Thursday, February 3, 2011

Life or Death

I could not stay inside a house. Again and again I went to the wall, the window, and finally an old man who had been sitting at the table with me laughed and said something to the others ... that I didn't get.

"What?" I asked, turning from the window.

"You have become one of them," he said. "A dog. You pace, you look out, you move ... like a dog."

"I smell like one, too ..."
He nodded, smiling.

"Yes. You do. Only with that other smell there, too, the smell that comes from white places. But that is going away. Tell me now, isn't this better?"

"What?" I had been looking at the dogs again.

"This -- this way to live. With the dogs and the sled and the snow. Isn't it better this way than the way you live the other times?"

And I nodded. "Yes. It is."

"Good. You finish this goddamn thing and when it is done you get your woman and come back down the coast and live with us. We'll go hunting seals on the ice and your children will get fat and we'll sit and talk."
-- Gary Paulsen, Winterdance

Lambs pronking through the meadow in the spring are as entertaining to watch as a litter of puppies romping in the kitchen; we must assume that they take the same infant joy in their play. I can think of no morally relevant distinction between the young of the two species, as species.

Cows love their calves; they are gregarious creatures who take pleasure in the company of their herdmates.

There are few vertebrates that are simpler than a Cornish cross hybrid meat chicken. Even they have their bestial satisfactions and uncomplicated personalities, and can be seen to be happy when their short lives play out in green and pleasant summer pastures.

In the end, we eat them. Some of us omnivores consider it important that our food has a decent life, one that is not only free from suffering, but replete with those things that bring happiness to each creature after its kind.

We demand the animal's death to feed our lives, but his pleasures belong to him. A well-kept food animal's life is his own.

Not so the lives of our animal partners. The companions who are designated "pets," and those who work for us or with us to achieve human ends unknown in the animal world. Our lives are commingled, boundaries blurred. They accept a mission for our well-being; if we are not perversely self-absorbed, their happiness becomes ours. We demand their whole lives as if issuing a mandatory marriage proposal. You and me, kid.

We can demand a life, or demand a death.

But both?

Every impulse of decency, every instinct towards fairness screams out against it.

Give me your life. Make my pleasure and my profit and my command your joy. Entwine yourself in my work and life and goals. Meet my eye with your own honest, shining gaze, and cavort with anticipation of the task I have for you. Serve me with your mind and heart. Become my will, and I will become your joy.

Having demanded that kind of devotion and received it, how does a human being then revise the contract to read "And when you are inconvenient to me, when I no longer require that you do my work, when the task that you literally scream to accomplish is not profitable to me, then die and get out of my way?"
The dog's screams had gone on all this time but with the last kick -- the blow must have almost literally exploded the dog's liver -- the dog fell back and grew still and it was over, in seconds it was over and he looked up at me, directly at me, and I saw things had never seen, never want to see again. I saw hate, self-hate, hate and rage and such savagery that I drew back and suddenly understood Nazis and rabies and rape and pillage and My Lai and the death camps ...

... to be able to do that to a friend, a close friend who has pulled you halfway across Alaska and wants only to love and be loved and to pull and see the next hill and is now gone. Killed. Murdered. To savage a dog that way, a friend -- he could do anything.
-- Gary Paulsen, Winterdance


  1. What is vile, what is indescribably inhumane, is --

    The way we found this out is that the person who actually pulled the trigger then demanded recompense for his having done so, being all traumatized.

    As though he couldn't have simply said, "no".

    From what I can tell (and please, for the love of all that is good, correct me if I am wrong here), he still remains in the employ of the company that did this.

    It's almost as though there was a person in there, but it's stuck under a rock or something.

  2. What I said Rob. On Facebook a few days ago.


  3. From what I can tell (and please, for the love of all that is good, correct me if I am wrong here), he still remains in the employ of the company that did this.

    Even if the company wanted to fire him (which, hopefully, they do), they can't now, because he's claimed PTSD, which falls under worker's compensation laws in Canada. You can't fire an employee who's claiming Worker's Comp, as it violates all kinds of employment laws here.

    He's given himself a rather neat little 'get of jail free' card.

  4. Unsurprisingly, the company is now disputing Bob Fawcett's version of events, though they are not disputing that he was told to kill the dogs.

    Unclear on the concept, mush?

  5. Beautifully stated. Raw. I'm appalled as well. Unforgivable. All this came about as I'm reading The Lost Dogs by Gorant. I'm losing my faith in humans - too quickly.

  6. Joey Houssian is supposedly the son of Canadian billionaire Joe Houssian, who made his fortune in ski resorts. Houssian fils is said to be "horrified" at the killings he ordered.

  7. Carol -- it may be true that Fawcett cannot be fired under Canada's workers comp laws, but I wonder if this also holds in a case where the employee has violated the law, either on his own or under orders from his employer? Not that I have any insight into Canadian humane laws (and suspect they're likely pretty vague particularly because the dog sledding companies like it that way), but it's worth thinking about.

  8. The SPCA categorically denies they were requested to help rehome the dogs.

    "It's ludicrous… it's absolutely false," said SPCA spokesperson Lorie Chortyk on Wednesday.

    "At no time did they ask for assistance re-homing dogs."

  9. Rob. Dude.

    Stanley Milgram, "The Perils of Obedience"

    Just saying.

  10. Two articles on the adoptability of sled dogs:

    I leave it to y'all to determine which writer has decamped to bizzaro-universe.

  11. Ted -- please enlighten me as to what you are "just saying". Was Mr. Fawcett being shocked? Or perhaps that we should have some sympathy for him because an authority figure told him to kill the dogs?

  12. The Milgram experiment and its many, many replications established that a majority of normal humans (61-66%) are willing to shock another human to death just because some random researcher told them to.

    In answer to people who worried that perhaps some of the subjects realized the "victim" was faking, the experiment was replicated with a puppy who received genuine shocks: 20 out of the 26 participants complied to the end. (Sheridan, C.L. and King, K.G. (1972) Obedience to authority with an authentic victim, Proceedings of the 80th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association 7: 165-6.)

    In the discussion of his results, Milgram pointed out that a researcher in an experiment on volunteers has no real power over the subjects -- unlike an employer or military commanding officer.

    If 61-66% of people are willing to torture a human to death (and *77%* are willing to torture a *puppy*) just because some random researcher told them to, how many people would be willing to do so when their employer, who has the power to fire them, told them to?

    The Milgram experiment can no longer be replicated. It violates current standards of professional ethics traumatizes the subjects.

    You see, as one of Milgram's subjects who continued the shocks to the end described (see Milgram's article linked in previous post), they are put in: "the situation of having to hurt somebody. And being totally helpless and caught up in a set of circumstances where I just couldn't deviate and I couldn't try to help."

    So I'm glad this worker at least pulled himself together to sue the company. I wish he had just said no, but he would have been in a minority if he could have. Instead he went along with it, the way, unfortunately, most people would (remember, in the "shocking the puppy" experiment, 77% did). But it did traumatize him, as it would most people (many who shocked the puppy to the end even openly wept...but they still did as they were told). Then, afterward, he did what he could to at least punish the company for ordering this.

    Notice the company's statement does not apologize for deciding to euthanize the dogs. It merely tries to imply this worker should have done it "more humanely." They are the ones who ordered the dogs' deaths simply for their own convenience. And they don't regret that. They are deliberately trying to change opposition to *what they did* into anger at the employee for *how he did it*.

    Don't let them get away with it.


I've enabled the comments for all users; if you are posting as "anonymous" you MUST sign your comment. Anonymous unsigned comments will be deleted. Trolls, spammers, and litigants will be shot.