Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Angels and Daemons


Rosie is Evil.

It's not the only thing that defines her, but it's a strong thread in the warp of Rosiness.

We knew she was evil by the time she was about five weeks old. Pip knew she was evil; Rosie was the single pup elected for 90% of the Momma-delivered ass-kickings loving discipline out of a field of eight worthy candidates. The two people in the universe to whom I was willing to sell her -- exactly because they were able to recognize that she is evil -- chose non-evil brothers. Who can blame them?

So we kept her. All in all, it has been a pretty good match.

We understand that Rosie's agenda is all about Rosie -- what Rosie likes to do, what Rosie wants to get, Rosie's opinion about any given situation, generally what's in it for Rosie today.

Rosie understands that if she steps too far over the line, there will be consequences for over-indulging her evil nature.

Fortunately, Rosie's genetics and upbringing predispose her to want certain useful-to-us things. She wants to work, and to work in partnership with a person. That's programmed in, not much subject to choice. She wants to crack kneecaps and suppress chaos, in conformity with her farmdog/enforcer genes, and we have stroppy livestock that needs that done. She wants to drive off intruders, and on the farm, there are plenty of four-legged (and aerial) trespassers that need to be escorted to the boundaries or else killed and eaten. She wants to find people and tell me about her achievement, and is willing to work damned hard to succeed at the job she was literally born to. She wants to snuggle and be fussed over, and we like snuggly dogs. She wants to meet new people and bend them to her will, and strangers mistake that for sweetness and oblige her by fussing over and petting her and complimenting us on her "friendliness." Rosie's first SAR assignment came when she was about 12 weeks old; she went with two teammates as they interviewed the runaway kids' friends at boot camp, and suckered them into talking by deploying her puppy innocent shtick. (She elicits what I call the My Little Pony response in little girls, who cannot keep their hands off of her; if I do not supervise closely, her tail will be in braids and she will be dyed purple and covered in glitter.)

So, since Rosie is evil, and intelligent, and useful, and since we see her for what she is, we get along great. We love Rosie -- adore her, really. And very likely, deep in her black little conniving heart, she loves us in her fashion.

The trouble comes in two ways.

First, Rosie's interests are not always our interests, but her commitment to pursuing them is nearly full-time and quite energetic and ingenious.

She decided, for her own reasons, that one of our foster dogs needed to be gone last winter, and waited for an opportunity to Make That Happen.

It was bad enough that I took Jasmine to another foster home. Rosie got her way, which was Not A Good Thing; but it was more important that Jasmine could finish her behavioral rehab in a place where another bitch did not have a hit out on her. We will be working more with Rosie on the topic of You Don't Get a Vote on Foster Dogs. Nor does she get to snark at innocuous strange dogs at social and professional gatherings -- an experiment she commenced when she was ten weeks old and to which she keeps returning.

Also, tantrums because Rosie has to wait to work at SAR training while other dogs get their turn -- consequences for those. Pushing visitors around. Making young Cole her bitch, even if he does have a smile on his face. Guarding people from their own dogs. These are things we have to stay on top of.

Second, other people get upset when we matter-of-factly share the reality of Rosie's Evil Nature.

At a professional conference last year, another trainer complained to my friend that she didn't see why I had the dog at all, since I never expressed any love or affection for her -- apparently hanging her upside down while crooning about what a Vile Little Bitch she is didn't qualify as "affection," though Rosie sees it differently. Lately, people who barely know Rosie -- but on whom she has employed the Jedi Mind Trick* -- have argued vehemently that "She's just a misunderstood Sweetie-Pie."

Gag. Can you people not see that a sweet, "innocent" face is the perfect camouflage?

Had you considered that by denying the possibility of puppy evilocity, you trivialize all genuine canine virtue?

And can you not see that True Love comes only from knowledge of True Nature? All else is fantasy.

So we have Rosie, who is Evil, and her mother Pip, who is only a little bit Evil when it amuses her, and her brother Moe, who can seem Evil when he is hurting, but is not. Before them there was Mel, who strove harder to be Good than anyone I ever met, and who skipped right past Good into Heroic Greatness, and Lilly, born saintly and smug and judgmental -- the glare from her frikken' halo could get to be A Bit Much at times.

In addition to each dog's inborn or acquired place on the Good - Evil spectrum, they are and were each unique individuals, souls who will never be duplicated, complex beings with unique genetics interacting with unique experience, agents with free will. Themselves, not simple archetypes.

