Tag Archives: knowledge

He Let Me Go

I believe that eyes are the mirrors into a dog’s soul. It sounds incredibly cliché, but it’s true—if I can look into the eyes of a dog and have them look back into mine, it’s a sign of trust and true connection. A sign of respect. When a dog knows that you respect it, that dog in turn respects you. I form relationships with my dogs; it’s what makes me so good at working with them. If I can get inside their heads, I can better help them.

My life hasn’t been easy. In my thirty plus years, the greatest lesson that I’ve clung to is to focus on doing the things I love. I don’t know how much time I have here in this world; no one does. Doing what I love makes it easier to get by, and I love working with dogs. I love the moment when a dog “gets” it, whether that be something basic like  sit, or something harder, like don’t lunge and bark at that passing dog. I’ve been doing this long enough now that I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Last week, I had a terrifying experience. I entered a client’s home and was attacked, unprovoked, by the dog––a dog that had shown no aggression of any type prior to the moment he latched onto me and refused to let go. I know that this happens, that sometimes dogs just snap. I’ve worked with human clients that have been attacked. But I never thought it would be me. I thought I knew what to do to prevent it, but I was powerless.

“What would you do if it was a man who attacked a woman?” a different client asked me when I told her what happened, when I asked her if she thought the dog should be put down.

“Well that’s a loaded question for me,” I laughed, as I do with anything serious, “but I’d kill him. I’d kill him, if that was a choice.”

I’ve been made to feel powerless before, and I never want to feel this way again. Not by a man, and certainly not by a dog. I didn’t expect this. I never thought I’d be the person who said a dog should die, because dogs are different than men. Dogs are inherently good; they just want to please us, and because of that, dogs are what we make them. Men? They choose to be bad.

I am gifted in that I have a brain that holds on to the smallest of details, sights, smells, feels. I can remember absolutely everything and transcribe it on paper like it’s happening right now. This is the best gift any writer could ask for, but it is also a curse. It is the worst curse, because I see things when I close my eyes. I see this dog. I see myself, perched on top of the couch like a cat on a phone wire, my limbs shaking, terrified of what will happen if I fall. I see myself the last time I was that terrified, on a cold night in March so many years ago. I see this dog when I try to sleep, his teeth bared; I hear his snarl, an eerie rumble of absolute rage like nothing I have ever heard. I see all of it clearly.

It was lunchtime. I entered the apartment the same as I always did, and saw the dog lying on the couch—that wasn’t expected. The dog had been in the home for almost a month, and in that month had become gradually more destructive. Gentle destruction—a little pee here, a moved pillow there, a tipped over coatrack there—but the owner had had enough. I recommended reintroducing the dog to the crate, because that’s what I would recommend to anyone in that situation. We talked about how to bring the crate back properly, and the owner had no issues getting the dog inside that first morning. But then I came in to the dog on the couch.

I took in the scene from the door of the apartment. The crate seemed to have all the doors shut, but a closer glance noted that the door in the corner, against the wall and the couch, had been broken away—leaving about four inches of space for this large dog to squeeze out. I squatted down to see what had happened, and when I reached for the crate, the dog was on me from behind and pinned me into the metal, spitting, snarling. He had my bag completely embedded in his teeth, and I turned towards him slowly, gently tried to slip out of the bag without scaring him. But he grabbed onto my calf with his teeth, and he held on.

In that moment, every ounce of training I had went out the window. I had deterrent spray, in the bag on my back, where I couldn’t reach it. I didn’t want to kick the dog, because I loved him, because he had always been good to me in the four weeks I’d known him, because he had never been aggressive before to people OR dogs. But then he grabbed for my butt, for my back, my side. He kept coming, and I did kick him then, not hard, just enough to scramble up the couch and perch on top. He pinned me there, his lips pulled back, and this dog had no eyes—just black holes. The dog I knew wasn’t there, not anymore. Whatever was going on inside his head had erased the part of him that knew me. That’s when dogs become scary, I think. When they no longer comprehend that their human respects them. I am good at what I do because I respect them.

