

Me:  Maybe if you’re a little more enthusiastic about it, they might give you some Kraft Singles or something.

Tierce:  Really?!

Me:  Uh, sure.  Totally.  Never a doubt.

Tierce:  Wow, this is awesome!  Put that on my page.  And maybe I could write a poem.

Me:  That’s the spirit!

Tierce:  The spirit of self-interest?

Me:  Whatever motivates you to charitable work.

Tierce:  Reason enough for me.

Help Bring Max Home

It's for a good cause.

It’s for a good cause.

 

Road Trials for Bicycle Dogs

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“That wheel is definitely out of true.”

 

From March 23rd to May 1st, I am at Quadra Island Bike School for a mechanic course that covers pretty much everything that a bicycle has in it or on it.

Cyclists and dogs sometimes have a very wary relationship, bordering on hostile.  This is, I believe, largely because irresponsible dog owners do not control their animals and don’t socialize them around bicycles.  Nor do they train them what to do when near a bicycle.

Certainly, one can socialize their dogs around cyclists and bicycles, but for the people who want their dogs to bicycle with them and not be the dogs cyclists love to hate, I have an idea:

The Dalmatian Club of America has a Dalmatian Road Trial (DRT) certification for Dalmatians who are trained to work with and around horses.

The above page states:

A Dalmatian Road Trial is a performance event designed to evaluate the Dalmatian’s ability to “coach”, or follow the horses. Exhibitors compete as handler on horseback or in a horse-drawn cart or carriage, with dog(s) off leash…. Road Trials demonstrate Dalmatians’ ability to behave in public places, such as riding trails, in the presence of other dogs, in a manner that will reflect positively on the sport and on purebred dogs.

I’d like to develop something similar for all dogs in regards to bicycles.  While today’s dog may go its whole life without seeing a horse, most dogs regularly see bicycles.  Bicycles can also be a good source of exercise for a well-trained and -controlled dog.

While not everyone will be comfortable letting their dog off-leash for this kind of activity, the rules of a DRT could be adapted for bicycle use.  Training a dog to stay within a safe distance of the bicycle, to stay, to sit, to come to the bicycle, to keep speed with the bicycle for an appropriate distance are all useful behaviours to shape in your dog.

For people who like to bicycle with their dogs off-leash, these behaviours become even more important.  How does your dog react when biking around other dogs, other people, horses or wildlife?  It’s better to teach and proof your dog before you do serious mountain biking with him or her.

Shibas often don’t bicycle with their people due to their size and lack of concern about pesky things like ‘command’, but Tierce sometimes comes with me if I’m going somewhere on a bike.  He’s decent at trotting along, but his limit is around 10K, which means if I want to go somewhere farther or faster, it’s the bike trailer for him.

Tierce in his bicycle trailer. I'm not even gonna tell you how much that cost. We bicycle in unfenced locations.

“Drive through the park; you know how I love the park.”

Relatively Speaking

Tierce: What are you so happy about?

Me:  I found some cousins.  Connected with them on Facebook.

Tierce:  What’s so great about that?  Everyone knows who their cousins are.  It’s in their pedigree.

Me:  It doesn’t quite work that way, Tierce.  Humans don’t always know if someone’s related to them.

Tierce:  Sure they do.  Just look in the OFA database.  My cousins are in there.

Me:  A) Humans aren’t listed in the OFA database.  B) Not every dog and not every relative of yours is listed in the OFA database.

Tierce:  Then look at your pedigree.  When did I become a service dog?  It’s like I have to guide you through this.

Me:  Look.  People aren’t listed by pedigree in Canadian records.  You can find out more about your relatives by researching your geneaology, but it’s not usually just sitting there unless someone’s into that kind of thing.

Tierce: I thought you have registration papers.  What’s that?

Me:  My birth certificate.

Tierce:  Looks official.  What breed are you, anyway?

Me:  Human.

Tierce:  You have papers, shouldn’t you have some kind of name that tells someone what you do?

Me:  I’m a dog daycare worker, but that’s not all I am.

Tierce:  What were you bred for?