When we are telling or writing the story of a dog -- reducing him to narrative -- he cannot interrupt and correct us. No, it never happened that way, and I'm not really like that. Like the dead, the dog has no voice. Unlike most dead humans, he often has few independent witnesses to contradict an owner's choice of adjectives.

So there's a special responsibility to try to minimize projection -- to avoid making the dog a stand-in for some part of ourselves, or something we need, or some quality we idealize or loathe. To control the pathological urge to subsume the animal's identity into our own.

It's especially lazy to reduce the dog to a thoughtless cliche that doesn't even apply to him.

The golden retriever who would literally go with anyone and never look back -- please don't tell me how "loyal" your dog is. You didn't give that adjective one second's earnest consideration.

If your Chihuadoodle is hiding behind your legs and yapping, please stop characterizing him as "protective."

Just because your Dane has a huge head and a weak heart that makes him phlegmatic and unreactive does not mean he is "noble."

If you fail to train, manage, and provide appropriate medical care for a fearful and reactive dog, then convenience-kill him when the inevitable keeps happening, is it too much to refrain from (lucratively) proclaiming that he's your soul-mate?

And if your dog is hyperactive, untrained, ill-led, and obviously poorly-matched with you, this does not make him an amusingly "bad" dog, though it speaks volumes about you.

Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

This came home to my gut recently when a friend sent a link to a cringe-inducing memorial blog about a dead dog.

Reading the posts by the dog's owner, I came away with virtually no intentionally-communicated useful information about the dog.

Here's some dog descriptors from a truly painful series of posts:

Brilliant
Hero
Inspiration
Sunshine
Salvation
Love
Rescuer
Fuzzy body pillow
Noble
Loyal
Honest
Best friend
My inspiration
My hope
Gift

Where's the dog?

There's not a single story there that reveals anything about his character, what sort of dog was this, for all the owner's claims that his life was transformative. I cannot discern a single thing the dog accomplished.

"He learned his name while I fed him McNuggets" does not count. Nor does inadvertently flinging a drool gobbet into the vet's open mouth.

Tons of abstract verbiage. But dogs are concrete creatures. What did the dog choose to do? What actions made him an individual?

I am actually hearing a cricket chirping in the corner.**

The Number One hyperbole that this person applies over and over to the dog, without supporting anecdote or evidence, is ...

Angel.

And you can be sure, not any flaming-sword cherubim playing bouncer at the door to the Tree of Life. Not Metatron appearing as a column of fire. Not this kind of angel:



But, in the owner's mind, and only there, this kind:


You see my problem. I'm trying to hold down food here.

So what's an angel, really?

It's an anglicization of the Greek word angelos, meaning "messenger." Which in turn, was used when translating the Hebrew mal'akh, also "messenger." Yahweh's errand-boy -- a being that presents divine pronouncements to mortals. An intermediary creature between heaven and earth, but transmitting one-way.

But the Greeks had another word for what at first appears to be a very similar sort of creature in their own theology.

Daemon.

Now here's a word with some nuance. So much so that its definitions are legion. Think about explaining all that the English word spirit denotes, and you start to grasp the breadth and difficulty.

The thing about a daemon is, whether you personify it as a semi-divine being, identify a person or animal as having daemonic qualities, or abstract it to a immanent quality latent within a person's psyche -- the daemon is not just divinity's shiny white herald. The daemon travels the space between the mundane and the transcendent, and its function is to escort one closer to the divine, without necessarily renouncing the world. You can bring it with you.

The daemon is crepuscular.

It occupies doorways, porches, vestibules, limbos and such spaces that are neither clearly in nor clearly out.

It not only has knowledge of and the ability to sense realities which a human cannot -- it shares those hidden worlds with us and brings us to them.

Socrates dropped a lot of broad hints about daemonic nature, his own, Diotima's, who else might possess one or be possessed, not least by swearing an oath that was unique to him. By the dog! No other Greek employed this oath. But no other Greek was as occupied with elevating and transcending, seeing the unseen and knowing the unknown.

A daemon has some very doglike qualities, both in itself and in its relationship to a human seeker.

And a dog, especially a really good evil dog, can aspire to the daemonic.


------------------------------------------

*Like virtually all English shepherd bitches, Rosie is a Master of the Jedi Mind Trick. Except, you know, more Sith than Jedi.

