September 11, 2007

Vicki Hearne, Esmerelda, mountain lions and the "female Michael Vick"

Vicki Hearne's work riles me up. She was naive about dogfighters and a wee bit sadistic when it came to training --- but she was a dog person to her marrow and she could write like nobody's business. She died of cancer in 2001 at the age of 54, and I'm sorry as hell she's gone.

The University of Chicago Press has just produced a collection of thirty-six posthumous poems by Hearne, edited by her old friend John Hollander:
When I asked her what it was she worked at, she replied that she trained dogs and horses, to which I may have responded in a less than fascinated way. But within a very few minutes she had elicited my complete absorption. She spoke right away of her interest in the relation between psychologists' behavioristic accounts of what an animal was doing when it was learning to respond to a command or signal, and the very different kinds of stories that trainers would tell each other—and themselves—about what was going on.
Louisa Thomas has a review of Hearne's Tricks of the Light in the New York Sun:
[Vicki Hearne] was a prolific essayist, an assistant professor at Yale, a poet, a respected horse and dog trainer, and a passionate defender of the pit bull. She was taken seriously in both the academy and in the kennels where she spent much of her time. But she was not wholly at home in either. As she wrote in her book "Adam's Task: Calling Animals by Name," "Dog trainers and philosophers can't make much sense of each other." The trainers talk about animals in anthropomorphized language, whereas philosophers tend to assume that only humans are truly moral creatures. Ms. Hearne spent much of her time trying to bridge the gap — to build off of what the philosophers say about consciousness and the trickeries of language, while vigorously defending the idea that animals are in on the game.
Read the entire review here. Vicki Hearne's work can raise hackles, but in the Jon Katz/"Marley and Me" era, it's more important than ever to recognize an intelligent author who knew a great deal about dog behavior and dog training and who never pandered to the bandana collie crowd.


Pibble in Newsweek! Literate white guy [take that, haters] writes about his sweet Esmerelda. [Don't imagine for a second that a 70 lb German shepherd with a thunder phobia couldn't wreak just as much havoc. This just in: big dogs are strong.]


Mountain lion stories, I've got a million of 'em: a mountain lion wandered into our neighborhood a while back and jumped up onto a wooden fence --- the fence broke under its weight, and the lion toppled through a window into someone's home. The mountain lion ran around the house for a few minutes, jumped out the broken window, and disappeared. This happened a few blocks from where I live. There are regular mountain lion sightings in the park up the street. We have deer and coyotes in the neighborhood sometimes, too, but they generally don't carry your 60 lb dog away.


Here's a news report on that video everyone was so angry about.

I could rant about mean children, inept parents, the fact that poverty is no excuse not to clean up your yard and teach your ten year old child how to care for puppies, but that's knee-jerk, self-righteous stuff. I don't know this family. I don't know whether the mom just lost her job, whether the child has suffered some unspoken trauma --- I don't know why the girl isn't inside watching television or down the street playing with friends. What I do know is that it sucks to be poor, and that children learn by example. It's hard to do what you've never been taught.

If I could, I'd invite this kid to join me at the local shelter and help with pups and kittens. I don't think she's evil or cruel --- I suspect she's just following the sad examples she's seen since she was old enough to walk. More than punishment and humiliation, maybe she needs a chance to spend time with adults that don't scream and hit. She needs an opportunity to do the right thing --- and she needs to be shown what the right thing is in the first place. Given the chance, she could learn to be good with pups. "Female Michael Vick"? You're kidding me. If you want cruel, I can think of a few upper middle class white guys I know who beat the crap out of the family dog for one stupid reason or another ["He chewed on my tool bench when I locked him in the garage overnight"], and who will never, ever be taped by a neighbor or have their dogs taken away.

Here's a link to the follow-up video: the dogs are rescued! The [former] dog owners, not so much. From the commentary:
The district attorneys office, in particular Laura Janssen was instrumental in saving these dogs. In the videos you can see the mother dog licking the faces of a detective and Laura. I want to stress what a great animal advocate Laura is. She was wearing a very nice suit and was covered in fecal matter, from having cradled these pups in her arms.
And on camera, too! What a saint! Let's take up a collection to cover her dry-cleaning bill. [/sarcasm]

Apologies for the jaundiced attitude. The family is left as ignorant as ever and more miserable than before, but the dogs were saved, and that's the important thing --- right?


FrogDogz said...

What a coincidence - yesterday, my copy of "Bandit" arrived in the mail. I hadn't read it since it was first issued, and I'd forgotten how involved in Bandit's case the HSUS was. The more things change, etc.

I might not like some of Vicki's training methods, but she was a hell of a trainer, and a phenomenal writer.

btw, I've created my own version of the PETA billboard:

Luisa said...

Excellent billboard!