Monthly Archives: January 2018

Dogs, Recognition and Respect

Amblin’ Alameda

Recognition and Respect

Morton Chalfy



Sunday is dog walking day for me.  I get out of bed around 6:30 a.m., dress quickly, retrieve the New York Times from my doorstep and drive to a parking spot just over the Park St. bridge to read for a while until my friend Larry and his three-legged dog Maggie emerge from their home and beckon me to walk.  We walk along the waterway at a measured pace as befits a three-legged dog and talk about the state of the world, our families and ourselves.

Along the way we’ll meet multiple people and their dogs also out for a morning amble in pursuit of the dogs doing their “business”.  The dogs we meet come in all shapes and sizes and colors and hair lengths and personalities and yet are recognized as dogs by one another and by us.  The tiny, feisty terrier who acts like a mastiff or the large, rambunctious, long haired dog of indeterminate breed and every combination in between immediately recognize one another as dogs and do the same doggy things to one another regardless of appearance.  They sniff each other’s butt, in fact sniff each other all over while deciding in some mysterious way whether they can be friends, enemies, lovers or indifferents.

“Isn’t it remarkable that they all see the essential dog beneath the physical appearance,” commented Larry.  “Humans are much less differentiated and often miss the humanity we all share.”

I was surprised by this statement as Larry is a highly intelligent and observant person and I took exception to “humans are much less differentiated…”

“We too”, I remarked, “are at least as differentiated as dogs.  We come in five major colors, hundreds of ethnicities and every combination of hue, size, hair type, physiognomy and aspect.  The large person from Samoa next to the tiny person from Southeast Asia, the Viking contrasted with the Bushmen of the Kalahari, any ethnic compared to any other, we are differentiated by thousands of years of isolation and hundreds of years of the slow re-mixing.  We are as different as the different breeds of dogs, yet the dogs recognize each other’s “dogness” and treat the other like a fellow being.

Humans, paradoxically, often fail to recognize the essential humanity of one another and often treat one another like dogs.  Humans are blinded by our biases to conjure what we believe are essential differences between us and fail miserably in seeing and accepting the essential sameness.  This failure to see our common humanity leads to easy “dehumanization” of one another and serves to facilitate hatred and in extreme cases, genocide.

We can see that all dogs are dogs regardless of breed or appearance.  Our failure to see all humans as human is a failure of our cultures.  Of course many humans can see the humanity in all others and act accordingly, which is to say respectfully.  Dogs find it easy, so should we.

Cat Petting

Amblin’ Alameda  1/6/18

Cat Petting

Morton Chalfy

We recently lost a cat to “septic abdomen”.  Leon the cat was one of two littermates who had lived with us for ten years and his loss, which was sudden, had a profound effect on his sister Bessie.  Leon, being the male and the larger by several pounds, bullied his sibling, pushed in to be first at the food dish, teased her whenever he was bored and generally made her accommodate his ego’s needs.  Not that she was timid or cowed by him but that she accepted his larger size and learned to carve out her own space including driving him off when his attentions became too onerous.

One of Leon’s most egregious forms of bullying was his domination of my sweetie’s attentions.  When she sat down in her easy chair to read he was on her lap or on her bosom almost at once and clearly was there to prevent Bessie from accessing the Mother of All Things Good.  Bessie, for her part, would make do with second best, namely myself.  She soon found there was an advantage to this choice as I am the better petter.  In my hands she was stroked, massaged, chin rubbed and generally induced to purr loudly and long.

Leon had a keen understanding of the dynamics and when Bessie jumped down from my lap he would often run over to get his share of pets.  Bessie would take the opportunity to go to my sweetie’s lap and get her share of loving.  This always produced a sense of Leon being pulled in two directions at once.  He wanted to run back and chase her from Sweetie’s lap but was reluctant to give up the good petting he was getting.  What a dilemma.

When Leon died Bessie became the Cat Queen of the household and has been gracious about it all.  The first day or two she looked over her shoulder whenever she approached the food dish still reflexively wary of being pushed away but that habit was quickly dropped.  She became more vocal than she’d ever been, a little more demanding of attention and her coat became much sleeker.  On that last point I theorized that she was no longer producing hormones of anxiety with the source of anxiety gone and that produced a sleek coat along with a more expanded personality.

Nowadays she gets plenty of loving from my sweetie but still comes to me for deep petting and massage.  She jumps onto the arm of my easy chair and head bumps me, a signal that she’s ready for my attentions, then steps onto my lap and settles down with a definite air of “you can begin petting me now.”  Hard to resist.

When petting I think about the exchange we are having, Bessie and I.  It’s the most basic of exchanges between living creatures, that of touch.  She gets the sort of stroking that satisfies the body deeply, unknotting muscles, smoothing fur and skin and conveying the feelings of safety and belonging that all creatures need and desire.  For my part I get the satisfaction of her purring and appreciation and the satisfaction of providing touches that are wanted if not occasionally craved.

As much as she likes being petted I like petting for the visceral satisfaction that rises from my palms to the dopamine producers in my brain.  Our hands, especially our palms, are exquisitely sensitive to touch and good touch can be a source of intense pleasure, as in sex, or as in the case of cat petting a source of satisfaction.