So, background: Far too many owners of ES and other genius dogs are unaware of the Power that the Force has over Weak Minds.

My friend Douglas explains it thusly: One day, you will find yourself sitting on the floor watching Animal Planet while feeding popcorn over your shoulder to the dog who is relaxing on the sofa. And you will suddenly grasp the consciousness that you have no idea how you came to this -- you thought it was your idea, but no, this is not what you want to be doing. At that moment, you will feel a cold nose on your neck, reminding you that someone wants more popcorn. Oh.

** This is literally true; there's a cricket making a racket over by my closet door, and no dog wants to get up and eat him. Possibly the cricket is cover for a closet monster.

Photo courtesy of Rob McMillin. Evil Rosie is Evil.

36 comments:

  1. And of course you picked the one shot I wasn't the happiest with; the background is way too bright (full sun), vs. this. It gives me something of an appreciation for the portrait photographer who was happy we got a nice thick overcast on the day we did our shoot.

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  2. Plus -- eww, Jon Katz. Good grief, I had no idea he was writing books about dogs, of all things. His contributions to Slashdot were dubious at best, and were at times self-promotional or had the air of manufactured goods.

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  3. We had a dog like Rosie. Her name was Dax, an Australian Shepherd. Let's just say all the other dogs in the family did a happy dance when she died at 13 1/2.

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  4. As Saint Augustine observed, "'Angel' is the name of their office, not of their nature."

    Having said that, count me in as one of the people completely snookered by Rosie. I love her, and have continually tried to refute Heather's claim that she's evil.

    But it should be noted that I only see Rosie a few times a year at most, for a few hours at a time. And now that I read Heather's full explanation, I think I understand the 'evil' contention better.

    Rosie, along with Cole, did save me from encroaching turkeys once, though. I give her full marks for that.

    Also, I still love her. Yes: I am a giant sucker.

    --Kelly

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  5. Rob --

    I KNEW IT. I KNEW IT ABOUT KATZ.

    Thank you sir.

    Many reviews of Katz's dog drivel will allow "He may be an expert on technology but ..."

    And I've thought "Well, I'm not qualified to judge, but I suspect a wide-awake tech-head would tell me differently."

    From the lovely and talented Luisa Serrano:

    http://lassiegethelp.blogspot.com/2008/03/inside-animal-minds.html

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  6. Also, re the photo, I've still never gotten anything that shows her eyes when she is in full evil-face. The one I used of yours comes closest, I think.

    I need to invite over some bitch that is cuter than Rosie, and put Rosie in a down stay on the floor while I pet the intruder on the couch. That should provide the photo op.

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  7. I loved your description of Rosie. She sounds like a dog that's full of life and, well, herself, lol.

    I also love the way you talked about the other dogs, especially Mel.

    And I hate Jon Katz with a passion.

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  8. Also, if you've ever read Phillip Pullmans novels in the Golden Compass series, I especially love how he describes and uses daemons.

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  9. Hrmmmm. I was morbidly curious so used some Googul search wizardry and found the memorial monologue.

    This just so happens to be the same trainer whom recently penned a blog post about while on walks, letting her dogs take her wherever their hearts desired, this was "their walk" after all. While I fall soundly on the R+ side of the spectrum, this warm and squishy goobledegook almost made my head explode.

    I am starting to get morbidly curious about the Jon Katz book as well, that may be one for the library list.

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  10. Charlie Dog --

    I think Pullman knows his Greek!

    His is a very interesting, surprisingly subtle, way of dealing with the tension between the daemon as a person -- a being with an individual identity -- and the daemon as an interior force and possibly an element of the divine.

    The Attic Greeks of the fifth century BC were in some ways so modern. Their thoughts are more recognizable and accessible to me than any pre-modern writers, and many modern-era ones. But one sometimes has to remember that, although Freud based a lot of terminology on their language and intellectual groundwork, they themselves did not share our mostly unexamined modern notions of consciousness, identity, mind-body duality, interior vs. public self. They are, it seems, so damned close that we end up being surprised when we are confronted with evidence that they were also totally different.

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  11. If about thirty of that last post shows up in the bucket, feel free to wax all dupes. Google is being bitchy today about posting blog comments.

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  12. Your post on the Attic Greeks is intriguing...can you suggest further reading (book form, please)?

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  13. Rob, your post keeps coming into my inbox, but won't appear on the blog.

