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Species?

by on June 5, 2016

                                                                           Species?

                                                                 by Marco M. Pardi

“It should not be believed that all beings exist for the sake of man. On the contrary, all the other beings too have been intended for their own sakes and not for the sake of something else.” Moses Maimonides (CE 1135 – 1204) The Guide for the Perplexed. CE 1190.

All comments welcome.

Some months ago my wife and I were exiting a restaurant by crossing the outdoor patio.  We encountered a couple of women who had two Great Pyrenees on long leashes, rescue dogs being fostered for adoption.  One was clearly an older dog.  As my wife spoke to the women on her way out I knelt down on the patio and spoke quietly to the dogs.  The younger one briefly checked me out and the older one stood there as I continued speaking and getting closer, moving my hand to rub his chest. (Note: Please do not make the common mistake of trying to pat a dog on top of his head, especially a strange dog)  My voice dropped to a near whisper as I spoke, he appeared to listen and consider while I rubbed his chest, our faces side by side, eyes only inches apart.  I don’t know how long we spent like that, but sensing it was “time to go” I quietly wished him safety and happiness in his new life, got up and began to walk away.  He quickly turned and, with his side against my leg, seemed to signal he was going with me.  The woman holding his leash said to my wife, “Looks like he’s got a friend.”  My wife said, “Oh, he’s a dog whisperer.”  

I think of that dog often, the deep eye contact we had, the immediate bond we seemed to form despite the human on the other end of that leash, and all the other people on the patio.  I hope he’s happy.  And, I hope he remembers me, though that is tempered by concern that he may have felt yet another rejection or lost bond when I left.  Too often life is what you have to just settle for.

I know that feeling, and I know that I am perhaps overly quick to ascribe that feeling to others, particularly my non-human animal family.  In my immediate family my earliest self realizations grew from the familial tradition that children were the inconvenient, and in my case unwanted outcome of failure to take due precautions.  At best, they were what was socially expected.

My first years in the U.S. were spent in a large apartment in downtown Cleveland.  My days included long stretches of looking out the windows. There below me, in the concrete canyon, I saw my first horse.  On occasion a police horse and rider would pause for a while on the broad sidewalk, the cars, trams, and pedestrians swirling past. I never saw the officer interact with the horse, beyond sitting on him.  It was the same as sitting on a motorcycle, only higher.  Though neither the horse (I think) nor I had the vocabulary at the time, I think I formed a concept in our minds of, “WTF am I doing here?”  I did get to meet and pet the horse once.  No other children my age ever being around, perhaps he wondered how this human got so small.

My brother, four years senior and someone I barely knew, came home on summer break from the military school I would also soon attend and, because he was going, I got to also attend summer camp.  Not too much under six years old, I learned to ride horses.  The counselors saw I did so well they put me with “Boom”, a large retired Army horse with a neck brand of that name.  Of course I enjoyed riding, but was far happier just holding and talking with Boom.  I wondered if that brand had hurt him.

Years later, on returning from Italy, my (then deceased) grandfather’s secretary came to the house we had bought and a black Cocker Spaniel puppy wriggled out of her coat.  Although intended for my grandmother, he quickly became my mother’s dog and a major focus in her life.  Cleveland winters can be brutal, so one of our four bathrooms became his when the snow was too high to go out.  He was also locked in that bathroom when my mother didn’t want to bother with him.  With school and other activities I never had a chance to really bond with that dog, though when he was aging and sick my mother turned to me to take care of him.  Beyond having a few dogs follow me home, I’ve no idea what I projected as some kind of “animal person.”  

Years later I escaped into the Air Force, volunteering for Security Forces.  In Libya I then volunteered for K-9 Security, handling an Attack dog, working only at night and usually on solo distant assignments.  These are manifestly not the police K-9s that ride around in police cars and perhaps get to retire with the handler’s family.  These dogs are raised and trained to seek out and attack, fatally if not stopped, any human other than their handler – in any and every circumstance. Retirement was a shallow grave in front of the kennels.

One handler was too hung over to get himself into clean fatigues so he borrowed a previously worn set from his roommate.  He entered his dog’s kennel, the dog got the roommate’s scent first, and, after dozens of stitches to close the rips and gashes in his groin he was out of the hospital and transferred to a safer job.

Attrition from various causes had thinned the K-9 handler ranks.  On my first day the kennel master gave me my choice of several dogs, all in their individual chain link and concrete enclosures.  I reviewed them all and knew immediately who my dog was.  “You won’t get in that dog’s kennel in under 30 days, so bring a book and sit outside reading to him”, said the kennel master. I went in on the 3rd day.  Okay, a trip to the hospital and a couple of stitches later I came back and went in again. This time it was a bond.         

