Meaner Than a Junkyard Dog


Not Lili (she said, Metalingually). Idiots (mostly guys, but not always) who buy what is currently called a “Status Weapon” (a Pitbull or similar breed of dog), and then realize that it is high maintenance, needs lots of training & exercise, needs a pack leader to follow or it will freelance…and so–emotionally or physically–they abandon the dog. In a 12-hour interval, I heard 2 news stories about this, and had one personal experience of the phenomenon. On the way to work, I heard an NPR report [so it must be true] on the citizens of Fresno, CA–fruit & veg growing capital of the country–who are the most prone of any city in the USA to obesity & Type II Diabetes. How come? The report boiled it down to two reasons. The fruit & veg are all shipped out of Fresno, because of a city ordinance against Farmers’ Markets (hence a less healthy diet); AND no one dares to walk outside in Fresno anymore, because it’s overrun with packs of (gang-acquired, then abandoned) Pitbulls.

Then–like a made-for-television movie–as I pulled into the parking lot at work, a loose Pitbull came over to greet me as I got out of my car. He had a collar on, but no apparent owner supervising him. I reflexively gave him some Japanese commands, got the Robert de Niro quizzical head-tilt, and switched to hand signals and English. I could get him to “heel” for a few steps, but then he would leave me and head back towards the road. What was I planning to do with him, even if he had followed me all the way to the building? Put Lili’s leash on him and bring him inside? Tether him outside the building and hope his owner would retrieve him? Tell you what I was not planning to do–call Animal Control. I had done this about a month ago, for a loose dog holding up traffic in both directions on the hilly, twisting road near my home; and I was so humiliated by the cynical tone of the questions they asked me [“And why, exactly, are you reporting this?”] that I made a Note to Self : “Let canine ‘Kitty Genoveses’ fend for themselves in this county.” Hours later when I left work, the parking lot Pitbull had escalated to holding up traffic on a main thoroughfare, during rush hour. I rationalized that shortly one of the many cop cars that patrol that road would encounter him, and handle the situation. On my drive home, BBC news did a long piece on the growing problem of dogs acquired as “Status Weapons” in the UK, with an audio vignette of policemen approaching such a dog, armed with fire extinguishers, and a dog handler wearing the afore-mentioned “bite-me” padded suit.

This is the first post where I consider the power of vicarious pain & suffering to provoke anger. If I really wanted to connect all the dots, I could probably make it be all about Lili & me: humiliation that strangers will perceive her as my ill-advised “Status Weapon”; fear that just her breed will provoke others to treat her and me like criminals. But–apart from that one lady & her dog in the school yard some months ago–Lili and I have received nothing but positive feedback on our sorties. She was even addressed as “Sweetie-pie,” by the guy who maintains the cross-country trail and coaches the high school team, this week.

So, there you have it: a possible distinction between a human’s amygdalar arousal, and a dog’s. As Bill Clinton might put it, we “feel their pain,” and it makes us angry, and we wonder what to do for the best; whereas when a dog senses a human’s pain, it has only to decide, “Hmm. Should I go over and lick him, or bite him, or should I just keep walking?”

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Filed under leading a pack, semiotics, vicarious trauma

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