    I'll email it to you, and you can repost by pasting. I'd give it a few hours to sort out first.

    Blogger is having a nervous breakdown today for some reason.

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  14. Thursdaynextgal --

    I may be writing more on Socrates and dogs when I have some peace and quiet to think around here (so don't hold your breath.)

    Original source-wise, The Symposium is the best of all Socratic dialogues, and the most entertaining. The Republic is more pedantic, and most scholars see it as reflecting Plato's late-in-life agenda rather than his teacher's thinking, but still worth a serious read. Allan Bloom's translation, by all means.

    If you can get it, a classic work on the classics is Werner Jaeger's Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture. It is three volumes. It's time for me to revisit it. It is probably also time for me to take a look at what good scholarship has come out in the past 20 years.

    My Greek professor passed away this spring; I read his obit brief last week, and -- well, there are times I miss that life. I was so privileged to have the teachers I did, and the colleagues.

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  15. "And can you not see that True Love comes only from knowledge of True Nature? All else is fantasy."

    I think that I shall steal that.

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  16. I can handle bot fly larva being extruded from a dog's leg, but the neotenized angel art is going to give me nightmares.

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  17. ...

    I realize you've written many articles over the time I've read Slashdot focused on how the web/net democratize society and the economy as well, but this particular article is just plain shoddy. Especially since you throw in a lot of jargon, but don't really connect the dots between a dog book and net marketing. You haven't shown the rest of us how this really works (a key piece of what "open source" is all about), and you haven't shown how it has really helped you. Did you do a cost-benefit analysis detailing how much time you spent hyping your book in various online forums versus the revenue those presumably additional sales produced? Did you check to see if your online efforts were truly the source of the increase by using appropriate statistical sampling methods? Have you provided any part of the book online, or just a lame link to Amazon which any right-thinking moral netizen is boycotting?


    Of course, the poster above goes 'round the bend with the gag-inducing locution "right-thinking moral netizen". (Who even hears the word "netizen" anymore? And, "right-thinking" is plenty cringeworthy by itself in the Sam the Eagle way.) But even when he was allegedly writing on subjects about which he should have known well, he was a prime example of FAIL.

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  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  19. @&^%$ blogger won't let ME repost it, either.

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  20. My youngest is evil - particularly towards my middle girl, but also towards any dog who messes with her stuff, moves too quickly, acts like an ass, jumps on people or is smaller than a bread box.

    She knows the consequences, and just after her first birthday she is very responsive, lives to work, and may turn out to be one of the best dogs we've ever had. I think her evil comes from her cuteness though. As in, too cute for words - she spent her first year in the "cute bubble"... the first six months people would apologize to ME when she started shoving their dogs around.

    But that's not why I posted.

    Number one - I firmly believe that Jon Katz has some mental problems. No one else could do what he did to those dogs and THEN WRITE ABOUT IT. Sick bastard.

    Second - major, major, major points for using the Dogma shot.

    And finally, I remember quite some time ago that you had plans to critique some studies... any plans to do so?

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  21. Kim --

    The cute bubble is the undoing of many a dog.

    Dogma is the source of much wonderfulness.

    See my comment to Thursdaynextgal about getting some peace and quiet to think here.

    I've got a stack of studies that are just asking for some deep analysis. I just need to stop being distracted by the shiny and buckle down.

    A few of them were scooped, and scooped well, by other bloggers in my circle, so I set them aside. No need to reinvent the wheel. I'll link to those when I get rolling.

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  22. Jon Katz! OMG, I just made the connection that HE was the author of a book I read last year and hated.

    I see I'm not the only one.

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  23. "Had you considered that by denying the possibility of puppy evilocity, you trivialize all genuine canine virtue?"

    And that is the key. There is no yin without yang, no good without evil, no positive without negative.

    And half a conversation worse than no conversation at all.

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  24. Thank you - I will definately look into those titles. I took a class last year called "Economics and Philiosophy" which touched briefly on those subjects but, due to limited class time, we weren't able to study in-depth.

    In regards to your post - I have an evil cat. Her nature was so apparent even at a young age that when I got her I briefly thought of naming her after Marie Laveau, the reputed New Orleans voodoo queen. Instead she is named Fiona, which means "white," a fitting tribute, I think, to a very contrary black cat.

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  25. The way you speak of Rosie as evil - I often find that certain types of "drive" that I do not like one whit in people are valuable in dogs and horses.

