It is thought by some that the spate of high school shootings in the late nineties and early 2000’s was a meme. A meme is a piece of social information that is passed along and continued. So when the tragedy in Littleton Colorado made the news, millions of people watched it, including a very small population of people who were entranced instead of appalled by it. That small population,actually, that collection of isolated populations of one or occasionally two observed the acts of two disturbed young men and then, sometime in the future, copied the spirit of the action, and attacked their own schools.
We see memes all the time; one of the earliest recorded memes was a trend in the 1700’s for young men to wear yellow pants, a blue jacket and a open necked shirt. Why would this be notable? Because some of these young men went on to finish off their romantic losses by shooting themselves. And why would they do that? Because of a novel called “The Sorrows of Young Werther” who had the habit of dressing in yellow pants, a blue jacket and an open shirt, who fell in love with a married woman named Charlotte and when it didn’t work out offed himself with a pistol. This was enough of a problem that the book was banned in the 1780’s and in many places burned.
Memes can be benign. They can be as simple as the tendency for parents to purchase a particular toy for their kid, or as complex as a trend within an industry to support something such as rescue of dogs in need. They can be good, such as the trend for people to support the victims of the Red River Flood in the nineties in Manitoba. Or they can be terrible, such as the above mentioned high school shootings.
I try and live mindfully. I try and be aware of when a meme is occurring, and I try and choose when I participate and when I do not. I also try and be aware of the effects of my behaviour. There is an interesting meme occurring all over North America these days, having to do with dogs. I am not going to be popular with this statement, but I oppose rescue. I don’t oppose dogs in need; and there is a difference. I oppose rescue. Why? Because rescue itself is starting to be part of the problem. The number of dogs who are being rescued now, would appear to exceed the number of dogs that were being rescued in years past. It is hard to tell because not all rescues keep stats. What I can tell for sure is that in the twenty five years I have been involved with dog training, we have gone from the humane society here in town to the humane society and at least two dozen rescues that I know of. And it has been twenty years since I have seen a dog living out of dumpsters in Guelph.
In Guelph, when we talk about a stray dog what we mean is a dog who has strayed from his home, but who has a home. A dog who has strayed out of his yard, but who is owned and cared for. I am fairly sure that we don’t even have dogs at our dump. But there is a meme in Guelph. It is the “a saved dog is a more worthy dog” meme.
There is another disturbing meme on the go too; that is the meme where disfigured and abused dogs, dogs who have suffered greatly are being photographed and posted by caring people around the world who want to bring awareness of the need for support for these animals to other caring people. The problem is that amongst the healthy caring population who is appalled by the images that cross their screens, there are a small minority population whose desperate loathing has lead them to get off on this sort of image. Right now, tonight, there is someone who is downloading those images and adding them to their collection of images of abused animals on their computers. There are people out there who are masturbating to the images, who are fulfilling some evil part of their being by looking at the wounds that these dogs have suffered. And amidst that small population; not many, but maybe even just one person, someone, will use an image that is being posted in the effort to bring an end to the suffering of dogs as the image that prompts him or more rarely her to go out and maim, injure or torture another animal.
So what else could a kind hearted person do to stop violence towards badly abused animals? How about starting with education? Educate the young about the needs and emotions of dogs and other animals. Share your understanding of how to treat others with respect. Give a free lecture in your community every month (I do!) and share what you know about dogs, dog behaviour and training. Buy a bag of dog food for a dog living with someone who is less fortunate than you are. Help someone to take better care of their dogs. Throw out your need to redeem your sins on the back of a dog in need and start to help those who are giving these dogs up to rescues in the first place. Think locally and help someone who is thinking of giving up their dog to keep that dog in his home of origin. Help to prevent the need for unwanted pets, because rescuing is now an industry and every dog taken out of it is a dog who once had an owner of origin. Pay to micro-chip a puppy so that every owner of origin can remain in touch with lost or missing pets. Let’s keep those owners of origin and their pets together.
Beware of memes. And stop posting images that will incite violence towards dogs, pets and those who are vulnerable.
A couple of things I read and thought about while writing this blog: