Actually, it isn’t like that at all, at least not when my dogs are playing tug-of-war. They know it’s a game; in fact, Harry shakes the stuffed orange turtle right in front of Aussie’s face, inviting her to play. Later he’ll settle down on the rug and tear the poor animal to pieces, taking the white cottony stuffing out and spitting it onto the rug, but at first he wants Aussie to play. They’ll growl, snarl, pull hard, give it everything they got—and they know it’s a game. They carry no malevolence towards each other.
Food is something else, at least for Harry. He came to me last January leaping and pawing for any morsel he could get into his bony body. In the first couple of days he literally jumped up on the butcher block table to seize a pound of ground beef and thought that the plates on the dining table were just more food bowls for dogs, requiring a little more agility. He attacked Aussie for every marrow bone and rawhide piece. Vigilance and training have paid off and he hasn’t done that in six months. But even in the worst times, it was clear there was nothing personal there, he didn’t carry an ounce of malevolence in that brindle, white-chested, thin body. He was just hungry.
How often do I carelessly brush by Aussie, step on Harry’s tail that’s slipped off his dog bed, or just saunter right on top of Aussie lying on the landing because I couldn’t see her in the dark! If it really hurts they’ll give a brief screech, but otherwise they’ll go on as though nothing happened, as though nobody was hurt. They can’t credit me with any kind of ill will or bad intention. Instead they look at me quizzically, I tell them I’m sorry, and they go back to doing what they were doing.
Not humans. Things happen, someone does something, somebody else gets hurt, and it goes viral. We yell and scream, we blame, we shame, call them evil. We compete with each other as to who could make the sharpest, most humiliating rejoinder, who could pack the most scorn and disgust in an online comment, laughing uproariously at how we one-up each other in vilification.
Why does the smallest cur have more compassion than we do? They can’t credit bad intentions, don’t even understand what they are. They know what to stay away from, when a situation or person is dangerous or confusing, but they don’t know evil.
Is their understanding–that no one means to do bad but harm still happens, including predation, stealing, killing, and hurting—so much deeper than ours?
Harry once jumped up at me as I lay in bed reading a volume of poetry by Seamus Heaney. The book had a wooden, painted bookmark a South American friend had given me as a gift, with a sharp point at one end. When he jumped up on the bed the sharp, pointed edge of the wooden bookmark grazed him an inch from his eye.
He squealed and fell; I looked down at him on the rug, heart in my mouth.
He looked up at me with perplexity at the strange turns life can take.
I was a basket-case full of guilt and recrimination. “How often do I say NO JUMPING!” formed, ready for shouting at the small dog. But I looked down at his eyes that carried not an ounce of accusation and I stroked him instead (not good training this time), while his eyes stayed wide open, one ear flap standing up in attention, not crediting me or the world with any evil at all.