My friend bullies her dog: Take 2

Cary takes a second shot at answering the question about the friend who mistreats her German shepherd mutt

By Cary Tennis
Published October 12, 2011 12:00AM (EDT)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Reader,

Today I am taking a second shot at the column from the other day about a friend’s mistreatment of her dog. Please refer to the original column to see why.

The truth is, the letter outraged me. I answered incompletely. So I am grateful for the chance to answer it more fully.

It caused me to think a great deal not just about dogs and animal welfare but also about how rights expand and evolve in a society, and what we ought to do as people when our conscience is outraged by the behavior of a friend.

What I would like to say to the letter writer is this:

My wish for you is that you will go to your friend and you will open up completely and be honest and passionate and unstinting with her, that you will call her on her denial and evasiveness, that you will speak to her with compassion and cry with her and hug her or whatever it takes to get across what you are trying to get across, which is that as a species we are charged with caring for animals, that animals are sacred, that we are no better than they are, that we are not so different, that we are charged with accommodating them in our world, sharing our world with them, that it is not an exclusively human world but a world of animals of which we are one type and one type only.

Make it clear that this matters to you. Make an authentic, personal, heartfelt case for what you believe.

Social change happens in many ways, but one primary and inescapable way is that people who are passionate and informed and courageous make personal testimony to others.

That is how it begins. And that is something each of us can do individually. After you have done that, you have done what you can do. If later you decide that the dog needs to be removed and other remedies are called for, well, so be it. But I would start by trying to change the world one dog owner at a time.

The expansion of rights begins like this, does it not? Do leaders appear fully formed with a message and a movement? Or does leadership begin in a primal moment of conscience, when someone courageously speaks from the conscience and from the heart, not to a crowd below a stage but to an intimate, a sister or brother or friend or parent? Great social ideas do not emerge fully formed; they are tested on close compatriots.

We speak from the heart, and we change other people in this way. We do.

We change other people by speaking forcefully and courageously and from the heart. And maybe we learn from this to be leaders and speakers or maybe we learn only to speak from the heart to those we love. But we learn.

So that is my wish for you. Is society not evolving toward greater rights for people and increasingly for animals, too? If it continues, then will we not eventually reach a point of reverence for all living things and then perhaps for the spirits in mountains and rivers and boulders and sand?

I propose that one way this can happen is that each of us, when confronted with a moment like this, where our conscience is outraged, where our hearts are pierced, that we speak, that we bear witness courageously, that we say to someone, "This is a matter of great importance" and urgently ask for change.

I will just say briefly that for me this sort of thing happened during the feminist revolution. Men of my age were not informed of the feminist revolution by teachers or politicians or newscasters; we were informed of it by the women that we loved or thought we loved or pretended to love. It happened one-to-one.

A similar thing may have to happen now regarding the rights and sensibilities of nonhumans.

As far as the practical remedies, without knowing the specific circumstances, I can only suggest that you call your local animal authorities, whatever they may be, and ask them what can be done, so you know the legal parameters. And if you decide to take one of those routes, well, godspeed to you.

So many commenters have been helpful, but I think your heart is going to have to be your guide. I say, Speak to your friend from the heart. Pour your heart out to her. Make her hear you. Make her see the dog as a sentient being.

That is impossible, isn’t it, to force someone else to see, to feel? Well, it is and it isn’t. We can be moved by authentic displays of emotion. We can. In fact, being human in spite of ourselves, we sometimes have no defense against our own empathy.

I hope that as you pour your heart out to her, she will in the end have no defense against her own blooming of empathy, and she will change, she will see the world in a larger and more compassionate way, and in a blaze of selfless ecstasy she will change her ways, and hire a dog walker.

Cary Tennis

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