We spent our nights together, six on and three off.  The kennel food was minimal (“hungry dogs are mean dogs”) so I smuggled food to him and gave him Kaopectate whenever the kennel food gave him diarrhea – which was almost all the time.  The base was under frequent hit and run attack from various factions for various reasons. The operating policy was that the handler should release the dog when he alerts and then follow him into the fray.  I thought that a stupid way to get a dog hurt or killed so I released him, ordered him to Stay and Watch, and terminated the problems myself.  Other dogs were hurt, or killed, but he never got a scratch with me. Okay, I was threatened with court-martial several times, but my dog won the Best Dog/Handler award (I still have the large trophy) and no one pressed the issue.

After thirteen months, a lot of interaction, and a lot of learning from him I got one of my off-book assignments which meant flying to Germany with him as my ostensible reason: to attend the Hundeschule, or dog school in Germany.  A flight by C-130, during which I had to tell the Load Master just once not to approach his kennel, and a truck ride to the air station a few hours from the base where we landed, and I brought him into his kennel.  I had been given three weeks to complete my assignment, during which he would stay at the kennel.

Unlike the concrete box with chain link enclosure he had lived in for six years, this kennel was wood, with a real wooden doghouse and a large fenced enclosure.  The moment I walked us in, locked the gate behind us, and released him he exploded into the most joyous frenzy I had ever seen in a dog.  He bounced off everything, repeatedly coming to me and licking my face, and vocalizing like a puppy.  I was overjoyed……..and heartbroken at the same time.  In all that time I had no idea he could feel such joy.  But I knew it was to be short lived; three weeks at most. The German kennel master wrote me up for “not controlling my dog”.  Bugger off.

I completed my task in 10 days and had to quickly leave for Africa.  Again, the feelings were indescribable as I brought him back to his concrete and chain link enclosure.  He once again became the serious, but resigned fellow prisoner in the all encompassing  enclosure we call Life. Making matters worse, dependents and non-essential personnel were evacuated and my tour was cut by six months.  Near my departure date I was given permission to take him into the cleared out kennel yard and say my good-byes.  I thanked him for all he had taught me on those long nights.  I cried without shame. I think he knew exactly what was happening. My next years were without my dog physically present, but always in my heart. So many times I’ve wanted to go back and visit his grave.  In the 1970’s I was invited to do so by the Libyan diplomats I met at an official function. (Yes, assignments have long been a part of life.) But I knew I must keep my imaginary image of it rather than face the stark reality that, after the base was surrendered, all that was plowed under for different purposes.  Yes, I can still cry.

In the following years, once I had settled into a reasonably stable life I had dogs, horses, and a cat I had saved as a kitten.  Each of them has had a deep emotional meaning for me.  I’ve walked and talked  with horses whose days were growing shorter.  I’ve always found the smell of horses evokes in me a deep sense of peace and companionship.  And, there are stories I don’t care to express in which I’ve had to make decisions which break my heart to this day. Who among us can say we’ve lived a life in which there are no moments we wish we could do over, do differently?

Being a Stranger in a Strange Land, I “connect” with non-human animals who have been born or captured into a context simply not their own.  I don’t see them as species; they are fellows.  And when I whisper to a dog on a patio, or to a cat clearly aching from overwhelming disease, or a horse stepping uncertainly as its system shuts down I try to see and feel their context, their lives, not just the category we’ve put them in and the uses they’ve been to us.  I feel a mutual love in ways that are all too rare with humans.  And I cannot describe how it feels to have that love returned.

Going through college and graduate school my K-9 was always “with” me.  (Two large pictures of him are on the wall by my pc now) Yes, I set the curve in various biology and related classes, but I never saw a species as just a closed category in someone’s taxonomy.  I saw non-human animals, even plants, in their full context, with their feelings – where credibly possible.  Sure, there are people who would sneer at my attitude, just as there were K-9 handlers who sneered when I hugged my dog.  I’ve gotten largely past the point where I would debate these people, but it makes one day leaving the human species that much easier. 

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38 Comments
  1. I’m sure Jamie would try to get you to ‘believe’ you’re empathic.

    I just picked up 14 kittens from our local shelter to foster for my Humane Society. 4 of them I dropped off at a friends house a few miles down the road since his wife is good with underage (less than 6 weeks old) kittens. Mine are feral and hissy and spitty fits for now. In a week they’ll have learned it’s not so bad and by the time they’re ready for adoption they’ll be the sweetest things. My 15 personal cats aren’t thrilled but it’s warm out and they spend most all of their time outside right now.

