Sunday, November 10, 2013

Be All My Sins Remembered, And Retrofitted

In 1982, I shot a bulldog in the butt with a BB gun. On two separate occasions prior to that, I kicked the dog multiple times.

In 1982, no one really cared much about this kind of thing. And I was 10. Today, if a 10-year-old boy were to shoot a dog in the butt with a BB gun or be seen repeatedly kicking the dog, that boy would likely be arrested and charged with animal cruelty as a juvenile.

Were my past dragged into the present, my life might be entirely different. My entire neighborhood, the adults at my school, and everyone at my church would probably find out about my act. Hell, it would probably show up on the local newspaper’s Facebook page, full of idiot commenters who can’t spel gud but who are more than happy to say that the proper punishment is that all dog lovers should be allowed to kick my 10-year-old stupid self until I repented. Some might not care and might go with the “kids will be kids” response, but others would never look at me the same way again.

Nowadays, few things will get so many in such a high dander as insensitive cruelty to animals. And nobody much uses the “they’re just kids” excuse to minimize the matter.

In 2013, Michael Vick remains the least popular player in the NFL. It’s been six years since his dog fighting past caught up with him and landed him in prison for two years. One of my relatives insists Vick deserved the death penalty. He is more hated for his treatment of dogs than players who have committed violence against spouses, girlfriends, children, strangers in bars.

“Dog Killer” > “Wife Beater” > “Racist Texter.” But I digress.

Even now, even though I was just a kid, and even though times were very different 30 years ago, some people will read of my dog kicking and have an intense and nigh-instinctively angry reaction to it. Even if they know me in real life and know me to be quite the pacifistic fella, they won’t be able to help themselves from judging my actions harshly.

Conveniently, and to make a point, I’ve left out some details from my past with that bulldog.

You see, that bulldog -- “Gaylord” -- was a menace in our neighborhood. Unleashed, it regularly chased us when we played or rode our bikes, and it scared the ever-lovin’ hell out of us. Because we were 10.

This is how the bulldog looks to a
10-year-old after it has chased you
and your friends repeatedly and
knocked you off your bike.
The first time I kicked Gaylord, it had chased a friend down and bitten at his back wheel, causing him to wreck. I kicked Gaylord because we were afraid it was going to attack my downed friend. The second time, Gaylord did the same thing to me, wrecking me from my bike. The dog charged me, and I kicked at him from nigh-mortal fear.

There were two bullies in my neighborhood as a child, and one of them, the more frightening of the two, was that damn dog. When I went to my father after several weeks of being terrorized, my dad responded the way dads did back before helicopter parenting and the need of adults to constantly rescue their children. He said, “Son, dogs only know one thing. They know pecking order. That dog will terrorize you until you show it who’s boss. Once it knows you’re the alpha dog, it’ll leave you alone.” And then he kept drinking his whiskey and soda or whatever and watching the Auburn football game.

Now. Was my father’s advice accurate? Not entirely. But my point was, he expected me and my friends to solve our own problem. So we did. After Gaylord knocked me off my bike, and after I kicked him, I went home and grabbed my father's BB gun, and we plotted a situation where he would chase my friend, and I shot that dog. And it felt good. It felt like we were protecting ourselves.

Am I some hero? Of course not. I was 10, and I was hurt and scared and angry. It's hard for me to look back on this string of incidents with much regret. Dog deserved it, is the way I recall things.

We are a far more judgmental society today than any time in my memory. Technology and social media have accelerated all communications, and few of us any longer take a few moments before reacting to information and rendering judgment. We react to limited amounts of information by filling in “the rest of the story” with assumptions and prejudicial guesswork, and we judge quickly and move onto the next item, as if it’s one more thing off the daily agenda.

Our lust and rush to judge is not limited to current events, nor is it limited to our own thread in history. It certainly isn’t limited to animal cruelty. Give us a story, be it from 400 B.C. or 2013 A.D., and give us just a few tidbits, and we’ll take care of the jury and executioner.

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