    Great post and thanks for revisting Katz.

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  26. I love the photo of Rosie in all her Evil glory. I did almost have to throw up a little bit over the "Precious Moments" angel.

    Ripley also relies on his ES Good Looks and Charm as an important tool in carrying out his brand of Evil. I wish I had a buck for every person who has told me that I misunderstand his motives (and therefore do not really Love him) and that I should Trust him completely to be the Noble and Virtuous dog that he has led them to believe he is. He wishes that he was owned by someone who would allow him to Freely express himself at all times and would never question his complete Goodness.

    Mary O

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  27. My mother made me read Jon Katz's books when he first started writing about dogs. I was amused, but nonplussed, and she has since moved onto attempting to read every diet book imaginable, which is pretty much just as gag-inducing.

    This is very well-written and it brings to light the fact that dogs, well, roll in shit, snark at things, lick their bums, eat gross things, and in general...are not exactly what I would term "angels." They are dogs, and while our relationships with them makes them more of a family member now, but still doesn't make them any more.

    Our last dog was Evil, but he was just playing the Best Dog EVAR card until he found a chance to shred up our tax documents and tear holes in the rugs. Took him a few years (and this was after he went through training!), but he did it.

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  28. I have slightly evil JRT. People think he is all sweet, innocent wiggling at their feet. So they squat down to pet him. If they are wearing shorts, he breaks out his favorite trick. He likes to shove his entire head up the persons shorts leg. I think he started this because of a guy with treats in his pocket that he wanted to sniff. Now he just does it for the reaction and runs off gleefully. He will not do it when I am around but my husband thinks it funny and never corrects him. Sometimes it is much easier to train the dog than the husband.

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  29. He wishes that he was owned by someone who would allow him to Freely express himself at all times

    The world could never be prepared for the horror that would ensue ...

    Mebbe we Owners Of Evil Dogs are like those guys in *The Mummy* who guard the world from Imhotep, only no one knows or believes them.

    "Seriously, if we didn't keep a lid cranked down, you guys have *no idea* what would come down on you."

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  30. Now he just does it for the reaction and runs off gleefully. He will not do it when I am around

    That's it Dani! You've nailed the definitive field mark of the Evil dog!

    The atrocities that Rosie attempts, and the profane threats she utters, when I am watching her are as nothing compared to what she gets away with the moment my back is turned.

    And she will *always* do this. *Always.* She will never control her urge to do evil in the absence of likely consequences, because she *does not care.* She has excellent impulse control about things she cares about.

    And one of her absolute faves is a hard crotch-bump when her latest human mark has stopped petting her for a few seconds and my eyes are not glued to her. It invariably works.

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  31. And then this morning, I realized this recalled an ancient Suck column, though I wonder if he wasn't trying to be needlessly provocative with the hook that people eat dogs elsewhere.

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  32. "she will *always* do this. *Always.* She will never control her urge to do evil in the absence of likely consequences, because she *does not care.* She has excellent impulse control about things she cares about."

    There is much of my Callie in this remark. She is much the better dog for the 12-year presence of my late dog Rex, and has many redeeming qualities. But I must say your post gave me the eureka moment that despite her apparent lack of impulse control on many occasions, there's a good deal of calculation behind that lack of control.

    Thanks for the great post and comments.

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  33. I have an evil dog. Miss Emmy Lou. I tried to give her an innocuous name. I can't imagine who she would be if I'd named her Flash or something like that. I recognized her right off though so she never got the "cuteness bubble" really going. She is the only dog I have ever owned who, from babyhood, when corrected would look at me with a "well @#$% I'm not going to do THAT in front of HER again" look.

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  34. My Golden retriever bitch is evil, and no one ever believes me when I tell them that. When I mention this to people, they protest while continuing to love all over her. I swear she grins and winks at me when she knows they're not looking.

    One person who seemed to understand suggested it may be because her name is a palindrome. That's as good an explanation as any I have come up with. Her sire, dam and littermates are practically textbook Goldens, i.e. perfect dogs, so I can't blame genetics, and she was this way even in the whelping box, so I can't blame her upbringing.

    She's not even particularly useful, but she's wickedly funny, and that's enough.

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  35. FYI. I tried posting the exact same thing into my own blog a day or two ago, and Google ate it, too.

    I begin to suspect the lately applied Google spam trap, which apparently there is no way to disable.

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