Freddie was glum. His owner thought he was depressed and did a quick smartphone search for a doggie shrink. Yes! They exist. He tapped the link to call a Dr. Dorsey, pet psychologist.
Sally, Freddie’s next-door neighbor, was brooding. That last swinging claw to Freddie’s black nose had drawn blood. “The big brut deserved it. He’s a rotten specie-ist!” she rumbled under her breath. “How insolent of him to suggest we cats are lesser than dogs. Sure, we’re generally not as big and strong as a dog, but throw us from a tree and we’ll see who survives. Everyone knows we’re smarter!” Sally slunk back and forth with just her tail touching the patio screen door wishing she could take another swing at Freddie. “Specie-ist!”
The owner hung up and looked at Freddie with concern. That’s when he noticed the dried blood on Freddie’s nose. “Sally do that to you?” he asked. All Freddie could do was look away and groan. He didn’t want to talk about it and sure his owner wouldn’t understand anyway. “Well, we have an appointment with Dr. Dorsey tomorrow.”
If Sally had just been any old neighborhood cat, Freddie would have thought nothing of the dustup. But Sally used to be a good friend. They could discuss nearly anything. Had she not been a cat and he a dog, he would have thought a romance possible. But to be called something as nasty as a ‘specie-ist’ hurt him to his core. Freddie didn’t hate any species. He learned to never tease a skunk but would occasionally chase a possum and even a raccoon as was his instinct. He respected their teeth and snarl when cornered and when he grew bored, he’d leave them alone.
The sting from her sharp claws was nothing compared to being called a ‘specie-ist.’ ‘A big mother bleeping specie-ist.’ But Sally was changing, and it puzzled and saddened Freddie. Now she appeared to be turning on him. He worried about losing her. The backyard would be a lonely space without his friend Sally- the privacy fence slats that he’d crawl under, and she’d balance on top as if a trapeze artist. He also grew concerned for her.
Freddie sauntered over to his bed rug and curled up. Sleep sometimes provides a brief respite from his pain. But today, all he could do was replay his last conversation with Sally. Every word, every facial expression. Her anger, her venom, her spewing of nasty words, and then the swing to his nose. Was it just instinct? Was she just being disagreeable and when confronted with another opinion, was she lashing out from impulse? Freddie almost hoped so. He could forgive that.
“Sally, look, all I’m saying is I think ‘Pete the Doberman’ is a better candidate for Pet Control Director than the cat whose running against him. Look, the job needs someone who can handle the local miscreants, drunks, and hoodlums. Can you imagine the poor cat dealing with Pinky, the slobbering pit-bull?” argued Freddie. In a dark alley, Pinky would rip your candidate to shreds, Sally.”
Sally’s eyes rolled in clear irritation. All she heard was ‘dog better than cat.’ “My candidate wouldn’t be so stupid as to get in a fight with Pinky, you idiot bleeping specie-ist!” Sally snarled, slowly arching her back.
Freddie scratches behind his ear vigorously, trying to figure out Sally’s hostility. “So what you’re saying is Pinky, all drunk and knarly, will be allowed to ride his skateboard home endangering others without fear of getting apprehended? Is that what you want, Sally?”
Sally didn’t have an answer other than a sarcastic, ‘Ya… that’s what I’m saying.” That’s when she took a big ole swipe at Freddie. Freddie sat stunned as she padded away, her claws unsheathed and back arched, head held high in righteous indignation. “Specie-ist!”
Dr. Dorsey’s office had a stuffed couch, two chairs, and a carpeted scratching tower in one corner. His specialty is with dogs and cats and the occasional pot-bellied pig. After sniffing the couch from edge to edge and smelling all sorts of spilled emotions, Freddie sat down. Unsure why he was there, he did sense he was the center of attention, which he enjoyed nearly as much as a vigorous belly scratch.
The doctor looked at Freddie and Freddie, hesitantly, looked back. Soon they were locked eye to eye growing more comfortable with one another. Freddie could tell the doctor had years of schooling, followed by decades of practice. They were soon communicating about things not possible even with his owner and best friend. Sure, they enjoyed a great bond but communicating was pretty superficial. Whining at the window slider meant he had to pee, and he knew the sign language for rolling over. And “that’s a good boy” meant he was in good standing. Wagging his tail returned the sentiment.
After 40 minutes of intense eye-to-eye back and forth, Dr. Dorsey swiveled his chair to talk with Freddie’s owner. He’d been busy texting a buddy.
“Sir, let me fill you in on our conversation. I would not describe Freddie as clinically depressed. He appears to have a mild case of anxiety. He sees his world changing and teetering even, his friendships dissolving, and he is very fearful of becoming lonely.” Dr. Dorsey pinches his lips together before continuing.