    My brother drove my mother up to dad’s grave for flower installment. Her dog came of course and she still remembers all the silly tricks I’ve taught her. She seems to enjoy the silly songs I made up for her and her nicknames of ‘dog’ and ‘dogdogdog’.

  2. Thank you, PM. I’ve never doubted I’m empathetic; in fact, certainty doesn’t need belief. Still, you are probably right – Jamie might give it a shot.

    I don’t know how you can handle all the cats. I admit that might stretch my empathy. Although I sometimes daydream of having enough land to accommodate lots of wild Mustangs that would otherwise go to slaughter.

    Glad you could be with the doggie again. We give them too little credit for memory.

    • When I had 2 cats I said that 2 is the same as 10 due to their constant lap sittings and pining for attentions. When I finally had 10 cats I figured out 2 is the same as 7 or 8 aside from vet bills. It’s just a never ending train of cats across your lap and several at once. Once comfy they will tolerate a good host of movements while I fiddle around on the internet.

      While I had my moms dog for 6 months while she was in the hospital and rehab, she would just lay at my feet or something nearby or hang out on the driveway and bark for the neighborhood dogs to come by. If that didn’t work, she would go to their houses and drag them back here. I always have that one true alpha cat that will keep the dogs in check and chastise them if they get too close and/or out of line. That works for neighborhood dogs but not pack dogs. For pack dogs I have several pet doors they come flying in and I know there’s a predator and can take action myself. Predators do not include opossum and raccoon. My cats just lay there and look at them walk by. Small yappy dogs aren’t given the time of day.

      As for fostering 10 extra, it’s not that difficult. Once you have them liking the attention and have them vetted. They are good to go.

      As for your mustang ranch I’d say you just want to horse around.

      • Wow, PM. Much as I fantasize about having a big family of non-humans, I think I would be overwhelmed by your situation.

        Yup, I’m a horse around kind of person. I love to hear them snicker when I do something odd.

  3. To all the readers, in all the countries out there, I hope you do comment. I won’t bite. Trust me. Marco

  4. Ray Rivers permalink

    Nice uplifting story – I’ve had dogs share my days most of my life – and they have been best friends.

    Ray

  5. Marco, I am very glad you wrote this. I always feel honored when you share these intimate details of your life. Will write more soon.

    • Thank you, Dana. We all look forward to your comments as they enrich these pages.

      • Marco, I would venture you and Billie would be great friends. In fact, I find your personalities to be very similar.

        Our non-human animal friends enrich our lives so much, even my childhood hamster, Eddie. He would bite and scratch everyone but me (a large part of the reason my parents had him “set free” by my grandfather when we were away on vacation). I mourned the loss of him for a very long time, and was just six years old. I think what still rips out my heart when I think about him is the cruelty of how he met his demise, and my finding out about it.

      • Thank you, Dana. I can only imagine that trauma. Adults often do things from their own perspective, not considering the perspective of the child. This was another example.

        I agree. I think Billie and I would be great friends. And, it would be fun to pry secrets about you from him.

  6. Julie permalink

    Dear Marco, I really enjoy reading your blog, you are a breath of fresh air. Love the way you view the world. I can relate to your ‘story ‘ animals indeed fill a special place in the hearts of many people and can really open your heart in a special different to humans. I can honestly say our dog has brought my family together ❤

    • Thank you, Julie. I’m so glad you have joined in, and am also glad your dog is a part of your family.

  7. Gary permalink

    This post was particularly warm and wonderful, and sad. I have been an animal person my entire life; dogs, cats, horses, and even a goat. My sister had a spider monkey for a time. I have never understood people who do not care for animals. I recall my neighbour across the street wrote a very touching obituary in the community newspaper of his old dog that had died. I casually asked my next door neighbour one day if she had had a chance to read it. “What, that dog thing?”, she asked with great distaste.

    • Thank you, Gary. I had a hard time writing parts of this. But I feel your connection to non-human animals and, I suspect, your feelings toward the woman who reacted the way she did.

  8. Biophillia, is the instinctive bond between humans and living systems. I wonder if there is a word that describes the instinctive bond between humans and dogs. I have always had at least two dogs. But it hasn’t been until the last few years, not working, where I spend most of my days with my dogs I have formed the strongest bond to them. I am definitely my group of 4 pack leader. They have become my shadow. I can’t make a move without the 4 in tow. It hasn’t been until now I can see we are their whole world. We are all that matters (besides eating), which makes the thought of abandon dogs all the more heartbreaking. I don’t have the words to describe the adoration I get from my dogs nor the love I feel for them. Thanks Marco for a sweet and heart touching story. And making us think about the relationship we have with our animals. Also, I never walk by a dog without speaking to it. My kids all do the same.

