Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Seeing Cruelty

There are two stories that I come across frequently. They always grab my attention. I think they will grab your attention too.

Story One:

Vicky grows frustrated that Salty the dog is digging up holes in the lawn. She has a great idea--she grabs a shovel and enlarges the hole. She dances in delight with Salty and while still dancing she fills the hole up with water from the garden hose. She reaches for Salty and holds her head under the water. Surprised, Salty tries to free herself. Vicki remarks, "I thought you loved digging holes?" Every day for the next three weeks Vicki continues this: redigging old holes or improving new ones,  filling them with water, and holding her head under water. Vicki later remarks that Salty "has this crazy, incurable response to the sight of a hole." Salty no longer digs and is even avoident of holes she didn't dig.

Who is Vicki? She is Vicki Hearne, author of the 1986 book Adam's Task: Calling Animals by Name. She was a dog trainer who encouraged people to discover the "poetry in obedience." Her work was highly acclaimed for its beautiful exploration of our relationship  with animals.

Story Two:

"How hard do you hit the dog? A good general rule is that if you did not get a response, a yelp or other sign, after the first hit, it wasn' hard enough."

This one comes from "How to be your dog's best friend" by the monks of New Skete. Any bookstore or library has this on its shelves. It's considered a classic by many.

Suzanne Clothier, author of "Bones Would Rain from the Sky" encourges us all to narrow our focus and see the dog. What is  the experience from the perspective of the dog? What must the yelping dog be feeling? What effect does beating have on the dog/human relationship? How about Salty? What about her perspective going from playing to being drowned?

Clothier further writes in her book that "those who can weave a cloak of beautiful thoughts about ugly actions may not only be allowed to proceed without fear of protest, but embraced as a shining light of wisdom."

We need not look to far to see this happening today. Some celibrity dog trainers are filling up concert halls. With conviction and carisma they dispense advice that amounts to little more than ugly actions. Pinch or choke collars, electric (invisible) fences, citronella spraying collars or those that dispense a shock. Some even will "string a dog up" and cut off their air supply until they turn blue and learn to be "obedient." See the dog. What is the dog's experience?

For many, sadly, these are all appropriate training techniques for dogs. It is the same in human childrearing: many find spanking appropriate.

In both cases, I find these tools to limit the possibilities of what it can mean to be human or dog. Violence, in whatever form, can bring comformity to behaviors through fear. Violence, however, extinguishes our shared ability to relate, connect, grow, love, and be more than what we think possible.

One last thought from Clothier's book: "Uncomfortable though it may be, our growth as human beings requires that we examine the ways in which we justify our sometimes inhumane actions and our very human tendencies to accept an authority beyond our own hearts. Unless we are willing to learn to see cruelty in all its many disguises, we cannot create a philosophy that protects against it."

Are you willing to see?

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