I tried to step down off the couch and he grabbed my boot and sank his teeth into the  thick leather. Unable to extricate myself fully, I grabbed his tennis ball off the couch below me. I bounced it up and down in my hand, hoping it might spark something inside him of the dog I’d known. It didn’t. My heart slammed into my ribs as it dawned on me that I might not leave the apartment, that I might not be powerful enough to stop this dog. Yet I was. Powerful. And I knew enough; I knew what to do. Somehow, I moved the eight feet or so to the fridge while he tried to pull me in the other direction. I got the door open, and I found the sandwich meat, cheese. I started throwing food items in the opposite direction––any item, every item. I found his chicken jerky bag and upended it, scattering the nasty smelling sticks everywhere. Finally, he let go.

In the end, the dog let me go. He didn’t have to let me go, but he did. I think that counts for something.

I have so many questions, so many feelings. What happened to this dog in the past to make him lash out this way? What hurt him so badly that he couldn’t get better, even in a happy home? I’ve tried to analyze this case the way I would have had it happened to someone else, but it’s harder being in it than looking from the outside.

I don’t think this dog deserves to die. I can’t connect him to my past, beyond the level of terror that both inspired, beyond the level of power that both stole from me. So while I’d have no trouble saying kill the man, I could never say kill the dog. I hear the saying often that we get what we deserve, but I did not deserve this, any of this, and this dog does not deserve to die. What we deserve is never black and white; it’s never easy. Yes, it was scary, and yes, it sucked. It took me a week to figure out how to approach the subject at all. But really, maybe, I’m stronger for this, like I am stronger for every experience I’ve had. Maybe this happened to show me that I do indeed know my shit.

The dog bit me, yeah. But sometime, before that, he did love me.

And, he let me go.

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And Then I Learned to Talk

When the man first grabbed my hand and shook it, I was mildly intimidated.  He introduced himself, and mentioned he had his doctorate in comp and comparative lit.  I wasn’t entirely sure what comparative lit was, but I knew that somehow, in a room of one hundred people, I had found the person that I could converse intelligently with.  And converse we did.

“Your major is English?” he asked.  “Do you have a focus?  Like, British, American, you know?”

“Writing,” I responded without hesitation.  

“What kind?”

“Nonfiction.”

He raised his eyebrows.  “Oh really?  No fiction?”

I wasn’t sure why he was surprised.  “Well, some.  Sci-fi.  But mostly nonfiction.  Creative nonfiction.”

“What’s the difference between creative and noncreative nonfiction?  Isn’t it all just…nonfiction?”

I had to think about that one for a moment.  “Well…Okay.  So.  Take the piece that I got published.  Nonfiction would be interviewing an animal shelter worker and writing a biography on the information that you get.  Creative nonfiction would be taking that information and turning it into a piece that profiles her dog.”

“That makes total sense.”  He took a sip of his wine.  “What lit classes have you taken?  Any Hemingway?”

We chatted Hemingway for a while, and the ways in which he related to my personal writing style.  Hemingway had never been a favorite of mine, but I was able to hold up my end of the conversation.  We strayed from that to graduate school, and the places that I was intending to apply.  And then:

“I went to graduate school in Montreal.  I took a class once with Michael Foucault.”  

I became quite excited at that news.  “He’s my favorite theorist!”

“I hated his class.”  

Introvert me wanted to smack myself in the face at my error in judgement.  “Oh, well,” I stumbled.

“What do you like about him?”

I took a breath.  “Well, I like how he attempts to change society’s ideas regarding power and power systems.”  I was hoping he would let it go at that.

“How so?”

Crap.  I had to keep talking.  “Well, take for instance, “The Subject and the Power.””

“You had to read that for a class?”

“I read it on my own.”

