I Become a Delandist

Margaret Deland 1857-1945
Since October, I’ve bought fifty books by or about Margaret Deland, most of them first-editions. I’ve never taken such an intense interest in either an author or in old books, but I’m finding it immensely gratifying to hold in my hands that which previous generations enjoyed and held in their hands. I’m also head-over-heels in love with what these people wrote in their books, inscriptions such as, For my dear little girl, Christmas 1915,” and Geo, this was Little Mamma’s book.” Then there are the beautiful old names of the books’ owners: Grace, Clara, Effie, Fanny, Alice, Lillian, Cordelia, and Adelphia.

Prior to coming across Deland’s novel, John Ward, Preacher (1888), in a St. Vincent de Paul store, I assumed that the remembrance of brilliant writers was insured, and that the world’s best reading could be found simply by seeking-out authors whose work has survived the decades if not the centuries. How fortunate I am to have come across someone who is practically forgotten but who struggled with the same issues I face, issues that people tend to dismiss with, “You think too much,” or, “You take things too seriously.”

It’s not only Deland whom I’ve discovered, but through her my clearest window into the place and era that interests me most, America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The forgotten dead speak to me so strongly that it’s a shock to suddenly recall that they are dead, and that the brevity of their lives is being mirrored in our own. I have also been forced to conclude that the educated people of the late 19th century were far better educated than ourselves in regard to scope, profundity, and the ability of even non-writers to express themselves
with depth and perception. It is so easy to dismiss past generations as somehow less-than, but my studies have convinced me that in regard to the era about which I am most interested, they were not only less-than, they were more-than.

Phillips Brooks 1835-1893
I so wish I could have known some of them, for example the psychologist William James and the Episcopal priest Phillips Brooks who was the only clergyman from whom Margaret sought counsel. When she confessed to him that she considered the Apostles’ Creed nothing more than “a beautiful, antique edifice of words,” and asked if she should continue taking communion, he wrote:

 “…I do believe that any, even the least, sense of Him gives you the right to come to Him, at any rate, to come to where He is and try to find Him. I cannot tell you how anxiously I write. But what I have written, I solemnly believe. May the great Wisdom and Love bless you and lead you.”

Brooks’ exchange with Margaret reminded me of the one I had with (Father) Brent. The fact that I, a nonbeliever in regard to the supernatural, find meaning in communion has caused both believers and nonbelievers to assure me that I need to choose one path or the other and be done with the matter. To find in Margaret a reflection of my inability to let go of that which I can not intellectually accept yet have an unwavering need to accept—by which I mean a belief in immortality that would enable me to think of life as other than tragic—is more rewarding than I can say. As she put it,

“My feeling was not just an academic perplexity about doctrines; it was a shuddering of my heart at the significance of Love in the same world with Death! ... I knew that what I wanted was a certain word, either written or spoken, which would make me sure of...immortality.”

But the problem goes beyond mortality and into the meaning of a life built upon inescapable ignorance and inadequacy, failings that the intervening providence of a sympathetic supreme being would overcome. Without such a being, we founder in weakness, desire, and loss for perhaps eight decades, and then we die. Does this not constitute a valid objection to having lived at all?

As did Margaret—who died at 87—I have long since come to feel that my most central issue is mine alone to bear, and while others have brought me hurt and alienation, no one but Brent has tried to make me feel welcome in a
“house of worship without expecting that I change. Since anything short of acceptance would constitute rejection, Brent represents my only tie to organized religion. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any more evidence of an intervening providence or immortality than I. When Margaret asked Phillips Brooks whether he knew that we would live forever, he was silent for some time before answering:

“It must be true; life would be too terrible if it were not.”

Brooks’ admission of the baselessness of what he wanted so much to believe was admirable, but hardly more satisfying than the certainty of those who put their trust in the imagined authority of church and Bible. This leaves me, as it did Margaret, very much alone because there is no meaningful reassurance regarding that which no one can prove.

When her husband died, Margaret went the way of Conan Doyle who became a spiritualist after his son died, although she avoided the embarrassing public credulity of Doyle who became so  delusional as to believe in fairies. The post-World War I era saw millions seeking contact with their beloved dead, and her eventual acceptance of the proposition that we are all a part of the divine consciousness and therefore incapable of death is alien to me, but her questions are not, and, as did mine, they started during her fundamentalist Christian upbringing and brought her the
reprobation of those to whom she turned for answers.

Katherine Mansfield, 1888-1923
Yet, Margaret was not the first author with whom I experienced such a strong personal connection that I could not accept that she was dead. For that, I must point to New Zealander Katherine Mansfield who wrote,

“Oh, God, the sky is filled with the sun, and the sun is like music. Music comes streaming down these great beams. The wind touches the trees, shakes little jets of music. The shape of every flower is like a sound. My hands open like five petals…”

Perhaps there are those who can cheerfully accept that such beauty of spirit can appear out of frigid nothingness like a warming spark only to immediately and eternally fall back into the same, but I am not among them, and I never will be. Of all the supposed truths that there exists something more, the only one that resonates with me is my inability to accept the alternative, but I don
’t know if this suggests need or insight.

One day, while walking in the desert, I felt that Mansfield was with me, so I asked for proof of her presence. I immediately saw a painted and bejeweled stick several feet away in the sagebrush, and even a skeptical Peggy commented that I walked to it as though led. I kept the stick in my closet for years before discarding it as a teaser rather than an answer. If asked what would constitute an answer I could but say that it would have to be something that couldn
’t be explained through ordinary means, “...a certain word, either written or spoken, which would make me sure of...immortality.” 

As did my atheist father when old age robbed him of his strength, Margaret believed that she had found such a word. In the second of her two autobiographies (one about her childhood and the other about her marriage) she wrote:

Recognizing a Conscious and Infinite Universe, we know that in It we live, and move, and have our being. We are workers together with It. We are sharers in Its immortality. Oneness with Its will is Peace, and we can endure. We call It God.

I can’t know whether her courage to endure a world without hope finally failed her, or whether her decades of study and reflection provided her with a vision that is of little use to anyone but herself. I don’t believe that anyone can fairly stand in judgment. John Lennon wrote, Whatever gets you through the night, it’s alright, it’s alright,” by which I think he meant that the final test of what constitutes ultimate reality cannot be demonstrable truth because that is unattainable. Rather the final test is whether ones belief is hardening or opening, and in Magaret’s case, it was most certainly the latter. I could never put so much time and energy into a writer of whose goodness I was not completely convinced, and so it is that I put my faith in Margaret.