Me:  Nothing, really.  My mom decided to have a baby, I guess.

Tierce:  Was she tested clear of anything?  How about your sire?

Me:  Uh… not that I recall.

Tierce:  Where did she get you?

Me:  You mean have me?  Vancouver Children’s Hospital.

Tierce:  So you have a fake registration, your parents weren’t tested clear of anything and they got you at some store.  Wow.

Me:  No!  It’s not like that!

Tierce:  Look, I’m not judging your worthiness as a human or whatever it is you call yourself.  I’m just saying it’s good that you’ve never decided to have pups.

Me:  Children.

Tierce:  Whatever.  Why did you decide that, by the way?

Me:  The knowledge that I would have conversations like these somewhere down the line.

Fully Fenced Yard

One of my co-workers wanted an Australian Shepherd.  She is employed by the same dog daycare that employs me and works part-time for an obedience trainer, running the puppy training classes.  She already has a Boxer who attends daycare with her and occasionally demos in the classes.

She was turned down by two different kennels.  The reason: she didn’t have a fenced yard.

Another co-worker has finally moved into a place where she can have a dog.  She had been searching for the past few months for the right type of dog and was applying to adopt from some of the shelters in town.  She also works for the dog daycare and is hoping to find a medium-sized companion.

She was also turned down for not having a fenced yard.

I’ll tell you right now that stories like that make me rage.  You would think someone this obsessed with a breed that views front-door-bolting as an Olympic sport would be a stickler for secure fenced yards.

The truth is that I’ve never had a secure fenced yard and 2015 marks my 22nd year with Shibas.

Not actually a fully fenced yard.

Not actually a fully fenced yard.  At this point, the wood has rotted enough that it barely qualifies as ‘fenced’.

I realize that not all breeders and rescues use this as a deal-breaker, but I’ve heard enough stories about people being turned down for adoption solely due to their lack of a yard to make me pissed off.  Yes, of course, if there are other factors, certainly think twice about selling or adopting out a dog to someone.  But if there are no other factors, why is a fenced yard so damn important?

A fenced yard doesn’t make someone a responsible owner.

In fact, I think that it’s easier to be lazy with your dog if you can toss him in the yard instead of walking him.  I know that a lot of people do it.  Hell, if we lived in a medium-security prison, I might be okay with letting Tierce just wander out in the yard and do whatever he has to do.

Not having a secure yard means I actually have to get off my ass and interact with the damn dog, escorting him outside, preventing him from scarfing down cat shit and stopping him from aiming for the rotten fence boards that lead straight to the road.  Or, horrors, I or Mischa actually have to walk him.

Would I care if someone has a yard if I was adopting out a Shiba?  Well, yeah, I’m interested in the dog’s environment.  I’d want to know how the dog was going to get exercise and where.  However, I’d be looking for something like “I want to walk my dog.”  “I want to do a sport with my dog.”  “I want to teach my dog to bark in Pig Latin while it runs with me.”  Something that indicates that you don’t think that one-on-one exercise with the dog is something you do only if you feel like it, when you have time because, you know, you have a yard.  The dog can just run around in there every day instead of getting regular interaction with you and the outside environment.

What people who place dogs with people want is a good home where the dog will be loved and responsibly cared for.  A fenced yard just isn’t something that is going to ensure that a dog gets adequate exercise, appropriate and on-going interaction with society, or training.  Sure, it’s a perk, but it’s certainly not something that a dog must have to live a full life.

In fact, the number of dogs I hear barking in their yards and never see out with their owners would directly contradict that notion.  We walk in our neighbourhood at all hours; we know who walks their dog and who just opens the back door.

Now, according to the criteria of some breeders, rescues, SPCAs and shelters, I would not be approved for ownership of Tierce, due to the fenced yard thing.  Let’s take a look at Tierce’s experiences with not having a secure fenced yard:

Events in the Society for Creative Anachronism (medieval nerd club).  Not a fully fenced yard.

Society for Creative Anachronism event (our medieval nerd club).

Trestle on the Galloping Goose Trail, Saanich area.  Not a fully fenced yard.

