The Dog, the Heart, and Yes -- the Election

November 12, 2016  •  1 Comment


This is Tabby.


She is a bright, curious friend who loves long walks -- I'd wager to say she loves them whether they're on the beach or not. I'm sitting for her this weekend while her human family, my capoeira friends, are out of town. She has a funny and endearing little habit. When we walk and she has to go potty, she lifts a hind leg like a male dog would, and marks the lucky bush or rock in question. She learnt this from her older canine brother. She was sure that's how it's supposed to be done since that's how she saw him do it. The anthropologist in me wants to recognize this as the first step of cultural development -- that is, the transmission of behavior. But I'm sure someone's head will spin in a tizzy if I do say it, so I won't.


Tabby has a second funny and endearing little habit: she likes to hold hands. Which is nice when you're feeling emotional.


Like many family/friends/contacts/acquaintances this week, I felt saddened by the results of the election. I sat on the couch, late into the night, watching the pendulum swing in a direction I thought impossible. I pictured my Muslim family members in Germany: would they still be able to visit me one day in the US? I ethereally felt the breathing of my South Asian husband, fast asleep in the bedroom: would he be harassed? I thought about my LGBTQ friends, my POC male friends who might again be subjected to the stop-and-frisk, the Water Protectors in North Dakota and how the thing they were fighting against was the very thing in which our President-Elect had invested. And on, and on, and on. I was surprised at how violently the sadness overtook me: a heavy, visceral thing, racking my shoulders, forcing my mouth agape, penetrating the cocoon of a blanket into which I had swaddled myself. No, nowhere was safe now. It was here. It had always been here.


Needless to then say, when my dear friends asked if I was interested in dog-sitting this weekend, I jumped at the chance. As they do for many humans, dogs hold a special and sacred place in my heart. In Bombay, I was good friends with a street dog I called Frankie. She's a brindle-coated and intelligent girl. She would come up the stairs into our apartment, plop down on the marble floor, and basically not give a shit that she brought fleas in with her. I mostly didn't give a shit about the fleas either (humans don't make good hosts and we didn't have carpeting anyway), because the other thing she brought was something so precious that I dare not name it. I must instead let an anecdote suffice here. One flooded, monsoon evening, I found myself wrapped in sadness. I left our home with Frankie at my heels and climbed the Spanish-style steps to the quaint Catholic church. We lived in Bandra, the part of Bombay that the Portuguese had settled (or colonized, if you prefer). The church's leafy, tree-lined avenue snaked down, San Francisco-style, to the sea, and Bandstand, and Shah Rukh Khan's mansion. For twenty minutes, I didn't move from the courtyard of that church, exhuming my sadness by sobbing in the torrents. As for Frankie, my soaked sentinel lay by my side, not moving until I did.


So this weekend, I get to spend time with Tabby. This morning we walked to an open space in the neighborhood, a chunk of central Oregon's high desert ecosystem: scrub brush in a landscape that would set your vision alight if you caught it when the sun was just so. Like all dogs, Tabby likes to take time to sniff the world around her, exploring who else had been there and what was left behind. As we were walking, I spotted a feather. It wasn't an especially impressive feather, just a gray one about the size of my index finger. But I crouched down nonetheless, picked it up, and admired its simple and effective structure. Then I looked at Tabby. She was sitting and watching me, head slightly and inquisitively cocked, her own exploration momentarily suspended. I stood. She stood. We began walking again, and I felt a warm feeling spread under my solar plexus. Had she been waiting for me while I was investigating the feather? Did she have knowledge of enjoying the act of exploration, and thus understand that perhaps I, too, enjoyed the act of exploration? All sorts of words circulated through my head, words like empathy and patience and thoughtfulness. I do realize that these are high expectations of a dog, and I am also acutely aware of the dangers of anthropomorphizing. But I didn't quite care in that moment. If anything was clear, it was that she was waiting for me. Whether from a space of obedience, an ingrained pack mentality, or thoughtfulness, didn't matter. 


This might be a long-winded way to say it, but as creatures presumably more intellectually dynamic than canids, we can assume that since dogs can think of others, humans can too. The question then becomes, shall we do it in the vein of inclusion or exclusion? Does family stop at shared genes? At community? At nation? At species demarcations? Or the globe?


Have faith, my friends. And when it gets tough, hunker down with a dog. They will always, consciously or not, remind you to love. They do it much more unabashedly than we. They are inherently privy to wisdom that humans must work a bit harder to uncover. And so, again, there is space to learn.


Curt Peterson(non-registered)
This is just the tonic we all need during these days of transition. It seems like we are heading into an abyss, but maybe the reality will be quite different. Dogs can be the source of healing for anyone fortunate enough to interact with them, and they remind us to have faith in things working out. I have hope that Trump might be a better President than we have been led to expect. There is plenty to worry about in today's interconnected World, but the interconnected nature of the World will hopefully force us to be more inclusive. We have learned from the inhuman aspects of human history and can be shown the way by our non-human friends. Thank you Monica!
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