December 21st, 2018

John Ross

Monster by degrees

Monster by degrees

I was talking to a friend when they said that I was sounding like a monster abusing the dog like that. And it hit me. Not because they were right, after all, I’m not a monster. But because they thought I was sounding like one. So something had gone wrong, was it how I was telling the story?

And that started me down a path I don’t much like where it took me but I think I have to share to see if I missed a branch or something.

You see, the story I was telling was of how I got my amazon package. The poor guy was hours overdue and having a rough day. I open the door at my parent’s place and their large, stupid and protective dog tried to drive off this dangerous threat on the doorstep. The dog was trying to get between me and the few inches of open door and I (humourously I thought as I told the story) grabbed the dog by the throat in one hand and tried to sign the amazon guy’s phone on it’s broken screen with my off hand.

In my head (and worrying even now) the scene to me is funny. A large guy holding back a large dog while trying to not break worse something damaged and being polite about it the whole time. I get the package with my off hand and juggle closing the doors while still controlling the dog, bringing it to the couch where I sat on it for a few minutes before opening up the package.

Nothing in there sounded abusive to me. But I was also the one A) In Control and B) telling the story.

And the concern that was raised is that perhaps I’m too close to this issue. That I can’t see what is clearly abuse because I’m the one doing it.

My concern now is that they aren’t wrong. I can’t say I’m in the right. It’s somewhere in the middle and that isn’t really a good place for an issue of abuse to sit. It may not even be in the middle at all but I want it to be, Again because I’m the one doing it.

So let’s all go along on the ride as I think about this in public. I’m sure some good will come of it. Or something.

History:
This dog is oldish (9 years old gordon setter) and not the brightest. Some setters are able to understand their owners wants and appear to follow their instructions while still getting what they want. Say if they aren’t to chase horses they will start the horses running and then stop when they see the door to the farm house open so it looks like the Other Dogs were the ones chasing horses. Not this dog.

This is a dog who believes that anyone will take his food away. The cats, the other dog, the very person who just finished giving the food to the dog by putting it in the food dish. Anyone! So everyone who approaches has to be driven off. Snarl Snarl Snap Snap.

When I started spending time around this dog it tried to drive me off as an invader. On a couple of occasions it was so determined to drive me off I had to protect myself by wrapping it’s muzzle in a towel and bringing it to the ground. I didn’t hit the dog, I didn’t unload verbally on the dog, I made sure my hands were safe should the dog try to shift and it wouldn’t be able to bite me and we waited five to ten minutes after it’s last growl/snarl at me and I let it go.

The window of how long it had to go without making noise grew each time it snapped, snarled or growled at me. It served both as a way of making sure the dog understood that I was bigger than it and in control. And to calm me down, counting slowly up to 300 or 600 or somewhere in the middle.

Thankfully it took only a long damn time, six weeks or more, before the dog stopped trying to drive me off every day. Before then I had also switched tactics a bit.

The online resources I read and said that once the dog understood I was part of the pack and above it in the pecking order I should be fine. I don’t know on which part it failed to sink in, that I was indeed part of the pack here or that I was above it. But it was suggested that food rewards would work.

So I tried that for a long time. Carrying treats in my pockets and rewarding the dog whenever it saw me and didn’t snarl, growl or bark. I even forgave the barking if it barked before it saw who it was.

I honestly saw no change during this treat stage. I did start it before the dog had stopped snarling at me and trying to intimidate me way with snapping it’s teeth at me. So while it did stop that I can’t say it was because it learned I was a source of treats.

The dog once tried to bite my fingers as I gave it a second treat, out of fear that I was going to take the first away. The very treat that I had just given it and bringing my hand in too close (ie within a meter) was a problem so the dog rushed me and snapped. I didn’t take that well, to be honest. If the dog things he can charge me, teeth out and reaching, I was quite upset.

How I handled it was by slowing down how many treats I was prepared to reward. This was a good month or more after I had started and carrying around dog treats in my pockets wasn’t something I wanted to keep going anyway. The dog never really seemed to connect my person to the treats.

There is a possible reason for that, too. As the dog honestly doesn’t seem to be able to tell me apart from my father at times. Most of the time. It knows my voice and used to react to just hearing it to being a little focused now. When I first spoke the dog would leap up and run to the first John shape object it saw and attempt to drive it off. That didn’t work with me (and in the more aggressive first days ended with the dog on the ground being held in place by the collar/neck) and wasn’t welcomed by the other John either.

My father turned it into a game, shouting ‘Not Me! Don’t attack me!’ Which confused the dog so that it would stop and check which John it had ran up to. It would then turn to face the other and prepare to attack.

It would do this even if the John shape was whoever was in the computer chair as it slept under the computer desk. Out of the four times that the dog has drawn blood from John’s in the house, once was when it attacked the John shape in the computer chair. And it really doesn’t understand why it isn’t always allowed to crawl under the computer desk to sleep. It acts quite hurt emotionally when I don’t let it, and it takes a few attempts being rebuffed before it stops to figure out which John is in the chair in the first place.

