SHADOW, KEIKO, AND FAUVEL
I would like to start with the good news; this past weekend, I adopted a shepherd from the Burlington County Animal Alliance. Shadow is a beautiful boy, looks like a white wolf, but he has a very sad history of abuse; he came into the shelter half-starved and terrified. Susan, his foster “mom,” told me that there were strong indications he’d been kicked as well as beaten, and he wasn’t housebroken even though he is about three years old; that means he was an outside dog, chained up in a yard somewhere, a cruelty in itself for social pack animals like dogs. Shadow blossomed in his foster home, probably the first time in his young life that he’d been treated with kindness. I have great admiration for people who work in rescue, for it is demanding and emotionally draining. And those who volunteer to foster dogs or cats are the unsung heroes, for they take in frightened, damaged animals, transform them into family pets, and then give them up so they can continue to help other creatures in need.
I found Shadow by chance when I checked out Petfinder.com on impulse; I didn’t think I was ready yet to bring another dog into my house and heart. But then I saw Shadow’s photo and felt a connection. When Susan told me his dreadful history and that he got along very well with her small dogs and cats (an important consideration since I have a poodle who was Cody’s best pal and partner-in-crime), I had to go see him. Well, it was love at first sight and he is now a full-fledged member of the Penman pack. I am in awe of his sweet nature and his willingness to trust; had I suffered the abuse he did, it would likely have turned me into a serial killer. But Susan and her family showed him that all humans are not cruel or evil and he is making remarkable progress. This dog who was starving takes treats from my hand with a touch as delicate as a feather. It was only a few weeks ago that he learned the housebreaking “rules,” but he has yet to have an accident inside. He and Chelsea chase each other around like whirling dervishes. He likes nothing better than to sit beside me while I’m working on the computer and put his head on my knee so I can rub his ears; Cody loved that, too—must be a shepherd thing J Every now and then something scares him—a sudden noise, a memory—and he starts to shiver. But this gentle boy is remarkably resilient and he soon relaxes again, remembering that the bad times are behind him. We cannot erase his wretched past, but I can make sure that his future will be filled with love.
It is true what people say about rescue dogs; they do seem so grateful to be given a second chance at life. I realize adoption is not for everyone. While pure-bred dogs are available through rescue groups and shelters, it is harder to find the “less popular” breeds, and if you’re set upon a puppy, that can entail a much longer wait. But if you adopt a dog (or cat) from a shelter, you are quite literally saving a life; when I adopted Cody, I was told by a shelter worker that they have trouble placing the big dogs and I never forgot how easily that wonderful dog could have slipped through the cracks. And by adopting through a rescue group, you will benefit from their evaluation and know in advance what sort of dog you will be getting, whether he is timid or cocky, whether he wants to be an “only child” or would be happier with other dog roommates, etc. Rescue groups are very conscientious, too, about placing the right dog or cat with the right family, heading off “mismatches” from the get-go. And we are fortunate in having such a wonderful resource in Petfinder.com, begun some years ago by a young couple seeking to combine their computer expertise with their love of animals; virtually every shelter and rescue group in the country list their adoptable pets on this site. Based on my own experience, I would wholeheartedly recommend adoption for those seeking to add a pet to their family. Adoption gave me my beloved Cody, and now the sweet Shadow, so I feel twice-blessed.
So now you know who Shadow is, but what of Keiko and Fauvel? Keiko is, of course, the famous killer whale and star of the Free Willy films who was rescued from a miserable captivity and eventually returned to the wild after his story attracted world-wide sympathy. His time as a free whale was sadly much too short, but I have no doubts that this highly intelligent animal would rather have had a year of freedom than another decade of the miserable existence he’d endured prior to the Free Willy film. And Fauvel? He was a magnificent bay stallion, first owned by a Cypriot despot and then by an English king, better known as Lionheart. Fauvel not only caught Richard’s eye, he bedazzled the two chroniclers who’d accompanied the king on the Third Crusade; they described him as “fleet as a deer” and “the best horse from here to Ypres.”