Transexuality in cats

Ollie, our four month old male, is making a determined effort to nurse Brewsky, our five year old male. I don’t know how Brewsky can bear it since Ollie has teeth, but his only response is to descend into what looks very much like a coma while Ollie slurps and pumps for all he’s worth. As a strong and confident heterosexual male, my gender identity is naturally dependent upon the behavior of my neutered pets, so I find this sort of thing extremely disturbing.

Nurse Peggy speculated that if Ollie nurses long enough, Brewsky might actually produce milk. I asked her if she would taste it, and she said she would, so I found this equally disturbing because it can only mean that she considers cats more erotic than men, although I must confess that I too wonder how cat milk tastes, and whether male cat milk tastes different from female cat milk. I just know that I would have to sample it in the afternoon (I’m nauseous in the mornings), especially if it was male cat milk, and even then, I would worry that I might like it so much that I would end up with a houseful of lactating cats and a refrigerator full of cat-milk cheese.

Ollie is also starting to look a little cross-eyed, and, combined with his insistence on nursing Brewsky, this probably means that cross-eyed cats are transsexual. As many of you know, my father was transsexual (though not cross-eyed) so for Ollie to be this way too proves that the universe hates me.

One downside of cats is that you have to look at their assholes a lot because they’re forever turning their butts in your direction while hoisting their tails like fulsomely furry flagless flagpoles. Peggy and I have noted that Ollie has an outie asshole, and this too is hard to accept because it just looks wrong somehow, and probably means that he’s a transsexual. I thought about cutting the tendon in his tail so that I wouldn’t have to look at his ass, but Peggy said that, if he couldn’t raise his tail, he would probably poop on it.

I think Ollie looks like Ramses III, and Peggy’s friend, Ilse (who neither I nor Peggy had mentioned this to) also thinks he looks like a pharaoh. On top of his gender issues, the thought of having a dead pharaoh wandering about the house is about to push me over the edge because I never know but what Ollie might start looking more like Ramses and less like Ollie and end up with Ramses’ face and brain on Ollie’s body. Every morning, I look at him to see if he’s changed, but all I can tell for sure is that his legs are getting longer and his walk indecently wiggly, and this makes me worry that he’ll want pantyhose.

A Canadian university recently proved that domestic cats would eat their owners if they could get away with it, and this makes me wonder if it’s safe to sleep with Brewsky and Ollie since they could synchronize an attack in order to take out my eyes before I could wake-up.

Ollie and Brewsky are still having hellacious fights, although assaults would be more accurate. Tiny though he is, Ollie will sometimes attack Brewsky viciously, but all Brewsky does is to bathe him while he’s doing it. Yesterday, I watched Brewsky lick a paw, the nails of which were sunk into his nose, and I got to wondering if Brewsky is a sexual masochist. Still, if Ollie hurts him enough, Brewsky will meow (in pervert lingo, that’s what’s known as a “safe sign”), and this tells Ollie that he had better stop NOW if he doesn’t want to piss Brewsky off. Believe me, even I wouldn’t want to piss Brewsky off because he spends about an hour a day tossing cat litter all over the room for no reason that I can see other than to build muscles. The only thing that keeps Brewsky from hurting me as it is, is that I run away every time he walks in my direction, and he’s too lazy to jump onto my back and sink his teeth into my trachea, so he licks his butt instead. Even when Brewsky acts harmless, I can’t be sure but what he’s planning to kill me as a gift to his nymphet lover.

Brewsky also attacks Ollie, but Ollie’s response is decidedly un-sangfroid. In fact he screams like a little girl who’s being hacked to death by a motorcycle gang of hairy-chested priests, and this makes me wonder if he too is a sexual masochist. Peggy thinks we should stop these attacks, but I’m adamantly opposed to it, partly because I’m afraid of Brewsky, but also because I need to trust that Brewsky is being a good father to his adopted son. Of course, would a good father let his son nurse, bite his ears, and claw his nose? I don’t know whether to take my boys to a shrink or buy them Barbie Dolls. In the old days, the choice would have been clear, but now that everyone who’s not a white, heterosexual male is considered normal, the shrink might say that I’m the one who needs a shrink, and I’m too overwrought to listen to such foolishness.

My only other options are to either return Ollie to the adoption agency or pack-up and leave home. I waited so long that if I do the first, they won’t give me my money back, plus I’ve spent $200 treating the little shit’s diarrhea. Leaving home isn’t a great option either because I would have to buy a new place, and because people would laugh at me for letting myself be run out of my home by two cats that are considered emotionally healthy by the Cat Sexuality and Gender Identity Division of the American Psychological Association

I saw a news story about a black man who tried to have his pitbull put to death because he thought the dog was gay (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=820YNwI-tWA). He said he wanted a bad-ass dog that would protect him family, but what he got was a fag-ass piece of shit who only cared about making love to attackers. The whole country laughed at him, and only now do I understand what the poor man must have suffered.

On a lighter note, here’s a video that was made when Smokie (our foster cat) was here. It’s the first personal video that I’ve ever posted. Be sure your sound is up so you won’t miss our talk and Ollie’s purring, and that you watch the whole thing so as not to miss the hissing at the end.

Nobody who is somebody looks down on anybody. -Margaret Deland

Margaret Deland, 1857-1945
Her mother died in childbirth, her father two days later. She aroused controversy through poems, short stories, and novels. Her book, John Ward, Preacher, was a best-seller about the philosophical clashes between a Calvinist minister and his Episcopalian wife. Deland married Harvard football coach Lorin Deland, and shared her home with dozens of unwed mothers.

The universe eludes me. It appears to be where I am not and I am where it is not. In 1989, a friend said he envied me my self-knowledge. I assumed that he referred to my grasp of values, self-history, and goals, but values change; memories change; and I no longer have goals.

Over the last few years, I have increasingly sought escape in English and American literature, focusing more or less on the period from 1875 to 1925, because it represented an era that I imagined happier and more natural. My escape proved a mirage when I realized that my favorite writers of the era not only struggled with “modern” issues but approached them with greater depth and insight than today’s writers. I had imagined that the endless ease with which authors can now edit would have improved literature, but the reverse is true. Perhaps this is because education was formerly focused on history, literature, language, and philosophy, fields that promote depth. I also suspect that our “electronic devices” have tended us toward shallowness by becoming the intellectual equivalent of fast food. Whatever the reason, modern writers are challenged to use good grammar.