Trestle on the Galloping Goose Trail, Saanich BC.

At Dogs in the Bakery in Victoria, B.C.  Not a fully fenced yard.

At Dogs in the Bakery in downtown Victoria BC.

In Fan Tan Alley, Victoria, B.C.  Not a fully fenced yard.

In Fan Tan Alley, Chinatown, Victoria.

On Government St, Victoria BC.  Not a fully fenced yard.

On Government St, downtown Victoria.

At Saxe Point Park Off Leash Area.  Not fully fenced.

At Saxe Point Park Off Leash Area, Esquimalt BC.

Hammond Bay Road area, Nanaimo BC.  Not a fully fenced yard.

Hammond Bay Road area, Nanaimo.

Sugar Loaf Mountain Park, Nanaimo BC, overlooking Departure Bay.  Not fully fenced.

Sugar Loaf Mountain Park, Nanaimo, overlooking Departure Bay.

Paddleboarding in Departure Bay.  If you think this is fully fenced in any way, there is no hope for you.

Paddleboarding in Departure Bay, Nanaimo.

Exploring the rock formations on Newcastle Island while paddleboarding.  No fences here.

Exploring the rock formations on Newcastle Island while paddleboarding.

Exploring the rock formations on Newcastle Island while paddleboarding.  No fences here.

At Paws for a Cause walk, Nanaimo.

Paddleboarding in Departure Bay, next to Jesse Island.  No fences.  I'm serious.

Paddleboarding in Departure Bay, next to Jesse Island, Nanaimo.

Off leash with his Shiba fan club.  Not fenced.

At the beach with his Shiba fan club, Nanaimo.

Diana Krall Plaza, downtown Nanaimo.  No fences.

Diana Krall Plaza, downtown Nanaimo.

On the BC Ferry, watching the coast slide by.  Fenced, but not fully.

On the BC Ferry, watching the coast slide by.

In Horseshoe Bay, near Vancouver, BC.  Not a fenced park.

In Horseshoe Bay, near Vancouver, BC.

Kayaking Nanaimo estuary.  Any fencing would have been submerged under high tide.

Kayaking Nanaimo Estuary.

Neck Point Park.  Not an off-leash area, but no secure fences.

Neck Point Park, Nanaimo.

Pipers Lagoon Park.  No fences.

Pipers Lagoon Park.

Petroglyph Provincial Park, Nanaimo BC, learning about petroglyphs and the people who made them.

Petroglyph Provincial Park, Nanaimo.

Tierce in his bicycle trailer.  I'm not even gonna tell you how much that cost.  We bicycle in unfenced locations.

Tierce in his bicycle trailer. I’m not even gonna tell you how much that thing cost.  North Nanaimo.

Top of Mount Benson, overlooking Nanaimo

Top of Mount Benson, overlooking Nanaimo

That dog has a fuller life than a lot of humans I know.  He gets plenty of regular activity that stimulates his mind and body.  How many dogs have this kind of life?  How would a fenced yard improve his quality of life?  I’m kind of leaning towards the opinion that it wouldn’t.  Sure, it would be a convenience, but it wouldn’t make his life any better than it is now.

***

My first co-worker finally got her Australian Shepherd puppy from a kennel in New Mexico.  Puppy is already clicker-trained on basic manners, is starting trick training, is housebroken, crate-trained and regularly comes to daycare to play with the other puppies.  She is also the demo puppy for the puppy classes.  She is laid-back, eager to please and well-adjusted to people, other dogs, loud noises, etc.

I kind of hope her person emails the breeders that turned her down with pictures when her dog gets her first obedience and agility titles.

My second co-worker just got a puppy.  After being turned down by rescues and rehomers six times because she didn’t have a fenced yard, she bought a dog from a breeder.

The Double Standard

TMS Note:  This is a guest post by Christine, of I Am Shiba.  One of the long-standing Shiba blogs on the Internet, I Am Shiba chronicled the adventures of Cortez Squirrelsbane Shiba-san and his friends.  RIP Cortez.  We love you and miss you, even though we never met you in the fur.  