He smiled warmly, encouraging me to continue.

“I find the whole idea of women and power and power relations and how Foucault’s theory challenges gender roles to be incredibly interesting.  Especially the ways in which women obtain power and how power can be used against them.  I wrote a paper about how discourse brings power and knowledge together.  I think that when someone is allowed to have their own ideas, they gain knowledge.”

“But what does that knowledge have to do with power?”

That was an easy one.  “Well, knowledge is power,” I replied.  

“What if I told you that power is what gains people all of their knowledge?”

“I disagree,” I said without missing a beat.  “I think that even if power can gain knowledge, the majority of knowledge comes from power.  You can’t give people power and you can’t take power away.”  I remembered an example that had come up in class.  “Say I have an awesome professor.  When I’m in her class, she has power because she can give me grades.  I know that because she in charge of my grade, she has power over me.  However, it’s up to me what I do with that power.  I choose whether or not to give it to her.  I choose whether or not to go to class.  I choose whether or not to earn that grade.  So in reality, she doesn’t have power at all once I know that it is in my power to earn the grade.  You know what I mean?”

He set his wine glass down on the table and rested his hand across his beard, peering at me.  “That’s an interesting theory.  What would you say about how Foucault views the exercise of power?  I disagree with his idea that signs and signals have power effects.  They have nothing to do with how we communicate.”

“I respectfully disagree.”  I took a sip of my own wine.  “To me, it’s all about communication and follow the signs.  Power and communication are inter-related.  Maybe that varies from society to society, but they’re definitely related.  And I’m not sure Foucault really focused on that at all.  I took more away from the ideas regarding power relations, that power is specifically the action taken on a field of possible action of others.  That it can only be exercised over free subjects, that it can’t be forced.  I feel like he was trying to say that we governmentalize power relations.  If I can use that word.  Which I just now made up.”

He laughed.  “I don’t know.  It seems that you got more out of it than me then.  I would go so far as to say that Foucault focused too much on the different areas in society where these relationships exist.  Status and wealth and social differences and the like.  And how those gain power and form relationships.  I believe that power can be quite negative.”

“I think you’re totally right that those things can form relationships.  But I’d say that power is assigned from where we choose.  We can’t hold power over somebody unless they let us.  I can’t have a lot of money and then hold that over you and claim to be more powerful unless you let me.  Sure, money makes me powerful.  That’s true.  I can buy things and the like.  But if you were poor, you could still be powerful.  It’s all in how we act.  You wouldn’t be not powerful or not able to make decisions just because I had money and I said so.  It isn’t necessarily all the same.”  I worried as the words tumbled from my mouth that they were completely jumbled.

“Power is everywhere,” he quoted, “and it comes from everywhere.  You would support the idea then that it’s not an agency or a structure?  That it just invades society and that it always changes?”

“If power can’t be given or taken,” I responded carefully, “isn’t it always in flux?  And it’s not necessarily negative.  I don’t think Foucault believed that power necessarily had to be negative or repressive.  It can be negative, but I think he was trying to say that it could be positive and productive as well.”

“I do believe,” he said, taking a sip of his wine, “that you would have quite enjoyed his class.”

“I think so too.”

Setting his glass down again, he fished around in his pocket and came up with a business card.  “Say,” he said, passing me the card.  “Since we’ll never talk again, probably.  I think that you have a solid head on your shoulders.  And I’d be pleased to offer you a reference, should you ever need one.”

I smiled and said thank you, staring at the card in awe of my own ability as he disappeared into the crowd.  The words of his name and title blurred together as I thought the urge to cry.  I wasn’t tearing up because I was sad.

Maybe I hadn’t been completely correct in the things I had said.  But I had been solid in my speech.  I hadn’t backed down.  I had made an effort to support my ideas.  I had earned a stranger’s respect. 

I was tearing up because I knew that I really could talk.  I really could share my thoughts.

And I had.

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