    • Thank you, Mary. I often think of your situation with a kind of envy. I’m lucky to have the one dog I do. Years ago I read a simple study of people meeting dogs, and how the people react. Some express declarative statements – “Hello doggie” stuff, and some ask questions – “How are you? What’s your name?” I’m betting we’re both in the latter group.

      As you know, I find the term instinct far too restrictive, limited in scope, and a too convenient way to depersonalize behavior. .But I do have a sense of the draw implied in the concept.

  9. P L WEDDING permalink

    Wonderful, bittersweet stories, Marco.I understand a little more about the marks in your memories regarding “sentient beings”.  Little Missy’s future has been on my mind especially in the last couple of months. After completing my will and advanced directive I can say that the hardest partof being ‘good to go’ is wondering who will care for her? My kids have terribleallergies and just can’t take her.  A friend volunteered but this is NOT the personfor Missy. Naming a guardian for my child was easier. Would Plato eat a Yorkie who thinks she’s a Great Dane? ( -;

    • Thank you, Pam. While I’ve always been in favor of “making arrangements”, I hope you are not acting on imminent information. Certainly, every pet guardian should make arrangements and I wish your example would be more broadly followed. Plato has always been very accepting of very small dogs. But, he’s also getting on and might have less tolerance these days. If you still have problems finding a suitable guardian, please let me know and I will do all I can. You know me; a problem is like a Nylabone – I’ll chew it to the raggedy end.

      • I have all my cats profiles and how they act so should I pass suddenly my Humane Society (I am a foster, pet mentor, rescuer and maintenance) can find the best homes for them. I recently had to update due to a loss in the herd so this is fresh in my mind. Now I don’t expect this being that Great Granddad passed at 76, Granddad passed at 76 and dad passed at 76. I might make it to 80 or so but I have to stop taking in kittens now. Their 20 yr +/- life span is looming close to my time stamp. As the herd thins I can take in older cats that desperately need homes.

        I had mentioned this at one of our meetings and everyone thought it was a good idea to have these pre-made arrangements. I’m glad we are thinking of our families.

      • Thanks, PM. Advice we should all heed. I’ve had a couple of close ones lately and have made arrangements for my dog, Plato, in the event he is no longer welcome here. And, as he ages I recognize I may still be here. In that case, I will look for an older dog – as in the Great Pyrenees I mentioned above.

  10. Just in the past year we (my Humane Society) have taken in about 10 dogs and 4 cats from passed individuals and rehomed other than the 2 dogs and 2 cats outstanding. The dogs will go fairly quick but the 2 cats are older and indoor cats and we are trying to adopt them out together. It would have been nice if the families could take them but they seem to be allergic for some reason. This gives us a chance at a better home anyway.

    • And I enjoy all the replies as well. Animals are near and dear to my heart.

      • Thank you, PM. I agree completely. I had no intention of simply setting up a one way podium; the value in this blog is produced by the participants, and I’m ever so grateful for you and all the others. It has always been my hope that people will forward this blog to others with the assurances that their participation is welcomed and the encouragement to do so.

  11. This is a great piece, made even more-so by the new information it has given me about you and your life. The more I know about your past, the more I understand the person you have become.

    My two dogs both came to us after the death of friends, and they have definitely become an important part of our family. I’ve always liked other people’s dogs; I love my own. Georgie “speaks” to us, telling us what he wants through his actions. He will stare at what he wants, then at us, until we “stupid humans” finally understand. Once we know what he wants, Shadow chimes in with a whining “me too me too”. It is an understatement to say that they are both a bit spoiled, and that we have loved making them that way.

    • Thank you, Rose. Reading your comment I was wishing I could just be there in the background to see and hear the interactions you describe. If I have any sadness at all for other people, it is that they so often go through life totally blind to the hearts and souls all around them – thinking humans are somehow in a distinct and separate category, a special species in a special dimension.

  12. Mark Dohle permalink

    What a beautiful heart felt piece my friend. I remember one day here at the Monastery when I was a young monk, perhaps in 1972 I was looking at one of our many feral cats that lived here. It was feral cat yet also tame enough so that you could get close enough to feed it but not pet it. I would rub up against me once in a while. I am not a cat person, but I find them to be very beautiful creatures so like seeing them around. One day as I was walking by our Ginkgo tree outside the Monastery library wing, I saw the cat. It stopped and looked at me. I saw something in its eyes that I never saw before, it connected with me and I was stunned. Not sure what happened but after 40 years I have not forgotten it.

