A bleeding heart for a dog-eat-dog world

Sleep is a problem. I sleep too long and too hard. Waking up is like climbing out of a well, and it's always happening later than I wanted and planned and set alarms for. Thus it's a real mental treat to tell myself to just sleep in as late as possible, and not curse myself for waking up well into the double-digit hours. That was the plan for this morning.

I was having a crazy dream about steerage ships and Coney Island, somehow tangentially spurred, of course, by the iPod having woken up at 9 and started Shuffling its darling heart out in the living room. 50 Cent and A.C. Newman make for strange halfsleeping dreamfodder. My dreams were getting tension-filled and scary, and I was curled into a ball gripping the pillow, when I woke up to realize that Mia, the road-dog-next-door, was under the window outside crying shriekily and pitifully. I wrestled off the twisted sheet and groggily stumbled to the window and told her, in Righteous Anger Dog Voice, to be quiet and go home. Then I turned off the iPod and went back to sleep.

After getting up some hours later I heard the sweet tinkle of the gate-bell and came outside to find Jill grasping Mia, who was still whimpering. Her left eye was swollen shut and oozing. Jill asked me to come help her take Mia to the veterinary hospital, as she (Jill) was worried about holding onto the dog in a trishaw. I agreed. We went.

She was a very good girl, thus giving me much occasion to make up for the 'early' morning scolding by sweetly pacifying her in Gentle Coo Dog Voice. I was quite pleased to spend time with a nice doggie. Jody, the pooch-in-residence at my place, is sweet but pushy and if I give her an inch (pet her) she'll take a mile (come into my annexe and whine at me to pet her while I'm working). Thus I must maintain a casually distant relationship: we talk, but we don't pet. Mia is more retiring and anyway a road-dog, thus without a sense of settling down and squeezing her way into one house and one heart.

At the vet's, they looked at her eye and decided it was mild trauma needing only anti-inflammatory drops and some looking-after. They also noted a small non-recent wound on her back that wasn't healing well and prescribed Betadine and some antifungal cream. Jill and I held Mia, told her how brave she was, and generally tried to make up for stuffing her in a loud bouncy vehicle, driving her further than she'd probably ever been in her life, and then dragging her into a scary place filled with sad, sick doggies on metal tables.

The attending vet was a little perplexed by our having brought 'a stray' into the clinic (though the treatment itself was free! hard for me and J to consider quality care though it seemed exemplary; clearly an example of our capitalist consumption psychology) which didn't surprise me. There are two kinds of dogs: the ones that people care about, and the ones that people don't. By and large the former sort are purebred and live in houses, and the latter are mutts and do not. Plenty of people have a guard-dog in their yard who never comes in the house and who probably isn't very well-looked after.

The excluded middle, I suppose, is these kinds of guard dogs, but more crucially dogs like Mia, who have clear haunts and homes, habits, personalities, patrons (Mia doesn't like plain rice, only with curry, or plain Cream Crackers), and names. The vet told us, "better to keep her in the yard," which obviously Jill isn't going to do for lots of reasons, first among which is that Mia is a free-wandering dog who wouldn't know what to do with herself if made to stay put. She'd probably end up crying more.

Is it so hard to justify taking care of autonomous road dogs, investing love in something you don't own or control? Understandable, to benumb oneself to the typically everyday sadness of mangy skeletal dogs and puppies whose mothers are too undernourished to give milk, especially when there are similarly suffering people about. This quotidian callousness is both lamentable and indicative of a more sinister lethargy. People unwilling to take small actions of lasting good (like taking a dog to be fixed: not expensive!) are certainly not going to care much about bigger, more intractable problems.

I suppose this is another sad example of a Western imperialist wringing her hands over something irrelevant. I was certainly incredulous when after the tsunami I noted Sarvodaya blog commenters wanting to donate money for animal relief/rehab; weren't there people to be cared for? The same is true in Kandy or wherever. Road dogs, however, live everywhere around and with us.

Most people can more easily extend their radius of care commitments to their immediate surroundings, than to the larger world... we start out, morally, as self-centered beings, and (ideally) gradually develop ever-widening circles of moral obligations. First I look out for #1, then for my family and close friends, and so on outwards. Sure, it isn't practical to care for every stray, but as the cliche goes, if everyone did it... in any case, one can think of loving a mangy mutt (or another person, really) as a tragically Nietzschean act: you know he will someday die, or run away, or break up with you, but you love as fully as you can and accept the bathos and beauty of the fleeting experience, the wagging tail, the smile.

Definitely don't want to come off here as demonizing the vet. He was a good guy and not at all rude or dismissive of our actions; seemed really to care for the pooch and to be amused (not insulting) about two whitey girls and their scruffy friend. He's on my side of the fence.

PS: Mia's eye is somewhat better now though she keeps crying. We think this is merely for attention, now that she's gotten an hour's worth of gentle hands and sweet words out of us. Beware the beloved: s/he will become demanding!

No comments: