SHADOW AND BAMBI
So many people have asked me how Shadow is doing that I’ve decided to respond in a blog. I’ve had him for four months now and I am happy to report that his health problems seem to have been resolved; the vet initially suspected food allergies and then Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and he has responded well to treatment for the latter condition. Cody had a delicate digestive system, too, despite looking as delicate as a tank. I’ve been told that shepherds are prone to these problems, another sad case of over-breeding. Humans have a lot to answer for in our treatment of our fellow planet dwellers, and the way we’ve undermined the health of purebred dogs is surely one of our sins. Any one who has ever seen the slanting spine of a shepherd in a dog show can easily see why this breed is so susceptible to hip dysplasia. Bull dogs, pugs, and all the “squashed snout” breeds are vulnerable to heat prostration; dachshunds have spinal disc problems; spaniels are more likely to develop cataracts; Dalmatians are at risk for congenital deafness. It is a sad list, one that goes on and on. And dogs are not the only victims. Look what we’ve done to thoroughbred horses, breeding them for speed at the expense of stamina. I think cats have been luckier than dogs in this respect—at least so far.
Sorry for the digression. But one of the fun things about blogs is that we get to wander off the paved road into the fields from time to time. Back to Shadow. This is a dog who had no reason to trust human beings; he now comes eagerly up to strangers for petting and praise. He was clearly an outside dog, for he was not housebroken, but it took him no time at all to realize furniture was much more comfortable than the floor. He has two dog beds, but likes to sleep on the bed in my spare bedroom when I’m working at the computer; that enables him to keep an eye on me in case I get up to go toward the kitchen. He was initially afraid of leashes, but now zooms to the door as soon as I mention the word “walk.” Best of all, this dog who used to cringe if any one raised a hand near his head now loves to plant his head in my lap so I can rub his ears, and if I accidentally step on one of his big paws (easy to do since he is the ultimate Velcro Dog), he gives a little yelp, but shows no fear whatsoever, sure that the hurt was unintentional. And now that he has put on some weight, he looks like a sleek white wolf—assuming that wolves like to take stuffed squeaky toys to bed with them at night.
The Shadow-Bambi allusion comes from his first encounter with deer in our county park, 1700 acres of wooded trails. He stopped in his tracks to stare at them, eyes wide. But because shepherds are not bred to be hunters, he reacted with curiosity, not blood lust. Whereas my Norwegian elkhound (the model for Loth in Saints) would go totally bonkers whenever we’d run into deer, for she knew in her bones that these creatures were meant to be her quarry.
I feel blessed to have found Shadow and what is so nice is that it is reciprocal. It is true about rescue dogs—they really do seem to understand that they’ve gotten a second chance and are very grateful for it. Dogs are remarkably forgiving. I am reading a very compelling true account now about a Royal Marine who found himself trying to rescue fighting dogs and strays during his tour of duty in Afghanistan. The Title is ONE DOG AT A TIME by Pen Farthing. Be warned, though, that it is not for the faint of heart; his graphic descriptions of the sad plight of these dogs do not make easy reading. For that matter, I found it disturbing to read about the stressful living conditions of his troop of young marines; nor is there much hope for the Afghan people, still being terrorized by the Taliban. But it is a powerful story, one which shows human nature at its best and its worst and once again reveals the unique bond between people and dogs. No one had ever shown these Afghan dogs even a scrap of kindness, yet they were willing to trust Pen despite a lifetime of experiences telling them that man was not their friend.
I had an experience of my own last week in which I saw the best and the worst of human nature, all in the course of a single day. I’d taken my dogs for a morning walk in that county park I’d mentioned. It has a two mile paved road in addition to all those wooded trails, and we were walking along the road when I caught movement from the corner of my eye. A small cat popped out of the bushes and at sight of me, began to mew piteously. To my amazement, she then started to approach us—a total stranger with two dogs! She was obviously some one’s pet, not a feral cat, but there is not a house around for miles, so it was hard not to conclude the poor little thing had been dumped there. She would come only so close because of my dogs, but she kept crying, as if begging for help. I did not know what to do. Since she wouldn’t come any closer and I had a doctor’s appointment that morning, I continued on, telling myself that she was in a heavily traveled part of the park and surely someone would come to her aid. But she preyed on my mind for the rest of the day and that evening, I found myself piling the dogs in the car and driving to the park.
I am not sure what I intended to do; I just felt that I had to come back. There was no sign of her, though, so we continued on our walk. But on our way back, there she was again, only this time she was with a middle-aged woman and a young couple. I stopped, of course; they agreed with me that she had to have been abandoned and they were as troubled as I was about her fate. My dogs were getting too interested in her so we went on. I couldn’t just drive off, though, so once we got to the car, I drove back—and found them walking along the road, the little cat cradled in the older woman’s arms. They told me that they could not leave her out in the woods and the young couple was going to adopt her. See what I mean—the best and the worst. What was amazing to me was that the cat was so utterly relaxed in the arms of a stranger, as if she knew she was safe now. The saddest aspect of this is that she was probably hanging around the spot where she’d been dumped, waiting for her owners to come back for her. Cats, too, can be forgiving, far more forgiving than I am.
This is a first for me, no mention of medieval matters. But the people of the MA did not view animals as so many of us do in the 21st century. Yes, they loved their horses, their hunting dogs, their lap dogs, their falcons and tame birds; cats seem to have infiltrated the nunneries, although in general, they were not viewed as pets. But medievals saw animals through a religious prism—the belief that man was given dominion over the earth and all upon it. They’d have laughed at the very idea of animal rights, as I elaborated upon in an earlier blog, SHADOW, KEIKO, AND FAUVEL. Another reason for the difference in attitude is rooted in living conditions then and now. We have the luxury of considering pets to be family members because life is so much easier for us than it was for people in the MA–or is for those living in Third World countries.
Not everyone cherishes pets as so many of us do, of course; some people seem both mystified and vexed by our concern for non-human life forms. But I think my readers share my belief that all animals deserve to be treated without cruelty. So this blog is for those of you who have pets as loved as Cody and Shadow, and I hope you’ll share some of their stories with the rest of us.
PS I’d hoped to upload a photo of Shadow, but my computer, Melusine, seems bound and determined today to live up to her evil namesake, the Demon Countess of Anjou, and refused to do it, giving me lots of computer doubletalk.
September 7, 2010