An Ethical Dialogue

Just before we turn the corner, a woman goes jogging past with a Golden Retriever. As we continue on our way, I can hear the Doberman three houses up barking at them as they go past. The windows muffle the sound, but I can make out a bit of it. “Get offa my lawn! Gonna bite you! My lawn!

When we reach the end of their driveway, Emmy immediately squats. The Doberman goes nuts. “My lawn! Kill you! Go away! My lawn! Kill you!” Emmy hackles all over, all the way down to her tail, and makes little distressed noises.

When we get clear of the Doberman’s yard, and the barking subsides, she stops and looks up at me. “Can I have a treat, now?”

“What? No, you can’t have a treat. Why should I give you a treat?”

“Did you hear what that dog said to me? It was very distressing. I need a treat.”

“You peed on his lawn!”

“Actually, I peed on the edge of the road. It’s not his lawn, it’s a public thoroughfare.”

“Well, he certainly thinks it’s his lawn…”

“That’s just silly. I have every right to pee there if I want. Anyway, he deserved it for what he said to that other dog.”

“You can pee there if you like, but you don’t get to act all upset that he barked at you. Or get treats to make you feel better afterwards.”

“But why not?”

“Look, you peed on his lawn, or at least what he thinks of as his lawn. It’s disrespectful. You’ve got every right to do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”

“That’s dumb. It’s not really his lawn.”

“That doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that he thinks it’s his lawn, and that means he’s going to bark. If you don’t want to get barked at, you should pee in front of a different house.”

“But that’s just silly. I wouldn’t do that.”

“Uh-huh. What about that terrier who sniffed at the ‘No Parking’ sign in our front yard? You barked at him.”

“Yeah, but… That dog was insolent!”

“Uh-huh.”

“And… I barked politely!”

“Uh-huh.”

“And… I’m just better than that dog, all right?”

“Sure.”

We resume walking, quietly for a while. A couple of houses down, she says, “OK, I guess I see your point.”

“Which is…?”

“It’s not nice to pee on the lawns of angry dogs just to provoke them.”

“That’s right. You’re a very good dog.”

“I’m the best!” We walk for a while longer. “Hey,” she says, “This is a real moral breakthrough for me, isn’t it?”

“That might be a little strong, but yeah, it’s progress.”

“So… Doesn’t that deserve a treat?”

Comments

  1. #1 Chad Orzel
    July 16, 2008

    (I get these ideas stuck in my head, and they won’t go away until I type them out…)

  2. #2 chezjake
    July 16, 2008

    Nicely done. And a clever analogy to current affairs of blogdom.

  3. #3 mlf
    July 16, 2008

    If only the angry dogs would stay inside their houses… barking at windows. But they are not, they are in the streets, in our government and in our voting booths.

  4. #4 Eric
    July 16, 2008

    If only the dogs really were barking at things on the edge of their lawn, instead of coming over to my lawn and barking at my dog when it pees in my own yard.

    Analogies necessarily lose a lot of the details – which is both a good thing (illuminates the main points better) and a bad thing (you lose distinctions that might be important).

    But I’m glad someone is writing out against those Danish cartoonists.

  5. #5 Pierce R. Butler
    July 16, 2008

    Treats don’t count unless they’ve been properly consecrated – and must be consumed promptly where and when offered.

  6. #6 perry
    July 16, 2008

    Quit lettin the dog fool around, get her back on String THeory!!!!

    nice post

  7. #7 Chad Orzel
    July 16, 2008

    Perry: Quit lettin the dog fool around, get her back on String Theory!!!!

    I try to stick to having her talk about actual physics, not untestable speculation.

  8. #8 John Novak
    July 16, 2008

    Yeah, see, I know where you’re aiming with this, and I’m not unsympathetic, but…

    …I actually can’t count the number of times I’ve had the argument with my Dad that, yes, people can park in front of his house, no he doesn’t have some special claim on the stretch of curb there, and no he can’t do anything (legal) about it. The analogy loses much of its moral resonance, for me.

    (And I just realized, since my parents moved to a place with drive-ways, and no street parking allowed, I will never have to listen to that argument again!!!)

