Monthly Archives: February 2012

"You can’t handle the truth!"


Back in the less politically correct turn-of-the-20th Century, there was a cartoon with the following caption: “Leading cause of adult illiteracy: CATS.” In our household, Zanzibar (pictured here “censoring” the New York Times) often makes it difficult to read All the News That’s Fit to Print. It’s fun to attribute to him the Jack Nicholson motive of shielding his lily-livered owners from the Inconvenient Truth.

Alas, as libel lawyers grow rich demonstrating every day, just cuz it’s printed don’t make it the truth, innit? [See all my previous posts under Murky Research, to bang home this observation.] Every morning I do a side-by-side comparison of articles in the NYTimes & Washington Post, which 2 “reliable sources” often use the same photo for a given story, yet recount Rashoman-like variations of the “facts.” Then I go online and use the Manchester Guardian as the tie-breaker, especially for reportage on American politics. As the not-untainted-erstwhile-NoW-editor, Piers Morgan, put it on Chelsea Lately the other night, the Brits don’t have “a dog in the race.” [A slightly more humane metaphor than the American “dog in the fight.”]

Yet, even if we are in a newspaper-free zone [like a hotel, where all they offer is The USA Today], our dear little heads do Zanzibar’s job for us. We edit incoming data heavily. We say to ourselves, “I don’t wish to know that!” and either block it, forget it, or distort it. The clinical terms for the first 2 defense mechanisms are denial & repression. The 3rd is called PR.

This morning Lili & I got to the sports park early enough that we had the place to ourselves. “Good-o!” thought I. “No worries about fraught encounters with other dogs. We’ll just enjoy the gorgeous morning.” We had completed half the circuit when we met a leashed terrier mix & his owner, so I put Lili in a down-stay to let them pass by. I was succeeding in being Lili’s Pack Leader, until the man asked, “How are you today?” When I replied, “Fine,” Lili sprang into action, dragging me across the path, so she could bark & lunge at the now-also-barking & lunging terrier, as I profusely apologized. Oy! Such humiliation I suffered! More than 7 years of daily training exercises, and I still can’t reliably control my dog. So, as we pounded the pavement even faster, to “burn off” my anger (and, possibly, Lili’s), I formulated a face-saving, fact-bending “press release,” for the next time Lili shows me up in public: “Sorry. She’s a rescue.”

Then I could imagine Jack Nicholson sneering & Zanzibar sprawling, and I pulled myself together. Amended press release: “Sorry. She’s a work-in-progress.” [And so is her owner.] I had just loaded Lili back up into the Jeep, when the terrier & owner reached their nearby car. He gave me a not-at-all-condescending wave [completely neutralizing any residual humiliation] and his terrier (perhaps noting that the fearsome wolf-like beast was safely locked up behind metal & glass) gave a farewell bark & lunge display.

The truth is, every dog & owner partnership is a work in progress. I think I can handle that.

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Filed under aggression happens, attribution theory, lesser of two evils

No Polar Bears’ Picnic


It’s been such a freakishly mild winter, so far, that I plumb forgot to put Lili’s snow boots on this weekend, for our walk in the Smithsonian woods. Here she is with Chris, just before [and after] flinging herself down on her stomach, to dramatize, “Large, painful snowballs have formed in the impractically luxuriant fur between my toes; and I can’t walk another step until you pull them out!” What was up her nose was unmistakably pain & suffering.

What was up my nose was the humiliation of having, through my silly mistake, inflicted needless discomfort on my trusting pet. What was up Chris’ nose was the intrusion of having to stop so often to perform the snow removal ceremony on Lili’s paws. “Tatsu” [to get her to stand up from her flung-down-dog position]; then “Su wa te” [to get her to sit down]; then “Gimme a paw” [well, you get it…].

And so as we made our halting way through our beloved woods, I chanted in my head Albert Ellis’ mantra [“This situation is not awful; it is only highly inconvenient.”], until we encountered our old nemeses: the girl with the unleashed retriever. Figuring that Lili’s limbic system was even more lit up than usual, Chris dragged her off the path into the trees, where she barked & lunged, embarrassingly but harmlessly, as the runner and her [short-haired] dog passed by, unhindered by snowballs between the toes, apparently.

But, as they say in the UK, worse was to follow! A few hundred yards later, we encountered an older woman running [sine cane]; and Lili gave her the full bark & lunge routine, just for nothing. The lady, whose limbic system was the least aroused of any of us, remarked cheerfully, “He’s lucky to be wearing a warm fur coat on a day like this!”

Later, on the ride home, Chris remarked, “I was afraid Lili would pull me off my feet back there!” [Welcome to my world, even when it’s only muddy underfoot.]

So, what’s it all about, then? Despite daily training exercises, to gain mastery over the howling wolf in Lili’s head [and, ahem, mine], we are still very much a work in progress. But wallowing in humiliation about it only adds fuel to the limbic fire [and more resulting anger]. The best thing to do is to use the cheerful lady in the woods as a role model: to Keep Calm & Carry On.

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