Yesterday, I hosted a Labor Day barbecue at my house. We are “dog people.” We have two dogs, Jack and Diane, and we love watching our dogs interact with others. Jack, however, is not always the friendliest. He cannot enter settings where there are a lot of other dogs because he gets anxious and his fight-or-flight instinct kicks in. Lately, he’s been okay with one-on-one introductions, especially with females, so I encouraged my friend to bring her dog Sandy with her.
Diane and Sandy always get along well. They play together a lot. Jack, on the other hand, has not seen Sandy since she was a puppy. Instantly, they charged at each other and within seconds my Jack was bleeding from the mouth, and my Diane was instigating, going after Jack and then going after Sandy as if it was a fun game for her.
GASP! What am I going to do? Do I leave my Jack inside by himself for the remainder of the night while we sit out on the deck with the dogs? It’s his house, but Sandy is technically a guest and I don’t want to be rude. I put Jack inside for a little while to calm down. My friend and I would keep bringing the dogs together to see if they could at least be in the same space without trying to attack each other. We released them, and Jack started bleeding again!
“I give up!” I said, exasperated. For the next hour, everyone was cautious when entering or exiting the house because we didn’t want Sandy to get in or Jack to get out. I began bringing out food for the BBQ and Jack escaped onto the deck before I could stop him. I was about to run after him until I realized that he and Sandy were sniffing and then ignoring each other. There was no attacking, barking, yelping, or bleeding going on. As the night progressed, they began playing together and generally got over any issues they had with each other and we all enjoyed the rest of the peaceful evening.
I am recounting this anecdote because on that very same night, I heard a story that truly upset me, and I could not help but notice the parallels between the issues my dogs were having and the battles humans are still fighting today. Someone my family is very close with was starting out as a college freshman this year, and he couldn’t be happier. He was attending on almost a full football scholarship and had his bright future ahead of him. Unfortunately, the school he attended had some tolerance issues…
My friend, the freshman (I will call him Joseph), had a tattoo on his arm to honor a grandparent, a Jewish War Veteran. The school that Joseph was attending had a population of boys on the football team, and they did not seem to like Jews. Joseph does not practice Judaism. He goes to church; however, he has Judaic roots and wanted them to be represented on his person. He was run out of this college, receiving many threats that were inevitably going to lead to violence if Joseph stayed. He returned home to his family and will begin the college search again for next semester.
I could not believe I was hearing this story. It is 2010, is it not? The current college generation in America is a melting pot, is it not? Why, why, why did Joseph meet such resistance and intolerance at a college where he could have led his team to victory? Is the youth of America that prejudiced? Are we still passing down our own prejudices to the youth of our nation? Why are we perpetually fighting this battle of hatred and anger? Why can’t we all just get along?
Sometimes I wonder why it is so easy for dogs to coexist. They bark at each other, they show their teeth, they attack. Jack can’t say, “Sandy, I don’t appreciate when you charge at me because it makes me nervous and my instinct tells me to attack you” because he is a dog. The only way he can relay this information to Sandy is to react and respond as a dog, but if you just give them some time and space, they can get along as if they have been best pals their whole lives. Why can’t we–complex individuals who have morals and values and ways of understanding each other and talking rather than resorting to violence–just get along? If animals can do it, I guarantee you that we can, too.