After reading many of the works of Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Samuel Butler, Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, Jack London, Willa Cather, and others, I recently had the good fortune to discover, for $2.49, a first edition copy of John Ward, Preacher in a St. Vincent dePaul store. I hadn’t so much as heard of the author but her writings quickly became the shrine before which I worship, and her books the only books I ever kissed each night before going to sleep. In John Ward, Preacher, Deland examined the deeply-loving marriage between a nominal Episcopalian who doubted God’s existence and her fundamentalist husband who became obsessed by the fear that his wife was going to hell. I was raised a fundamentalist but became an atheist, and through the couples arguments I saw myself.

My next reading was her 65-page story Where Ignorance Is Bliss, 'Tis Folly To Be Wise. The story opens with a soon to be married couple—the man an Episcopal priest—enjoying a woodland outing on a sunny day. The story progressed to the man’s memory of having forged a check 23-years earlier, a crime that no one knew about—and that no one would ever know about unless he told them. He pondered whether morality required that he confess his sin to his fiancée, and for perhaps forty pages, he debated the decision from every conceivable angle before finally telling her two days before their wedding. She broke off their engagement—by letter—within hours. Months later, two friends who knew what he had done also examined the pros and cons of his decision. They concluded that the choice between telling and not telling had been a moral necessity, but they couldn’t agree on which was right. So it is that Deland’s writings commonly concern painful decisions that pit apparent self-interest against social, physical, and economic ruin. 

What we now have in place of depth, morality, and thoughtful religion, is political correctness on the one hand and religious reactionism on the other. Both are antithetical to freedom and intelligence, so it’s no wonder that our era is characterized by slanders and Tweet-length repartee. Surely, you can see why I have abandoned my era in favor of another. In truth, I don’t care too terribly much about Syrian refugees; I can do nothing about Global Warming; and I think of our Middle Eastern Wars as the disturbed obsession of callous politicians whose interests lie anywhere but their own country. Fourteen years of turning on the radio and, in the first sentence, hearing such terms as: suicide bombing, Taliban, Islamic State, school shooting, government shutdown, racial tension, Gaza Strip, government atrocities, sectarian conflict, Civil War, chemical weapons, roadside bomb, WMDs, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestinian conflict, fighting erupted, weather event, police shooting, unarmed black man, or other phrases that make me feel both angry and hopeless have worn me down until I no longer care. 

I remind myself that I am more old than young, and I ask myself whether this is what I want to listen to for the rest of my life because, truly, I see no reason to hope for better. Almost nothing that is on the news concerns things that I can remedy—which is probably why it’s on the news. Whatever happened to the welfare of America? Except for school shootings and an endless stream of killings by so-called racist cops, are any of our problems solved by this obsession with the Middle East, a region that we have only made worse after spending a trillion dollars and leaving millions of people maimed, killed, or displaced?

No, give me Victorian times. They call to me, not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard, yet I find a kinship there that I don’t find today. The last two friends who came to my house talked on their cell phones in my presence, and I thought, why are you here? If you had rather be with someone else, then go to them with my blessing, and call me when you get there so I can have the attention that you’re now giving to them. Why insult me by making me listen to a one-sided conversation? Am I really so unimportant to you? Such events have led me to write people out of my life until there are very few left.

I reject my era. I reject our personal devices; our warmongering in the name of peace; our “special nation status”; our endless threats of a government shutdown; our 18-month long presidential campaigns; the daily slanderings and lies of psychopathic politicians who pretend to be statesmen; but most of all, I despise our shallowness. I think that the only things we’ll be remembered for are violence, flag-waving, political correctness, and asininity, and so it is that I profoundly don’t care about us. As long as the economy doesn’t crash, my Social Security check arrives on time, and Medicare stays solvent for the remainder of my lifetime, I’ll content myself with the knowledge that this is the most I can expect from a sick, shallow, and silly nation that I am powerless to influence. Like the man in Simon and Garfunkels I am a Rock,I  have my books and poetry to protect me, only they don’t protect me any better than they did him, they instead take me deep within myself through the words of people with whom I can have no knowledge other than sentiments frozen on a page. It is to this end that I’m buying every first edition of Margaret Deland’s books I can find. Fortunately they’re cheap because the mass of Americans are only interested in the day’s celebrity. I frankly find Deland’s words, “Nobody who is somebody looks down on anybody,” an impossible row to hoe, but I’ll keep reading.

My three boys

Ollie, vanquisher of monsters
Peggy hated cats and, atheist though she is, would awaken screaming from dreams in which screeching Satanic felines were breaking into our house. When our schnauzer, Baxter, died in 2010, Peggy surprised me by suggesting that we go to an animal shelter the very next day to get a dog—after our first schnauzer died, Peggy grieved for years before she was ready for another dog. When we found no dogs we liked, we visited the cattery and Peggy fell in love with the first kitten we saw. We named him Brewsky, and he is now five. I never felt as close to him as I had to various dogs, but I enjoyed him enough that I thought it would be fun to get a second cat. Peggy argued against this for two reasons. The first was that it would mean less attention for Brewsky, and the second was that we both doubted that Brewsky would accept a second cat.

Smokie, licker of glass
In mid October, a friend died, and we temporarily cared for his two year old Persian, Smokie. I read that the best way to introduce a new cat to a resident cat is to keep them completely separate for a week, so that was what I attempted, but it made both cats miserable. After three days, I put Smokie in the laundry room behind a baby gate so that he and Brewsky could at least see one another. Brewsky’s response was to hiss (at least during those brief periods that he came out from under the couch) and Smokie’s to yowl. Given how bad things were going, I questioned the wisdom of keeping them apart to any extent, so I removed the baby gate, and within two days, they were taking naps together. I immediately turned up the pressure on Peggy to get a second cat.

She demurred but her resistance had been weakened by how well Brewsky accepted Smokie, so when we were walking around the mall two Sundays ago and came upon a new Petco store, we went inside, and lo and behold, they had rescue cats. We singled out three with whom we played for over two hours before settling on a gray kitten named Detroit Tony (so named because he and his littermates had been dumped on the side of the Detroit Lakes Highway). I would have taken him home then, but Peggy said she first wanted to visit the cattery where we got Brewsky, and it was too late to go that day. When we didn’t find a cat we liked the next day, we raced across town to Petco in the hope that Detroit Tony was still there. He was, but not by much because one application had just been rejected.