And because the dog has drawn blood on four occasions (at least, I don’t always check with the other John) I do worry that this stupid thing is a threat to my kids and to strangers. I know that had it attacked strangers the city’s rules would require it to be put down. Heck, sometimes it pushes towards that line being on a leash and has to be hauled back.

But for all the dog is a danger I don’t want to advocate for its destruction. It bites because it is afraid and feels the need to drive off threats. It’s too stupid to understand what is and what isn’t a threat, but it wants to act from a good place. (I think)

But the dog has also kept my mother pinned in her room for hours on days when it’s honestly locked in a crate and she didn’t know that so was afraid to go out into the hall in case the dog chased her. That someone who has to live with this dog, who has lived with this dog for years, is so afraid of it they couldn’t go get themselves lunch for fear of being attacked… that isn’t good either.

For me, not being the dog’s owner, I can’t see what good qualities the dog has. But I am also a cat owner who can only say that the cat’s good qualities is that it likes me as a heat source at night and a food source during the day. It isn’t right that I ask more from the dog than I demand from my cat. Or the other way around.

The dog and I have reached a sort of truce. I keep my hands at my sides or in my pockets when I am out in the kitchen or living room. No signs of being threatening to it, it doesn’t need to react to me. It knows that if it snarls or snaps at me I’ll make it sit with me on the couch or in the middle of the floor (depending on where it is when I catch up to it for doing so) and therefore it doesn’t react that way right away. I don’t tease it and I don’t provoke it, but I don’t tolerate it misbehaving either.

But is all of this just a long winded way of defending abusive behaviour to the dog? I can’t tell and I can’t feel confident enough to shout ‘NO!’ And if I can’t be sure that it isn’t a thing, doesn’t that make it maybe the thing? Even a little bit?

And that brings us to the title of my thoughts here. Am I a monster by degrees? If I was shouting constantly at the dog, or hitting with a stick, kicking it or anything like that I would know for sure it was abuse and I wouldn’t be willing to do it. That is wrong. But is grabbing the dog by the neck, the fleshly bit of loose skin there and pitching it tight so that I can stop the dog from turning it’s head to bite my hand, not at least a little bit down that road?

I wouldn’t ever do something like that to my kids. I don’t raise my hand to them and rarely even raise my voice. I wouldn’t want anyone to do anything like that to my kids. But my kids are not a stupid dog that needs to be controlled…….. And that defensive tone right there worries me as to how I’m not in the right.

Does that make sense? I’m mostly worried that I’m not right because I want to defend myself in some of the worst ways? That it Has To Be this way seems to be the wrong reason for something to be a way. I’ve joked about getting a shock collar and haven’t because, again, that’s a line too far for me. I’m not willing to zap the dog every time it doesn’t do what I want it to. I’m not willing to wire it up to be zapped in an attempt to get it to behave as that doesn’t teach the dog anything beyond that this collar zaps me. And it would perhaps teach a smarter dog that my owner zaps me, but I don’t think that’s a step this one would get.

The world is rarely black and white, but on some issues it has to be held to that. Or at least that’s how I feel. Consent, Abuse, Assault are all things that can’t be allowed to be ‘ok’ as long as they are light grey enough. But yeah….

Am I a monster by a few degrees because I feel that I have to control the dog through physical power. That I get grab hold of the dog by its fleshy part of the neck and gather it up in my hand so that I could direct the dog’s muzzle away from me or anyone. That I then pulled the dog along (by that same handful of flesh) to the couch where I sat until I had counted up to 300 before I let it go and opened a package for me.
I don’t feel great about how unsure I am. I don’t want to be a monster. I don’t want to think that I abuse the dog.


cruel and violent treatment of a person or animal.
"a black eye and other signs of physical abuse"

treat (a person or an animal) with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly.
"riders who abuse their horses should be prosecuted"


I want to be better able to defend myself, or rather to feel that I don’t need to defend myself because I’m right. I’m not doing wrong. But…

Wanting to doesn’t make it so.

Fuck, I want to walk through each of those definitions and parse out how, word by word, I’m not doing them. And if I need to break it down to that level, I can’t be right. That I don’t hit, strike or otherwise act with violence against the dog. That I don’t do it with cruel intent. That it isn’t an every day occurrence. Not even weekly now. BUT right there I have the word ‘Now’ and ‘not even’ and both of those are red flags for trouble if I were to include them in a fictional story.

All I can say for certain is that I never crossed over to abusing the dog as I think of it. I never once intended to abuse or even punish the dog. I had to Stop the dog from trying to bite me when I didn’t run away. But I didn’t need to make the dog run from me because I was going to murder it.

If the dog makes a threatening action towards my kids, that’s a different matter. I know that I’ll make sure it stops whatever it was doing when I interpreted it as a threat to my family. And I will not try to do it carefully or just enough to make sure I don’t get hurt. It Will Be stopped. And the fact I have thought about it also worries me. There have been times when I have the dog on the ground, pretending that I could rip out its guts if we were having a real animalistic fight and I feel it’s pulse race through my grip on it’s neck and I have to loosen it up a bit. I don’t want to have that power over things. But I am very aware that I had it for a moment and … yeah.