Christine has made some excellent points in her post that I think deserve some extra attention.  This post has been reproduced from the author’s Facebook page with permission and nothing has been altered.

Shibas facing each other, negative image

Recently, a Shiba was attacked by a pit bull like dog. This is not an uncommon occurance; Cortez had two amazing battles against pit bull like dogs and somehow pulled through with some hair loss, a few scratches, and sheer luck. The other dog was not so lucky and his vet costs will be substantial. The owner also got hurt during the battle, trying to save her dog. I pray that all dogs are up to date on their shots (mainly rabies) because the treatment for rabies, while not as bad as it used to be, is still not a fun process. I have my own beliefs regarding how dog fights should be handled- whether they are in a dog park, if one dog gets loose and picks a fight, if the owners are around and not intervening, etc. There are a number of different scenarios where people get faced with the battle of Buck vs. Spitz. I am not a proponent of the “one bite” law; in most cases, I believe if skin is broken and the bite happens outside of play, the risk of future injuries outweighs the benefits of giving a dog a second chance. While there may never be a second opportunity for the dog to bite someone or another dog, is it worth the risk?

Recently, there was a picture posted of a small child grabbing a Shiba and literally smashing this Shiba’s face up against her own. At the same time, there was an adult behind the Shiba who had her hand on the Shiba’s head. Several people commented that this picture was “sooooo cute”; I, on the other hand, had to restraining myself from screaming, could you have set up a potential biting scenario any better? People might claim, well, there was an adult there supervising (as evidenced by the adult petting the Shiba while the young child was embracing the same dog) but we are talking about the face of the Shiba smashed right up against this small child’s face (the child was age 2 or under). This is not a cute photograph. This is a child who is not being taught (yes, children can learn at a very young age) how to appropriately behave around a dog, this is an adult that doesn’t give a damn (as evidenced by the picture of said cuteness) while the child is moving into a very dangerous situation, and this is a Shiba that if frightened or stressed, has no choice but to resort to the highest level of escape- fight to back out and get away.

Many people have posted about how their Shibas have escaped while being under their control; I am one of those people (Cruise is very adept at squeezing through the smallest of holes and shouting out the cry of Scottish pride “Freedom!”) Many people have posted about being bitten by their Shibas. Many people have posted that their Shiba has “Shibatude” with other dogs or that they can not foster because their dog is not “dog friendly.” Many Shibas are identified as not being cuddlers and as “not good with small children.” Many have stated that their dogs can not go to dog parks not because of other dogs, but because their dog does not play well with others. As Shiba owners, it is well understood that the breed is stand-offish in nature, but assertive when it needs to be or aggressive when it desires to be. They are not dogs that are 100% trustworthy unsupervised, but then, no dog or breed really is.

(Here is where I insert the token disclaimer that while the breed behaves in a general manner, there are exceptions to ever rule regarding Shibas and the general idea of what is a Shiba. So, while there are always exceptions to every rule, it still stands that statistically, shit happens and sometimes a Shiba can be knee deep in it).

When a dog attacks another person’s Shiba, people are very quick to blame the other dog and owner- stating that the dog should be put down, the owners fined and responsible for hospital bills, and legal action taken. For the most part, I agree with this. I do not care if the dog is a Golden Retriever or the people are the kindest elderly family in the city; overall, the rule stands that owners are responsible for the actions of their dogs and that dogs should not be bite. However, it is interesting that the following also happens:

– Individuals posting about letting their Shibas run loose
– Individuals posting about having problems with their Shibas running loose and how to make it a more pleasurable experience
– Individuals posting about their Shiba’s ill-mannered behavior toward other dogs and individuals agreeing “that’s it just their nature,”
– Individuals posting about getting bitten by their dog and justifying the bite- or action taken toward the bite is inconclusive
– Individuals posting about how their Shiba biting their child and how to change this behavior

etc.