But what is the connection between a killer whale and a stallion who lived eight centuries ago? I think they epitomize the change in attitudes toward animals over the years. Like us, people in the MA were capable of caring deeply for their horses, dogs, hawks. Occasionally one is mentioned in the chronicles, like the famous Fauvel. We know that King John fed chicken to his favorite falcon. The names of cherished horses echo throughout the chansons de geste. Giraldus Cambrensus, a.k.a. Gerald the Welshman, related a touching story of a greyhound’s loyalty to his slain master. While cats were not usually regarded as pets, they seem to have found good homes in many convents, as nuns were often scolded for their devotion to cats and small dogs. But the medievals would not have been able to understand our concern for Keiko, much less the global attention paid to three grey whales trapped under arctic ice about twenty years ago; two were eventually saved by a joint American-Russian effort with a Russian icebreaker flying the flags of both countries (surely a first!)
In the Middle Ages, people believed that man had dominion over the earth and all upon it. The concept of “animal rights” would have been even more alien to them than the idea of “women’s rights.” Obviously there are places on the planet today where the medieval attitude toward animals still prevails; understandably, people struggling to survive have different priorities than citizens of more affluent nations. But in many countries there has been a remarkable, almost revolutionary shift in public opinion, as evidenced by laws to combat animal abuse, no-kill shelters, the rescue movement itself, and compassion toward wildlife as well as family pets, etc.
Of course many of our most cherished beliefs would not have taken root in medieval soil. Religious tolerance was not viewed as a virtue since Christians and Muslims and Jews alike were sure that theirs was the only true faith. Equality of the sexes? Not likely in a world in which the Church itself taught that women were daughters of Eve, and “A woman who is not under the headship of the husband violates the condition of nature, the mandate of the Apostle, and the law of Scripture: ‘The head of the woman is the man.’ She is created from him and she is subject to his power.’” (Letter from Routrou, Archbishop of Rouen, to Eleanor of Aquitaine, urging her to return to her husband, “whom you have promised to obey.”) As an aside, marriage vows routinely required a wife to promise to obey her husband until relatively recently; when my parents were wed in 1942, they deleted this provision, but then they were rebels before their time! Nor would medieval people have agreed with the American Declaration of Independence and its bold statement that all men are created equal. Even in the eighteenth century, that was far from a “self-evident” truth; in the MA, it would have been incomprehensible.
It is not surprising, then, that medievals were much more unsentimental than we are in their interactions with animals. I have tried to reflect that in my novels. In my first medieval mystery, Justin de Quincy rescues a dog that was pitched off a bridge with a bag of rocks tied to his neck. Most of the bystanders are indifferent to the dog’s plight, aside from Justin and a five year old boy, and even Justin is somewhat embarrassed that he is going to so much trouble for a dog that is not his. In Prince of Darkness, there is a scene involving an angry carter, a wagon mired in mud, and the scrawny horse who is the object of his owner’s wrath. A man beating a horse (or dog) in public today would stir outrage; there was far less indignation in medieval Shrewsbury.
So as much as I love writing about the MA, I would not have wanted to live in those turbulent times. Now time-travel would be an irresistible temptation—provided that I had a return ticket. Query to readers—have any of you imagined living in a bygone age? If so, when? More to the point, why?
Lastly, Coeur de Lion’s army is still bogged down by the River Rochetaille, six miles from his objective, the coastal town of Arsuf. I divided the chapter into two parts, a common occurrence for my chapters seem to self-replicate like amoeba. So the two armies have been camped on opposite sides of the river for days now, But a friend, apparently channeling Richard, informed me that he said I should “stop mucking around with that damned dog and let him get back to slaying Saracens.” And so I shall.
May 5, 2010
PS Here are some rescue websites.
Burlington County animal Alliance (BCAA) at www.bcaaofnj.org (handles all breeds of dogs and cats) Read their story about Buddy, an eight month old retriever in desperate need of surgery; his owners brought him to the shelter to have him euthanized because they could not afford the medical costs. But he was so young and exuberant that the rescue is trying to give him a chance at a normal life.