Brewsky, scrubber of tails
When we got Tony—who we renamed Ollie—home, we ignored the book recommendation about isolating him for a week, and instead plopped him down between Brewsky and Smokie and waited to see what would happen. The 2.8 pound Ollie immediately astonished us and our 16.5 pound Brewsky by walking right up to him and smelling his nose. Peggy and I held our breaths while Brewsky decided whether to open his heart or his fangs. There soon followed a regular smell fest with the two cats sniffing one another from bow to stern. When they were done, Ollie and Smokie went through a similar getting-to-know-you routine, after which the three of them played chase. By Tuesday, Brewsky was bathing Ollie like a mother and the two of them were sleeping together, often with Ollie cradled between Brewsky’s legs. (Ollie looks much bigger, and Brewsky much smaller, in the photos than in real life.)

I have become more bonded with Brewsky in the past few weeks—since first Smokie and then Ollie moved in—than in the past few years, the reason being that introducing other cats into the household has opened his heart to a depth I never knew he possessed. For instance, after he got tired of hiding under the sofa following Smokie’s arrival, he turned to me for reassurance, and his usual Stoic demeanor gave way to a touching vulnerability. I am only troubled by two things. One is that I can’t discipline Ollie without upsetting Brewsky, which means that I have to go to where Ollie is misbehaving and quietly redirect his behavior even if he’s on the other side of the room clawing the upholstery. The second thing is that Brewsky can’t discipline Ollie without upsetting me. He will occasionally pin Ollie between his legs and nip him repeatedly, causing Ollie to cry like he’s being murdered. Sometimes, I can connect Brewsky’s actions to something Ollie did, but other times, it just looks like a display of dominance. Whatever is going on, I don’t think it would be right to interfere.

Abused cats forced to sleep on minuscule bed

My only sad news is that Smokie moved to his new home in Portland on Saturday. I so wanted to keep him that I had fantasies about the two of us fleeing to Idaho. As it was I could but write a letter to his new family asking that they let me have him back if things don’t work out.

Smokie’s breed is an example of human beings taking a superb product of nature and genetically altering it in ways that are a detriment to its health and abilities. In the case of Persians, the goal was to create a long-haired cat that would look kittenish its whole life long. As a result, Persians can’t bathe adequately; they have weak jaws; they can’t survive in the wild; and they’re prone to a score of  afflictions. Yet, it’s also true that they’re among the most gentle, mellow, and affectionate, of cats, and I’ll never forget the gift of knowing Smokie. The fact that Smokie can’t fly is proof that angels lack wings.

More of before

Baxter, 2009
One year, a craftsman’s event called Holiday Market had a “mind reader” whose sign said that she worked to bring harmony to people and their pets. I told the woman that Peggy and I were dealing with a case of schnauzal abuse, namely that Baxter would slap Peggy when she tried to put him down after their morning cuddle (this was true, but it was more like a touch than a slap). I said that we thought his anger was racially motivated, what with him being black and Peggy white. The “mind reader” patiently explained that dogs don’t see race the way people do. It was a very edifying conversation, but I demurred when she offered to come to our house for counseling.

Bonnie, 1997
From the time we got her as a three-pound pup, Bonnie would challenge anyone or anything that annoyed her, and a lot of things annoyed her. One day, we passed a city bus just as it was pulling away from the curb, and Bonnie’s window being open and our car being abreast of the bus’s engine, the noise was loud. This infuriated Bonnie, who jumped up with a snarl to see what had interrupted her nap. When she saw the bus, she tried to go out the window after it, and would have too if I hadn’t knocked her legs out from under her so that she fell to the floor.

When she was young, Bonnie often challenged my authority while ignoring Peggy’s. Still, those early days were happy ones because Bonnie was so loving and her intelligence such a joy. One day, when Peggy was alternately throwing a ball and a Frisbee to Bonnie, she decided to throw them both in quick succession to see which one Bonnie preferred. After puzzling over the matter, Bonnie picked up the ball, set it atop the upside-down Frisbee, and returned them both at once. 

I should think that herding dogs are the most intelligent of domestic dogs, but a dog doesn’t need to be brilliant to be a good pet. I’ve even concluded that intelligence can be a liability because smart dogs get bored faster, and a smart-bored dog can be a real problem. The worst-case scenario is a tame wolf. I read of one that demolished the inside of a car, including the dash, the seats, the steering wheel, and the ceiling. 

Things came to a head for Bonnie and me one night when we were home alone, and I had put my supper on a TV tray. I was leaning forward to pick the tray up when Bonnie stole my food right there in front of me. I scolded her severely, but made the mistake of shaking my finger in her face, and she bit it hard enough to draw blood. When our eyes met, hers got big in recognition of the fact that she had pushed me too far. When I finally cornered her in the laundry room, I flipped her onto her back and yelled in her face, scaring her so badly that she peed on herself. After that, she would still nip me from time to time when we were roughhousing, but I almost never had to raise my voice to her. Peggy is weak when it comes to disciplining pets because, “I’m afraid I’ll hurt their feelings,” so every now and then she would say, “Make Bonnie obey me!”

One day, while standing around with several other people in a large and empty parking lot, I decided to pass the time by throwing Bonnie her tennis ball. Everyone was enjoying her marvelous leaps and catches when the ball bounced off her nose and headed for a  busy street with Bonnie right behind it. A gasp arose from the crowd, and I was so frantic that I couldn’t  remember the word STAY, so I yelled STOP, and although I had never used that word with her, Bonnie stopped within twenty feet of where her ball was being bounced around by cars. Hell was averted and heaven arrived when that dog put on her brakes.

Sometimes, a person would ask if Bonnie was a full-blooded heeler, and I would say, “She’s supposed to be, but I still have to go to the doctor sometimes.”

Peggy and Bonnie would play fetch in the laundry room each night when Peggy got home from work, and their game would end in a tug of war with the tennis ball. Peggy would grip the ball as tightly as possible in both hands while sitting on the step that goes down from the kitchen to the laundry room, and Bonnie would be inches from her face growling loudly while tugging for all she was worth. She only weighed 31-pounds, but it was all bone and muscle, so it was a rare night that Peggy won.

About the third Christmas we had Bonnie, we were sitting around the living room with her, Baxter, and two human couples. Everyone was having a gay old time until Peggy decided that “it would be fun to put bows on the dogs.” Baxter welcomed any form of friendly attention, but Bonnie was obviously uncomfortable with having a big red bow placed around her neck, and her celebratory mood really went to hell when everyone laughed. She ran in humiliation to the kennel that served as her bed, and wouldn’t come out. I tried to coax her out, but she wouldn’t hear of it, so Peggy decided she would try. Bonnie snarled at her before she even got near the kennel, and hours passed before she would accept Peggy’s apology. Never again did either of us do anything that might offend Bonnie’s sense of dignity, which remained strong until her last two years.