Every complaint that people have made regarding loose pit bulls rampaging through neighborhoods, have been complaints that people have had about Shibas. And, like the rampaging pit bull, ultimately it is up to the owner to guide and modify the Shibas behavior. But Shiba owners are so quick to forgive their beloved breed of its faults, that they will even donate money to save a Shiba that was proven in a court of law to have bitten and killed an infant- and even blamed the parents for what happened while the dog was obviously an innocent victim.

We are living in a world of contradiction. Pitbulls are vicious mean dogs but if my Shiba shows that behavior, I either need to be “more alpha” or its just Shibatude.

No.

We as Shiba owners are just as responsible for our pets as any other breed. We can not just simply forgive the bad behaviors of our breed or do/encourage behaviors that we call irresponsible by other breed owners when Shibas are notorious for their unpreditable yet intelligent natures. We can’t ask that we train our dogs run loose and then blame other owners when they do the same. We can’t complain when a dog escapes from a yard when ours might do the same. We can’t yell at other owners for ill mannered dogs when we laugh at the antics of our own, and most importantly, we can never accept that biting is an acceptable behavior *and* place our Shibas in situations where its only alternative may be to do just that.

Shibas are an exceptional breed and often the exception to many rules. What works on many dogs as training, does not work on them and while many Shibas may like something, there will always be one or two that will break the rules (perfect example, the cavebed crazy- some like them, some don’t- I am not investing my money until I know that Cruise is 100% in favor of the idea and so far, he has said nothing on the matter). But if we are going to insist that a pit bull be put to sleep for biting, then why do we not insist upon a Shiba being put to sleep for biting? If we are going to hold owners accountable for damages done by a dog, why is it that a community can say, “we will pay to rescue the dog so that the owner can get a boot camp training program”? How is it that we can complain about having loose dogs and then ask for advice on how to have a Shiba run free in the woods or on a walk (the worst dog fight I ever saw happened when two hikers had loose dogs in the woods- and the two loose dogs went right after each other)- and it’s not like Shibas are at all territorial or view the world from a “Mine” perspective (i.e., Mine yard, Mine Street, Mine Woods).

It’s time that we as fanciers, rescuers, and promoters of the breed realize that within the context of what we are posting or doing, we are actually asking for permission or encouraging our dogs to do exactly what we expect other people and dogs for doing. I get mad when at the Vet, they assume that they need a muzzle? Why? Because I believe that first they could and should ask me but more importantly, it means that there are Shibas that they have encountered who required a muzzle- to which I ask, what has the owner and the vet done to make the vet’s office a more positive experience rather than a more restraining, negative one. It’s time that we start stepping forward and realizing that our breed is not perfect, often does have issues of assertion or aggression, and too often, these are ignored- to the danger of the surrounding environment which leaves others to pick up and untrain the dangerous habits. While there is no magic formula on how to make our breed perfect, there are many positive steps: good quality food, calm patient training on the leash, positive exercise and human attention/contact, boundaries, and socialization in non-stressful areas. Most of all, passing on the message and teaching children how to approach and work with dogs who potentially stress out if they have a hang nail or the fur on their tail suddenly feels funny. Let’s make March not just a month of rescue and rehabilitation, but with Old Man Winter leaving, let’s start off this Spring with doing the right thing for our dogs and that is teaching ourselves how to make them better dogs by making the right decisions.

Thinking

2015-01-31 15.55.44

With the power of my mind, I will impel the cheese off the counter.

 

Me: What are you thinking?

Tierce: If I took a running leap on top of the counter, I could eat that cheese wrapper.

Me: What?

Tierce: I mean, I would never do such a thing. While you were watching.

Me: Apparently science says that while you have an emotional life, you don’t necessarily think that I do. Or that I am even a thinking being at all, really.

Tierce: You’re writing a conversation with your dog on your dog’s Facebook page.

Me: But what do you think about me as a thinking being?

Tierce: You’re writing a conversation with your dog on your dog’s Facebook page.

Me: You’re just repeating yourself. Are you aware of me as a separate thinking entity?

Tierce: You’re writing- you know what? Fuck this. The answer’s no and can I have that cheese wrapper now.

Me: No! Wrappers are bad for you. Bad!

Tierce: I will now stare intently at the door and growl.