    With dogs I have some powerful experiences which are common for many people. They seem to bond with us. I still think about the dogs we had in the past and miss them as I would miss an old friend. However my experiences and emotional bonding with animals is in no way at your level.

    From your writings you have helped me to understand on a conscious level that there is ‘always’ more to the life around us. Even plants I would think.

    No matter the consciousness of animals, whether they are self conscious or not, we need to learn to treat them with more consideration from the reality that they feel emotions and pain. I don’t think others animals even the highest in the animal world have an awareness close to ours, but I feel it is much more than many want to think about. Not sure I would want to burden them with our self awareness in any case. Animals are perfectly at home in this world and perhaps that is why they are so beautiful.

    The Infinite Intelligence that is often hidden from us truly imbues all things, when we forget that then we objectify reality, deaden it and believe that we are the only ones who think or feel or have desires. We often do it to each other as well especially when it comes to sexuality….which causes a great deal of suffering. To live chastely is to understand that all of life is sacred, from humans as well to all that exists around us.

    If we understood that, if I truly understood it, I wonder how that would change our cultures from the top down.

    PS. I love dog stories… some of them are uncanny and easily found both in books and on the internet and should be shared widely with the public. We can unconsciously think that animals are there only for us. If that were true, I wonder what they did in the many millions of years before we came on board LOL.

    • Thank you so much, Mark. As you know, I treasure the life you have chosen in ways I cannot describe. In your comments I see a thread of St. Francis of Assisi. I have no doubt that, even when you are not looking, the life around you understands and values you. That you can live with the awareness you have and not be overcome by sadness is a guide for us all. Thank you so much for writing this. Marco

  13. Mark Dohle permalink

    Thanks Marco. I wrote something on your article for Facebook and a few other sites and linked your page. Keep up stirring the pot making people like me think more.

    peace
    mark

    • Thank you, Mark. I will look for responses. The value of this blog is in the interaction and thought, not just in what I write. And I’m so glad you are part of it. Marco

  14. Jim permalink

    I am reminded by your beautiful article that our nonhuman friends are gifts from God to show us and to teach us his tenderness without the complications of The Human Condition. Using this tenderness we can implant this in our own hearts and share it with those around us. You can be certain when you go to the side you will be greeted by all your friends joyfully panting and wagging their tails. This is how good God is. Your article was a prayer for me. Thank you. Jim

  15. Hi Marco,
    I shared this writing with my partner this morning and I see the comment I left days ago didn’t make it somehow. There’s a reason I suppose.

    I wanted you to know this brought tears to my eyes. The expressiveness in your words and the story you tell is so tender and heartfelt I couldn’t help but choke up. Thank you for sharing the connection and the openness you as a spirit filled human imbibe. We are all, that.

    I don’t have a whole lot to say sometimes. And sometimes there’s just not a whole lot to say.
    Thank you, Marco, from the bottom of my heart.
    Jessica

    • Thank you so much, Jessica. Usually I feel terrible about bringing someone to tears, but I think I understand your feelings and am so glad for you – and me – that it brought you feelings you so deeply appreciate. Like you, I tend to be reserved in conversation with people – when I do speak I’m accused of lecturing when in fact I’m holding people at a distance. Of course, the ideal is conversation with those you sense are with you in some way. And so, even though our conversations are written to each other as marks on a screen I want you to know how much I appreciate your thoughts, and that you allow me to express mine.

      Sometimes people have to re-register for their comments to come through. I got this from WordPress as a request for approval. I hope you will have no further problems. Marco p.s. my greetings to your partner.

    • A lot isn’t always necessary and reminds me of my Dos Equis type saying “I don’t always say a lot but when I do I don’t always say a lot.”

  16. A lively story Marco, interesting to read. While I’m more of a cat person and not particularly fond of dogs, I can understand and relate to your affection towards the non-human species.

    It’s almost funny because it seems like you enjoy dogs and other animals even more than fellow human beings. I could tell while reading this piece that there was a tone of disdain, disappointment and bitterness towards some man-made situation(s). At least, that was my perception/impression. Not judging, just some observations, as you’re probably accustomed to by now. 🙂

    Lastly, some parts I enjoyed reading a lot were the introduction with the dog-whispering scene, the K-9 canine partnership, and that description of mutual love towards the end. Instances of brilliance sparse here and there. Cheers.

    • Thank you, PSY. I have been accused of “loving animals more than people”. Fine. Glad to see someone took the time to look.

      The college where I taught in the ’70’s was in walking distance of my home. My cat would often try to walk with me, and I would try to get him to go back home. I felt so badly about trying to shoo him back, but he was a gorgeous tri-color Persian and I feared someone would grab him.

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