How men decorate cats
During those two years, Bonnie went blind. People often say that dogs adjust well to blindness, but Bonnie didn’t. She instead lost a little more self-confidence everyday until she had none. Then Baxter died, and we made the mistake of getting Brewsky. Being a kitten, Brewsky tried to play with Bonnie, and Bonnie’s response was to try to kill him, but luck was never with her. Aware of the danger but still wanting to play, he started doing strafing runs, during which he would race at her, bounce off her flank with all four feet, and run away before she could bite him. Bonnie was helpless against these attacks and would run into walls and furniture trying to escape. 

At age fifteen, she got megaesophagus, and couldn’t keep her food down. The young vet we saw put her on antibiotics without telling us she was terminal. I don’t remember how the drug was supposed to help, but within a day, the problem appeared to be gone. By the time it returned with a vengeance a week later, we had seen another vet and knew the score. When she started vomiting again, even worse than before, she was so distraught that it broke our hearts. Peggy and I took a stroll to discuss whether to put her back on antibiotics, but we only got three houses down before deciding to have her euthanized, and two hours later, she was dead. 

Baxter had died two years earlier from lung cancer (no, he was never exposed to smoke), and now with Bonnie’s death, we were emotionally drained. I went from a lifetime of certainty that I would always have a dog to realizing that their deterioration and death was more than I could manage. Bonnie had gone being an arrogant goddess who had me halfway convinced that she would be forever strong and beautiful, to being a defeated and emaciated wreck with a skin tumor so big that we could see it through her fur. Years after their deaths, we are still in grief for Bonnie and Baxter (I’m not even over Wendy, and she died in 1994), and it’s just all too sad. Also, I can’t help reflecting upon the fact that what happens to dogs is but a speeded-up version of what happens to humans.

Bonnie and Baxter, 2001
I don’t know why I miss dead dogs more than I miss dead friends and parents, but I do, and Peggy does too. Maybe it’s because they’re so like children in that their welfare is in our hands 24/7. It’s a big responsibility if a person takes it seriously. Sad to say, the world is filled with people who regard dogs and cats as animated knick-knacks, and while these people might feed them and take them to the vet, they assume no other responsibility. The best I can say for such people is that they’re probably more ignorant than cruel.

I’ll tell you something else—Ill never pay another person to breed pets because the world is already so overcrowded with dogs and cats that millions have to be killed every year (I’ve done some of the killing). I don’t know how I could have been blind to this during those years that I bought dogs from breeders, but I had the self-serving idea that as long as I treated my dogs well, I had nothing to be ashamed of. Yet, for each of the four dogs that I bought, another dog that I could have given a home to had to be killed, and that makes pet breeding a moral issue.  I saw a woman recently who had a pedigreed pup. Because I knew her to be a devoted Christian with an unpaid career of helping people, I tactlessly expressed surprise that she didn’t get a shelter dog. She said she does so much for people that she thought she could give herself a break when it came to dogs. Her attitude was consistent with my observation that churches never do anything to help nonhuman animals, which they regard as soulless creatures that only exist for humanity’s use.

I slowly evolved toward the realization that the lives of dogs and cats—and everything else—is no less valuable than the lives of human beings. Whatever respect we deserve, they deserve, and however seriously we take ourselves, we must take them. Almost no one will agree with me on this, but instead of making me think I might be wrong, the opinion of the masses only heightens my conviction that mine is a species that is blind to inconvenient truths, and that our institutions (schools, churches, governments, etc.) are largely a means to rationalize our bad behavior. 

There’s a TV commercial in which four men and a small dog get into a compact car. Because the dog’s doting “owner” is the car’s owner, he and the dog sit up front while the other men sit scrunched in the back. When Wendy—my first schnauzer—got past middle age, she would no longer relinquish the front seat to a person, but would doggedly push against them with all of her thirteen-pound schnauzerly might when they tried to force her out of it. I didn’t support her in this, but I so enjoyed watching man and schnauzer compete for the same seat that I didn’t say anything (except on the one occasion when a man concluded that he should sit in the back). I thought that Wendy had a point in demanding that she be accorded the same respect as people, but what she either didn’t see or didn’t care about was that it made more sense for her to sleep in the back seat (sleeping being her main pastime in the car) than for two humans to carry on a conversation between the back seat and the front seat. 

Jerry and Smokie
I mention Wendy’s campaign for Dog Rights to illustrate that the greater our recognition of the rights of animals, the more guilt-ridden our lives become unless we’re among those rare people who choose principal above all else. For instance, we can’t morally justify killing cows and chickens in order to feed dogs and cats (we’re even less justified in eating them ourselves since we don’t need to eat meat), but without the killing, we wouldn’t be able to have dogs and cats, and what would we do with the billions that are already alive—force them to become vegans? I’m not even a vegan myself because I prefer the taste of cheese, eggs, fish, milk, and honey, to a life of principal, and it’s by the same logic that I buy pet food. There’s an old country song that goes If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right, and this is how I feel about Brewsky and about the little Persian, Smokie, that I’m taking care of temporarily because his adopted father, Jerry, died last week.

Smokie is true to his breed in that he is surely the most mellow and lovable cat I’ve ever known, but his breed also comes with numerous and serious health concerns. Most pedigreed animals do, so along with the knowledge that buying a pedigreed pet will result in the death of a shelter animal, it’s also true that I’m getting an animal that is likely to be inferior health-wise in ways that can make his or her life miserable (two of the first breed characteristics I noticed about Smokie is that Persians cant adequately bathe themselves, and that theyre prone to eye problems). This makes buying a breed a moral issue for reasons other than the death of shelter animals, so I’ve decided that if I should ever have my heart set on another pedigreed animal, I’ll get it from a rescue organization, some of which are breed specific.

The Joy of Pets

Wendy in the back of Walt’s Land Rover, 1988
I grew up with dogs and cats, but my parents didn’t have a fenced-yard, so most of the dogs were killed by cars either because they wandered into the road or because they liked to chase them. Some were killed outright, some lingered, and one dog survived but half his face was gone. My parents were typical country people in that they wouldn’t take a dog or cat to a vet because dogs and cats were free and because they were seen as yappers rather than as pets. When one of my many dogs named Sassy was hit by a car, he ran into the yard, collapsed into my arms, and gazed into my eyes until he died. My father was very moved by this, but not enough to build a fence.

Mike was my first dog, and he was old when I was born. He was such a devoted car chaser that the mailman had run over him several times. The only thing I remember about Mike was him lying on the ground and flapping his tail while I peed on him. I considered this so funny that I could barely pee for laughing, which is probably why I remember it. As tolerant as he was of me, Mike would threaten any stranger who got near me, and this allowed my Mother to let me play outside my family’s country store without worrying about my safety.