Freddie’s owner is a bit incredulous that the good doctor can divine that kind of assessment. After all, the doc is human and Freddie a dog. All they’ve done is look at one another in complete silence.
“As you likely know, Freddie’s good friend, Sally, has turned very political. Not unusual today. I see many of them in my practice. They believe a little education has made them a wee-bit superior. They conflate education with intelligence. Frankly, there is nothing intelligent about getting spitting angry.”
“Perhaps their upbringing has given them a sense of entitlement. Ask any school teacher the biggest challenge of the classroom, and they’ll tell you- it’s a hovering parent running defense for a less than perfect Sally. Teachers often feel their authority is being undermined making their job nearly impossible.
They see nearly every human interaction in conspiratorial terms. You’re either an oppressor or the oppressed. You either have, or you have not. And if you have, then you’re the benefactor of some unearned privilege, making you suspicious. And if you have not, then you’re a victim to those who have.
They uncritically adopt various theories that the world is full of evil doers creating systemic this and systemic that. In some ways, very political partisan types have become nearly their own species. In a real sense, they have become ‘political animals’ and are very difficult to communicate with. Often very emotional, they’ve lost or never gained a capacity for empathy for those holding different views.” Freddie’s owner readjusts himself as he grows more interested. He, too, has noticed some of his friends turning into ‘political animals.’” Freddie rests his snout between his paws.
“But that’s all beside the point,” continued Dr. Dorsey. “Freddie is concerned about his friend and wants to know what he could do to help her.” Dr. Dorsey adjusted his chair to get a bit more comfortable.
Now Dr. Dorsey looks again at Freddie. Freddie raises his head in return. “Freddie, I know you’ve been brought here hoping that I might help you. Frankly, there is not much I can do to help you mend fences with Sally.”
“As someone who helps pets with their mental wellbeing, I see every day the impact of dysfunctional relationships. It has caused me to muse over the biblical story of Noah’s Ark. I remember well the childhood books that included illustrated images of all these animal species entering the enormous Ark two-by-two. The giraffes followed the lions, with tortoises bringing up the rear. To have accomplished the boat loading without rancor or spitting, scratching or hissing, or even killing, some unfathomable force of reason must have existed that it was in every species best interest to coexist peacefully with one another. In that moment in history, their instincts became muted so that that life could survive a catastrophic flood. Not in endless harmony, at least not in a human sense, but as nature intended- including natural specie instincts and impulses.”
“Freddie, the story of Noah’s Ark is just mythology for many. Whether a literal historical event or not, for me, the story is a fascinating illustration of how powerful instinctual impulses can only be subdued by something more powerful. A higher power if you will.”
Freddie’s owner gently raised his hand. “Excuse me, doctor, but what do you mean by ‘a higher power’?”
“Have you ever wanted to harm someone? Bloody them up a bit? Respond to some impulse of retribution?” asked Dr. Dorsey. “Hey, Sally thought it necessary to bloody up Freddie, right? Besides the legal jeopardy you might be in, what stops you?”
The owner thought for a moment, “I suppose a sense that it would be immoral for me to act on my impulse,” answered the owner but a bit uncertain.
“Yes. Your moral code. A code whose purpose is to provide rules to the human species hoping that it will mute our natural impulses or, said another way, our instincts. And where do we find the source code of our moral code?”
Freddie tilted his head like the Victrola dog with a quizzical look, suggesting he had no idea. His owner looked about the same.
“The more or higher power I was referring to is the author of the Ten Commandments, the source of our moral code. You see, the Ten Commandments is a set of rules to, in part, curb our natural human instincts. The impulse to seek retribution is met with ‘thou shalt not kill.’ The impulse towards envy is met with ‘thou shalt not covet what is your neighbors, including the things in his garage or his wife. Our human tendency towards telling lies is met with ‘thou shalt not bear false witness.’ “
Oh…geez. Our hour is almost up,” moans Dr. Dorsey, glancing at the wall clock hanging over the couch.
“Freddie, like I said, I have no magic to offer as to your relationship with Sally. I will suggest that someday, she’ll come to understand her role in peacefully coexisting with individuals of all species. It is my opinion that she’ll have to come to a place of acknowledging the importance of a higher power.”
“In closing, hope, and if so moved, pray that Sally will someday see the wisdom of taking personal responsibility and to suspend with always looking for something or someone to blame for all the ills in the world- real or imagined. Until then- just love her.”
Freddie stood up on all fours, stretched, and trotted to the door while moaning softly. He had to pee.