I’ve been around dogs for half my life, more or less. This one was raised with very little interaction from me. I think until this year I had only seen it four or five times, and only once at its home. No, that’s not true, twice at its home. Once I was over to troubleshoot the computer and the stupid dog kept waking up from sleeping under the computer desk and trying to scare me off until It was shouted at by my father into shutting up and going back to sleep.

It aggressively defends whatever vehicle it’s in to the point that even my father can’t get in. The dog has to be let out before others can go inside. It treats its crate the same way. This small space with a wall on at least five sides is Mine and No One can get me, as long as I guard the opening with EVERYTHING I HAVE. I don’t interact with it when it is in this state. There would be little to no good to come from breaking into the dogs space.

Things I don’t do don’t prove I don’t abuse the dog however. For al that I find myself holding up moments like that as ‘See See! I didn’t abuse the dog then so I can’t be an abuser!’ But that isn’t how such things should work.

I make fun of politicians and celebrities for such defences. The I didn’t do it this time so I didn’t do it then either. Or the I didn’t do this extreme example of what I’m being accused of doing so I can’t have done the crime. Breaking down each word in the accusation and trying to disprove each one at a time rather than taking the meaning as a whole.

Because I can’t disprove the statement, I have to accept that the statement is a little true. That I am a little bit of a monster because of it. The statement isn’t the whole truth, as I am not a terrible monster, but I have to take ownership of the fact I am a bit of one.

There has to be a path out of here. Out of how crappy this conclusion makes me feel. But, again, all the routes I see are just like those I make fun of public figures for using. Justifying bad actions doesn’t make the bad actions any less bad. Or does it? How to I feel about it?

There are supporters of Trump in the states and Doug Ford up in Canada that have to be having the same fight in their own heads. The person they support is acting at least a little bit like a monster, so are they a little bit of a monster for helping them? How much of a monster is too far before they have to admit that something has gone wrong.

Just because I have never physically hurt the dog, left marks or caused damage doesn’t make what I do better. I do hold the dog still against its will when it is misbehaving. I can’t reason with the dog as it can’t understand logic. I can’t go back in time and train it better. I can’t undo what it has learned and it doesn’t seem to be wiling to learn a new path forward.

And what am I to do myself.

The dog isn’t mine, so getting rid of it isn’t an option. I don’t think that it is something that would be considered either. After all if it’s been a threat to my mom for four or so years why would how it reacts to me be a reason to punt it.

I don’t want to be responsible for the dog being destroyed. Hell, even when it was trying to bite me to get me to leave its house all I wanted it to do was to stop and realize that I’m going to be staying. There was no urge or impulse to Hurt it. (Well a little voice that was easily shut up did say gutting it like a fish would make it stop.) Never did I act against it in fear or anger. Or at least not as the driving emotion. It is a big dog and it did want to get me to leave by any means for a time.

I can’t let it do as it wishes. That path will lead quickly to it harming others and all the legal and ethical woes that raises. I need to be responsible for the actions of the dog when I am the only one around it.

Locking it up when its owner isn’t around, or when he isn’t able to focus all of his attention on its behaviour, doesn’t seem to be a morally solid path to take either. In part because the dog treats anyone who comes into its field of vision while locked away as a threat come to murder it. Crates an it doesn’t seem to be a good thing at all, but it feels safe sleeping inside one as long as the door is ajar… and it attacks anyone who wakes it up or approaches while it is in there.

Shock collars, anti-bark collars and other repeated mechanical behaviour modification tools all strike me as being too much and abuse. Mostly because I don’t think the dog would learn from any of them.

I feel like shit that I can’t say I’m innocent of abusing the dog. I don’t _think_ I abuse the dog but there is enough evidence that from another person’s standpoint I would be guilty. Not a whole lot guilty. Not lock away for being a threat to society or anything. But I am not innocent. And that really sucks.

I sort of get lost in that thought. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of hours now and it comes down to that. I can’t be guilty but I am not innocent. Therefore I have to be guilty. At least a bit.

At what point does punishment come into it? How guilty do I have to be?

The worst of it is, I still see the mental image from the viewpoint of the guy from amazon like this:

Fuck, this is number 62 and five hours ago I had dropped off number 9 and he was told I would be there within three hours. I’m running late, not going to get paid what I should for all of this.
Crap, they have a dog and it sounds like a big one.
The guy nearly got bit when he went to stop the dog from coming at me. Can he control it? Well he’s got a hand on it and he needs to sign for the package.
He noticed the screen is cracked to fun and back, so he doesn’t need to make a neat signature, should I repeat that to him just in case he didn’t hear?
Ok, this package is a bit too big for one hand but ok, juggle door, phone and package and see that he has done the same…
Alright, off to finish this damn day.

The sight of a dog, so intent on driving off the attacker that it almost nailed the hand used to hold it back being held back by one hand as I struggled to get all that a normal social interaction with a delivery person would entail I still find funny.

Perhaps I am a few more degrees of a monster.