A cousin who lived near Chattanooga gave me a cat named Smokie (or maybe it was Cinder, Blackie, or some other clever name for a black cat). She loved that cat, but he would rub against her legs (women wore dresses back then), and her legs would break out. I took the cat home to south Mississippi, which was a distance of 450 miles. Two days later, he left. My cousin and I would talk on the phone from time and I dreaded the day she asked about her cat, but she never did, and I never told her he was gone. About eight months after Smokie ran away, my cousin called, and the first words out of her mouth were, “Smokie came back.” She said she had heard a cat crying and scratching at the front door, and when she opened the door, Smokie ran past her to where his food bowl used to be. When she was a child, Peggy had a dog that came home from across town, but that was the first and only long-distance journey that I knew to be true.

For nearly eighteen years starting in the mid-seventies, I had a schnauzer named Wendy who was the only dog I ever knew who didn’t like to be petted, but she was completely devoted to me and went everywhere I went. When I worked as a remodeler, Wendy spent her days in gutted houses. When I worked as a roofer, Wendy would sit on the highest point of the ridge and either nap or watch the people going by. When I traveled the country checking out communes, drug parties, and orgies, Wendy checked out communes, drug parties, and orgies (as a non-participant). When I hitchhiked, Wendy hitchhiked. When Peggy and I went on vacation (being teachers, we would travel all summer and for two weeks in December), Wendy went too. Anywhere I was, Wendy was, and she always seemed content except for when we stayed at the Hare Krishna headquarters near Moundsville, West Virginia. The sights, sounds, smells, and behaviors of the hundreds of people at that place so weirded her out that she was enormously relieved when we left. 

Twice I left Wendy with other people while I ran an errand, and both times, I met her walking down the road looking for me when I returned. Because she went everywhere and scarcely knew what a leash looked like, Wendy had a lot of accidents over her 17-years, the worst of which was when she fell from the top of a football stadium onto concrete. She and some kids had run up the bleachers, and although there was a guardrail at the top, it was too high to do Wendy any good, and, not realizing that she was on the last step, she jumped one time too many and screamed as she fell. It took over a year for her to recover from that, and for the first couple of months, I had to carry her outdoors to use the bathroom.

Twice, she had her side ripped-open by barbwire. Another time, she chased a cat across the street and ran into the wheel of a passing car (the spinning of the wheel caused her to roll a few times, but she wasn’t hurt). One night, she ate an entire box of rat poison. I called the vet at home, and he said to give her hydrogen peroxide until she barfed the poison up. I was out of peroxide so I drove the seven miles into town to get some. When I got to the checkout, I discovered that I didn’t have any money, so I told the clerk I would pay her later and ran out of the store. I got Wendy out of the truck, and sat on the curb right there in front of Krogers pouring peroxide down her throat. She and everyone else who saw me thought I had lost my mind, but I got that poison out of her. (Peroxide only works if the dog recently ate the poison.) She had other accidents too—eating a used contraceptive sponge comes to mind—but these are the ones I remember best.

For some of the time I had Wendy, I lived on eight acres in a house that my father and I built. If Wendy was asleep on the porch, I would sometimes sneak off into the woods, climb a tree, and call her. The woods being open, I could see her searching for me. For some reason, it never occurred to her to look up, so she would return to the tree time after time, and wonder why I wasn’t there. I would wait until she was far away to come down, and then I would run to another part of the woods and wait for her to find me.

During a trip to New York, Peggy and I went to an outdoor Paul Winter concert at a Sufi commune that had previously been a Shaker commune. During the concert, Paul instructed the audience to howl, and Wendy joined in. After Paul thought we had howled enough, he motioned for us to stop, but Wendy didn’t get the message. If anyone in that audience had an inalienable right to howl, it was she, so I let her rip. People soon started looking around for the jerk who was howling, but Wendy was so low to the ground that few people could see her.

On a hot Minnesota day, I took her to some other outdoor entertainment, and as we left, Wendy was lying on her back in my arms with her head hanging down and her legs splayed out. Someone asked if she was okay, and I said, “No, she’s dead, but it doesn’t matter because she was old anyway.” Years later, a woman said she was moved by Wendy’s loyalty to me, so I offered to sell Wendy to her, and named a price. The woman looked horrified and said that she could never buy my dog, so I kept dropping the price until she went away mad. 

Baxter in a customary posture, 2009
Baxter was also a black schnauzer, but he weighed almost twice as much as Wendy. Sometimes, he would eat used dental floss, and we wouldn’t know it until his shit came out like a rosary. Because the floss never came all the way out, his shit would follow him when he walked away, and this would seriously wig him out (as it would any of us). Peggy would then pull the floss out of his ass while I acted like I didn’t know either of them. I always left it to Peggy to do things that were gross or embarrassing, what with her being a nurse and all. Every now and then, she would decide that Baxter’s ass needed wiping, so she would take a Kleenex and wipe it. I hated it when she did this in public. (When our cat, Brewsky, washes his ass, he makes a face like that of someone who just tasted a dill pickle for the first time.)

One day, Baxter was in the back of my van with the groceries (it’s never a good idea to put food where a schnauzer can get to it), and broke into a large bag of carob chips. He vomited for a long time, but it was nothing compared to when we were camping in Arkansas, and our Irish Setter, Patty, got bit by a copperhead. She was too swollen to walk, so to cheer her up, I gave her a tin of sardines, which she threw up all over our bed. When Peggy said I should have seen it coming, I said that any man would have done the same, and she agreed.

Schnauzers are more flexible than most dogs
We have a lot of raccoons in our neighborhood, and they can be aggressive, which makes them scary in the dark when you can’t see them. One night, I let Bonnie and Baxter out to pee only to realize that there were eight or ten raccoons in the yard. The dogs exploded, so after thinking the situation over, the raccoons crossed the street and went into a culvert that emptied into a canal eight feet below street level. Baxter ran in after them, and there soon followed a cacophony of snarling, growling, and screaming (Baxter doing the last). Having nothing else at hand, I ran across the street in my underwear with a plastic tennis-ball throwing stick and slid down the dew-covered grass to the mouth of the culvert just in time to see Baxter exit the culvert with a raccoon’s teeth in his ass. Being on a steep and wet slope with nothing for a weapon but a plastic stick, I worried that the raccoon might attack me too, but he finally went back into the culvert. By then, Baxter was at home finding comfort on Peggy’s breast.

