Saturday, May 1, 2010
Earlier this week I was waiting for something else to happen and watched a woman with a small dog get her wrist bitten. She deserved it--people who get bitten generally do--but what was interesting about the transaction was her complete surprise and her apparent inability to see life from another creature's point of view.
Here's what happened: The setting was an urban (well, sort of urban) campus, and it was a warm day between classes--the sidewalks were very full. Even from about 500 feet away, I could see the little dog was signaling a lot of unambiguous anxiety about the crowding, the feet, the bicycles, and the periodic outbreaks of humans running with Frisbees. Whenever some new alarm was raised, the dog would flatten its ears and half-lower its rump, pulling backward on the leash, and the human on the other end would pull the dog forward. They progressed at a snail's pace down the block, slowed by anxiety on one end of the string, exasperation on the other.
When the pair came to the crosswalk, the woman reached down to pick the dog up and presumably carry it safely across the busy street, and this is when the bite occurred--just as she moved to get one hand under the dog's ribcage while the other hand was flapping around, busy with winding the slack of the leash around her palm. Suddenly a balky, worried little dog became a biting dog, a frantic bundle of defensive rage. The dog latched on to the woman's wrist, just for a second, but with the momentum of sheer panic. I'm sure it hurt, even if the dog was diminutive, and this hurt escalated when the dog got thwacked fairly hard for misbehaving--an event that probably reinforced the original message that humans do unpredictable, hurtful things with their strange appendages.
Why does our species find it so easy to disregard clear signals from other creatures? Episodes like this are a form of cruelty that seem to be off the radar of people active in the animal-rights movement, perhaps because so many people in the movement don't seem to know very much about canine or other species behavior. Yes, PETA, puppy mills are bad, and you can take a picture of how very bad they are, but I argue that this is worse.
If a dog has rights, then one of them is to be understood, especially when the dog is yelling at us, as loud as possible, at the top of a pair of tiny lungs.