Me: What? What’s there? Tierce? Who’s at the door? Tierce? COME BACK HERE WITH THAT WRAPPER, YOU LITTLE SHIT.

Sympathy For The Devil

Tierce in a suit

“I’ve never been anthropomorphized in my life.”

In the wake of the sentencing of Emma Paulsen – Surrey’s notorious dog walker who left 6 dogs to die in her truck one May afternoon – an opinion has been rocking the BC Ferry. Adrian MacNair, in an op-ed entitled: Sympathy for the dog killer Paulsen, stated:

I felt sympathy because Paulsen is going to lose her right to freedom over the death of six animals who, at the end of the day, are essentially inconsequential to this world.

At this point, The Now’s Facebook page is roiling with animal lovers who most emphatically disagree with his opinion and the newspaper’s choice to print it. While I don’t agree with the manner that some people expressed their disagreement, I sympathize with their feelings.

MacNair’s editorial sparked a visceral reaction from me akin to that I experience when people belittle others for the love they have for their pets. “It’s just a dog!” is the kind of thing that someone says to make someone else feel bad. I have yet to hear that sentiment expressed in any fashion other than a petty, cruel desire to infer that someone’s feelings have no merit.

I am well aware that any love I feel for Tierce may not be reciprocated, either in depth or in kind. He is a dog. We’re still figuring out how they tick. They are pretty obviously not in our league when it comes to making decisions to prolong the quality or quantity of their lives – anyone who reads up on the challenges some pet owners have to deal with has ample evidence of that fact. They can be expensive to care for. They can be difficult to deal with and some you can’t deal with at all.

Of course you could say the same about toddlers. And poor people. And the mentally challenged. The physically challenged. That annoying fucker in the next cubicle who keeps cracking his knuckles. And, considering we have over seven billion people in the world, one could argue that our taxes would be better spent elsewhere rather than to make these peoples’ lives better.

Dogs may live less than a decade, but so will many children with severe disabilities. We could just as well argue that the penalties for hurting them or causing them undue suffering are too extreme. After all, they’ll be dead in a decade anyway. And the mentally challenged – well, many of them are ‘essentially inconsequential to this world’ – they will never cure a disease or write a respected book or even be able to hold down a job to pay their own way. Some of them may never be able to return the affection or care that a family member or caregiver lavishes on them. If their significance to this world is minimal, who cares if they suffer?

To imply that suffering and the infliction of it does not matter because of the species of animal disturbs me. MacNair himself notes that people anthropomorphize their pets. He fails to mark the significance of the fact that we largely cannot help attributing human qualities to animals and even objects that carry a significant emotional weight with us.

Perhaps he has not considered the role that animal abuse plays in the development of serial killers, in domestic abuse, and as a weapon of terror. The ability to empathize plays a huge role in our ability to recognize pain and avoid inflicting it on others. Lacking this aspect of personality means that a person has no reason to avoid hurting others. If MacNair favours people who judge the value of another on a specific set of criteria exclusive of whether they can feel pain and distress, then he certainly can find them in any number of maximum-security prisons.

In his conclusion, MacNair urges his readers to think about humans before animals, yet he hardly seems to consider the feelings of the people who shared their lives with these dogs or the people who empathize with the suffering these dogs went through. His message essentially appears to be, “We should be worrying about and caring for our fellow human beings unless they value animals as companions.” He certainly doesn’t seem to recognize that our caring for animals is an extension of our ability to care in general.

Yes, as far as humans are concerned, dogs only have the value that we give them. That we give them value, that we care for them and worry about them and work with them and spend money on them – that’s a sign that we have a great measure of the ability to not only bond with our pets, but with our fellow human beings.

Nurturing that ability, not stifling it, is a mark of caring. Caring is not telling them that their feelings have no value, that their grief has no meaning, that their ability to care is useless unless focused on a subject that one personally believes has merit.

MacNair doesn’t have to care about dogs the way I care about them. He doesn’t have to even like them. However, if he feels that nurturing other human beings is important, perhaps he should remember that their feelings have merit, even if he doesn’t value their focus.