On another occasion, Baxter ran right up to our neighbors’ two huskies and barked in their faces like he expected them to run. They looked at him with a pleased expression that said, “Oh, happy day, we get to kill us an annoying moron.” One husky hit him from the front and the other from the rear, a situation that caused Baxter to lie on his back and have a bowel movement. The huskies’ person, Dave, grabbed one dog and I the other. When Dave later suggested that my schnauzer had bitten off more than he could chew, I said that, no, he was in the process of waging chemical warfare, and I had only stepped in to save the huskies.

Bonnie Blue, 2002
My heeler, Bonnie, was a strong and aggressive dog who would bite both people and other dogs, yet when I felt the need to chasten her, even a gentle word would break her heart, so I would always cuddle with her afterwards. By contrast, when Baxter disobeyed, I could scream, curse, wave my fist in his face, and jump up and down, during which time, he would look at me with his eyes wide and his front teeth shining in his black face (his upper lip was too short to cover his teeth) as if he was swearing on his mother’s grave that he would never commit such an outrage again. As soon as my back was turned, he would commit the same outrage again, and I could have screamed at him all day long without it making the least difference. He was much like a cat in this way. Brewsky is so stubborn that unless something is really important to me, I don’t even bother correcting him, and even then treats work better than chastisement.

When Bonnie was half grown, she and I would drive to the hospital at midnight to pick Peggy up from work. One night, I saw Peggy walking out of the hospital before Bonnie did, so I said, “Bonnie, where’s Peggy?” Bonnie looked at me with her pretty eyes while tilting her beautiful head from side to side as she considered the possibilities. Then, she jumped onto the floorboard and looked under the seat! I’ve often been delighted by indications that dogs see the world in a very different way than people. It’s as if they believe in magic.

Bonnie also taught me another useful lesson. People often try to make friends with a dog by letting the dog sniff their fingers. Bonnie would take this as an invitation to bite their fingers, so, instead of offering my open hand to strange dogs, I now offer them the back of my fist because it’s harder for a dog to hurt a person’s fist.

Another thing I learned from Bonnie was that different breeds differ enormously in jaw strength. If I wanted to give Baxter a pill, I could easily pry his mouth open, but Bonnie had such strength in her jaws that I was afraid I would break them. 

She couldn't have been more beautiful
One day, I was walking from the backyard to the frontyard when I passed Bonnie crossing the backyard in the other direction. “Hello, Bonnie,” I said, to which she responded, “You’re the joy of my life, Master” (she used to say this a lot, but I never tired of hearing it). Imagine my surprise when I got to the frontyard and found Bonnie fast asleep in the shade. Since there was a total of four closed gates between the two yards, I either hallucinated a dog, or Bonnie did something weird.

I have a neighbor who’s phobic of dogs. One day he was in my yard while Bonnie was out, and he started trembling when he saw her, so she naturally ran across the yard and bit him on the ankle, which inspired him to squeal and throw himself to the ground. It wasn’t the kind of thing that one man should see another man do. Our mailman was also phobic of dogs, so he would approach our house with his hand on his pepper spray.

I watched a skinny little blond girl of seven who, upon seeing Bonnie, ran away screaming and waving her arms in the air in a textbook illustration of how to behave if you want to be bitten by a dog. Another time, a woman was determined to make friends with Bonnie, so she gave her treat after treat until she ran out of treats. Thinking that she and Bonnie were now friends, she stuck out her empty hand, and Bonnie snapped at it in contradiction of the belief that a dog won’t bite the hand that feeds it.

I only saw Bonnie back down twice. On one occasion, I had a weight-bench and some other things in the driveway that I was hoping to sell, and I was in the garage looking for more things to put out. I trusted Bonnie to let me know when I had a customer, so imagine my surprise to find a huge, heavily muscled, and gruff-voiced man standing right there beside me. I immediately looked at Bonnie as if to ask, “Why the fuck didn’t you say something?” and she looked at me like she wanted to melt into the floor. The man said he was fresh out of prison and looking for a weight bench so he could keep up his exercise regimen. 

On the second occasion, Bonnie and Peggy and I were camping in ranch country. Peggy likes to take a walk in the evening, and on this occasion she and Bonnie wanted to walk more than I. It became dark before they returned and, cowdog though she was, Bonnie had never seen a cow, so when all these big bovines started walking toward her and Peggy in the darkness, Bonnie took off running and didn’t stop until she got back to the van. Peggy is afraid of cows too, but she couldn’t run fast enough to keep up with Bonnie.

I had two rabbits named Becky and Buster who I would allow to wander around the backyard during the daytime. Becky was bad about getting out of the yard, and one day she escaped into an overgrown vacant lot. I tried and tried but couldn’t catch her, and during all this, Bonnie was at my side begging, “Let me do it! Let me do it! I can do it; I promise you that I can do it. Please oh please, let me do it.” Finally, I said, “Bonnie, get Becky, but don’t hurt her,” and within seconds, Bonnie had Becky penned to the ground with one paw over Becky’s back.

Once, Peggy and I were biking on country roads with Bonnie and Baxter when two big and strong dogs came out from a house and crowded Peggy in an effort to wreck her bike. We got past them okay, but on the trip back they became more aggressive, so I got between them and Peggy, and told her to take Bonnie and Baxter and go on ahead, which she did. As the two dogs and I stood staring at one another, I realized that Bonnie had returned and was pressing against my leg. For awhile there was a stand-off as the two dogs waited for us to leave, presumably so they could attack us when our backs were turned. I had a can of pepper spray, so I got off my bike, pointed it at them, and starting walking in their direction, all the while cursing and threatening in a deadly serious voice. Then, the strangest thing happened. At the exact same instant, they turned in unison and walked away, and I’ve always wondered how they communicated their intention to do this. I’ve remembered those dogs many times over the years, always with an appreciation for their seeming intelligence and the harmony with which they worked together. Since then, my dogs have been twice attacked by pit bulls, and I even had to beat one off Baxter with my fists. I have come to despise pit bulls. 