  9. #9 Evan Berkowitz
    July 16, 2008

    Re#6

    To Emmy, string theory is probably the fact that she has to be on the leash when she goes outside…

  10. #10 Jonathan Vos Post
    July 16, 2008

    By the way, I have a book entitled:

    Unleashed: Poems by Writers’ Dogs
    by Amy Hempel and Jim Shepard,
    New York: Three Rivers Press,
    paperback, March 1999
    ISBN13: 9780609803790
    ISBN10: 0609803794

    As the review at Powell’s Books comments:

    In “Dog Kibble,” Tasha Baxter’s verse exhibits a brutal economy of words: “Life is never meaningless,” her villanelle announces, “there is always food.” Here and throughout this collection these authors demand your attention, as if to bark, “You can send me to my room for yelling at the neighbors but you cannot silence what woofs in my heart!”

  11. #11 Ian Durham
    July 16, 2008

    My dog is like the doberman (he’s half golden retriever and half German shepherd). Barks at anything that walks or bikes near the house. If he’s outside, he barks at trucks and cars too but ignores them if he’s inside (?). He sounds ferocious, but, oddly, he wouldn’t harm a flea. He chased a baby squirrel once and we couldn’t catch. Thought the thing would be long-since dead when we caught up, but no, once he caught up with it he just sniffed it with his ears perked and head twitched to one side like he was thinking intently.

  12. #12 B8ovin
    July 16, 2008

    When I threw the ball Jove, the boxer, lept up and caught it on it’s downward arc. Somewhere, off in the distance, a dog began barking. It happened every day, many times a day. Neither Jove nor I thought much of it.

    Some of the other dogs in the neighborhood took notice and began echoing the calls. It was a calm and familiar distant murmur of barking, not a great cacophony in the scheme of the neighborhood. It didn’t have a greater meaning than dogs barking at one another, and it didn’t impact anything more than the normal noise level of our little corner of the world. Out there, beyond our drives and circles and avenues, were the hungry, the sick, the poor, the soldiers far from home, the grieving and the sad. The barking of the dogs meant nothing to them or even those on the opposite end of the emotional scale.

    We two, Jove and I, were removed, in our own yard, throwing and catching a slobbery messy ball. We heard the barking, it simply didn’t have a meaning greater than our activity, and we ignored it. We had another round to invest our time in.

  13. #13 CCPhysicist
    July 17, 2008

    You might try future rewards. Come September, you will be able to buy a Quantum Duck for Emmy.

    http://www.particlezoo.net/shop.html

    (Hat tip to Swans on Tea.) I think old Dr. Pion needs to get a quark and anti-quark for Christmas.

  14. #14 Daryl McCullough
    July 17, 2008

    Is this an allegory for the “Just a Cracker” controversy?

  15. #15 island
    July 20, 2008

    Your dog might have to go to the pound, Chad. Let’s hope so, anyway… ;)

    http://vivechristusrex2000.blogspot.com/2008/07/pz-myers-nothing-dumber-than-smart_19.html

    The Federal Law of the US Code 18 Part I Chapter 13 ss 247 states:

    (a) Whoever, in any of the circumstances referred to in subsection (b) of this section–

    (1) intentionally defaces, damages, or destroys any religious real property, because of the religious character of that property, or attempts to do so; [and...]

    (b) The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the offense is in or affects interstate or foreign commerce. (Blogger Note: Vivificat rightly points out that these consecrated host were mailed to Myer via interstate postal carrier.)

    (d) The punishment for a violation of subsection (a) of this section shall be–

    …(4) a fine in accordance with this title and imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.

  16. #16 cracker
    July 24, 2008

    So basically, we should just let ourselves be pushed around by dogs that bark and threaten to kill us even if we pee outside their lawn?

  17. #17 cracker
    July 24, 2008

    So basically, what you are saying is that we should just let ourselves be pushed around by dogs that bark and threaten to kill us even if we pee outside their lawn?

  18. #18 Silas
    July 25, 2008

    I dream of a world in which such irrational barking is frowned upon. Less barkers means more peace. A world in which each person recognizes his own tribalistic emotions and consciously lets them go. And letting go is pure freedom.

    I do not know the best steps toward attaining that goal, but I do know that avoiding the issue will not get us there.

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