Friendlier than he looks, Brewsky at 16.5 lbs
As Peggy’s cat-loving sister warned us when we finally got burned-out on the work of having dogs and got a rescue cat, “You’re dog people, and a cat is not a dog.” The second half of her statement is true. Unlike dogs, Brewsky doesn’t want to go on adventures. He wants to stay home, eat, sleep (in the same places at the same times everyday), have deep-tissue massages, kill spiders, and gaze out the window at passing critters. Most of the time, we have little idea what he’s thinking or feeling because his expression doesn’t change much, yet he is obviously attached to us as can be seen by his desire to be near us, the sweet way he greets us at the front door after we’ve been shopping, and the fact that he becomes upset when we’re packing to go somewhere (he even stops pooping while we’re away). Still, I can’t feel the rapport with him that comes so easily with dogs. For example, Peggy still cries over Bonnie and Baxter, although they’ve been dead for years, and a couple of weeks ago, she was crying while holding Brewsky, and instead of being supportive, Brewsky became annoyed and bit her lightly on the neck. No dog would have done that, and it reinforces my belief that, at the very least, Brewsky is oblivious to social cues that are easily understood by dogs and humans.

This doesn’t mean I’m sorry I have a cat or that I would prefer to have a dog, because cats come with some very attractive features. For example, the litter box feature, the self-cleaning feature, the clean-smelling feature (Bonnie had a wonderful musky odor, but this is rare in dogs), and the fact that, instead of needing a walk when the weather is crap, he would think we had lost our minds if we tried to take him. So, while I feel less of a connection with a cat, decades of caring for dogs has led me to a place I never imagined I would reach, that is I have come to value convenience over connection. Still, not a day goes that I don’t miss having dogs, but aside from the trouble and expense, I also have to consider how Brewsky would feel, and I’ve no doubt but what he would feel betrayed. Humans tend to expect pets to adjust to whatever we throw at them, but sometimes they don’t, and this can be a drag for everyone concerned.

I could go on with pet stories for quite some time, but whatever I wanted to achieve for myself with this post, I think I have, so this seems like a good place to stop. No, I have one more story.

We have a gas furnace in our laundry room and because it is noisy, I built a wheeled plywood surround with vent holes. Brewsky was forever knocking his toys under the plywood, so I finally took off one of the vent covers so he could retrieve them. The furnace soon became his special place, and he would stay there for hours every day. When I discovered that one of the things he was doing in his special place was chewing insulation, I put the vent cover back on, and, god, but did this ever piss him off! He stomped around mewing loudly in a way that could only be interpreted as profanity, and this made me feel closer to him because I could relate to his  frustration at being unable to hold onto something that was important to him. My pets have given me a window into species other than my own, and Peggy and I both miss some of the dogs we’ve lost more than we do our parents. I don’t trust people who don’t love animals. Sometimes, a person will come to my house and, when greeted by my pet, look at him or her in silence, as if a dog or cat has no more feelings than a knick-knack. Once that happens, a distance is created between that person and myself that will never be breached. If someone should ask me who I am, near the top would be: a person who loves animals.

Are children more important than dogs?

The Original Sin, Bartholomeus Spranger
Intrinsic value: the value of a being in itself without regard to other beings.

My morality is so different from that of my fellows, that they usually think less of me in proportion to what they know of me. For instance, I see no reason to believe that my species is more important than other species. This means that we have no special right to compassion or respect, and I would even extend this claim to presumably inanimate objects, although I’m unsure that any object is truly inanimate. When I touched on this matter a few months ago, the mother of my grandchild took it to mean that if her child and a dog were drowning, I would be as apt to save the dog as the child, and was therefore an unfit grandfather.

While she was correct in interpreting my words to mean that I don’t hold her daughter to have a greater intrinsic right to life than a dog, I still prefer her child to a dog, so I would therefore save her child. This didn’t satisfy her because she needed me to believe that her child was of greater intrinsic value than a dog (a rather odd demand given that intrinsic value exists in a realm beyond comparison), and the fact that I didn’t regard this claim as self-evident could only mean that I am worse than wrong, I am deranged. Sad to say, I regarded her claim as anything but self-evident. However great her child’s perceived importance, it would be based upon the mother’s values, values that are necessarily relative. For instance, she might argue that her child is more important than a dog because her child has greater beauty, intelligence, versatility, creativity, or whatever, but by its very definition, intrinsic value exists independent of comparative value. This means that it cannot be proven, and if it cannot be proven, why should anyone believe it? But what if she is right, and her child is more important than a dog based upon its greater virtues, would this not mean that if some other child had more virtues than her child, then that child would be more important than her child?

Claims regarding our species’ importance aren’t claims that descended from heaven on platinum tablets (except to the extent that we seek to justify them by putting words into the mouth of God), but are instead human claims that support human values. We hold a child to be of greater value than a dog, and the life of our own children to be of greater value than the lives of other people’s children, not because we can prove it, but because believing it favors our evolutionary viability. This is why every parent would choose to save the life of her own average child over the life of someone else’s genius or, perhaps, over the life of everyone else’s genius. We are evolutionarily disposed to favor our own flesh and blood over other people’s flesh and blood and our own tribe, however defined, over other people’s tribes, and this is why we invented the concept of intrinsic importance.

To repeat, I see no reason to regard my species as more important than any other species. The polar bear has as much right to respect as we do, so it is no less noble to work for the welfare of polar bears—or slugs for that matter—than for the welfare of Syrian orphans. I believe the same about seemingly inanimate objects. This means that rocks deserve respect. Tin cans deserve respect. The whole earth and everything on it has has a right to respect, and while we must use the other species and the materials that the earth offers in order to live, it would behoove us to use as little of those species and materials as possible, and to treat them as well as possible because we have no right to them unless it can be argued that power constitutes right.

Just as the mother of my granddaughter saw me as immoral in denying the intrinsic value of her child over that of a dog, I see her as immoral for dividing the earth into things that are important and things that are of little or no importance, and claiming that she has the wisdom to separate the two. Every time she—or any of us—throws a banana peel in the garbage, we show contempt for the earth, and this constitutes a grave immorality. Inasmuch as possible, all things must be treated well. All things must be regarded as our brothers and sisters, and this means dogs and inanimate objects as well as children. Why? Because we are not the creators of this world but its inhabitors, and all of the things that we see around us are our neighbors. It’s a high standard with implications that are hard to determine, and demands that I often fail to meet, but it is my standard. My failures are endless, and it is to this extent that I relate to the Biblical concept of original sin, original sin consisting of, at the very least, those behaviors that we must perform in order to survive, behaviors that invariably involve the destruction of other life forms and the alteration of non-life forms. We don’t exploit because we have an intrinsic right to exploit but because we have an inbred preference for our own lives, families, and tribes over other lives, families, and tribes. We are an illustration of Tennyson’s words:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation
s final law
Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek
d against his creed.

While we can never rise to the standard portrayed by the first two lines, perhaps by giving up our self-congratulatory belief that our species (and especially our family and tribe) holds an exalted state in the scheme of things, we might at least rise above the last two.