Journal for Critical Animal Studies Editorial Executive Board

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Olli and Pika (Photos by Eva Meijer)

2.2 Discipline and deliberation

Between Olli and me, the leash had multiple meanings. On the one hand, it constrained Olli’s freedom of movement and expression. On the other hand, it was a tool between us (similar to words), an instrument for what Driessen calls “interspecies deliberation” and as such is helpful in his education.

I first want to make a distinction between the process of learning to walk on the leash and the leash as an institute. As an institute, leashes very clearly restrict the freedom of dogs. The leash can be seen as an instrument to control the bodies of nonhuman animals, to tame or train them and make them internalize power: to discipline them (Foucault 2010). Many humans in Western societies have strict ideas about their dog’s behavior and even use instruments such as shock collars, in which fear for pain is the main learning mechanism, to control their bodies and behavior. Would I have had a choice, I would have chosen not to use a leash because it represents my power over Olli,36 symbolically and literally. It reinforced his fear of humans and his low self-esteem, and it made it harder for him to behave as he thought best in a situation that was already difficult. Olli is now used to it, but he does not like to walk on the leash. He does not make a big deal of it, but if he would have a choice he would choose not to. Unfortunately, we had and have no choice, for the reasons I already mentioned. I am forced, on legal grounds, to keep my dogs on the leash and Olli really wanted to escape and there was a risk of him being hurt or even killed. Both aspects, the legal obligation to keep dogs on the leash and threats to safety, are expressions of an anthropocentric society.37

Some authors (Haraway 2003, 2006; Hearne 2007) view learning processes (such as walking on the leash, learning to fetch, practicing for sports) as training. Vicki Hearne describes how through training (for sports or games), words gain meaning, language-games come into being and understanding is made possible. The world of nonhuman animals expands if they are taught words and commands, which enriches their lives. Haraway (2003) describes something similar when she discusses her training for agility with dog Cayenne Pepper. She stresses the mutuality of this process and argues both of them changed during the process. Olli and I both changed, but our experiences were different from the processes of “training” Haraway and Hearne describe. We had no common ground to start from and our communication was aimed at living together on a basic level, not sport or games. Second, for Hearne, the human trains the animal, sometimes using harsh methods, and this was not the case with Olli and me – I asked him things and taught him things, and he asked things from me. Both Hearne and Haraway ask the animal to obey commands the human gives completely. I do not ask this kind of attitude from Olli and I do not think complete obedience is necessary for a strong connection, or preferable. As Pika and Putih, Olli is extremely attentive, although he has his own preferences and views.

The process might be better understood as education. In the political theory of animal rights they put forward in Zoopolis (2011), Donaldson and Kymlicka mention the right to be educated in multispecies societies, for domesticated animals and humans. I taught Olli things, Pika taught him many things as well, and he educated himself by paying close attention to his surroundings (for example, the behavior of other dogs in the park). He was eager to learn; in the shelter he was one of the dogs who expressed his desire for contact with humans constantly and clearly. He enjoys learning new skills and displaying them. Learning to walk on the leash was education, and the leash was a tool in further education; walking on the leash helped him to learn to take the tram and the train (although trains still frighten him), to ignore dogs when walking on the leash next to the bicycle, to ignore (to some extent) humans who eat food on the street, and so on. In this process I sometimes had to keep him from doing what he wanted, but the process was not one of unlimited restriction: there were clear goals and because Olli learned very fast, many of the problems we encountered were temporary.

However, as I mentioned before, the leash also made things more difficult and we did not need it to come to understanding – Olli would have learned these things also without the leash, although the tempo in which he learned them might have been different. Still, the communication we had because of the leash did provide us with extra information. Driessen argues for an account of animal deliberation in which material interventions can stir dialogue between human and nonhuman animals. He discusses the situation in which cows learn to use a milk machine. Confronted with this new machine, cows adapt their views and behavior, and in response to them, farmers do as well. The relationship with the machine enables the cows to display new behavior and the farmers to see them differently. The leash can also be regarded in this way. Because of how Olli responded, I learned about him and vice versa. This is a dynamic process.38 The precise meaning of the leash was not given beforehand. Olli likes going out, and he has started to associate the leash with nice things such as dog biscuits and going to the park. He often asks for biscuits as we walk and I often give them to him (sometimes without thinking, sometimes to reward him). I mostly notice the leash if we have different ideas about where to go. If this happens, we negotiate. Because we return to it often, we have time to adjust our opinions, to give the other reasons and think it over. I watch his behavior and adjust mine as much as I can, he watches me and responds to what I ask.39

The leash did not just function as an instrument of repression.40 As our understanding grew, Olli started to flourish. His body changed: some muscles in his hind legs disappeared, others became stronger; his neck was very thick when he came, now it is of normal size. As I mentioned before, when he arrived, he held his tail and the back of his body low. Photographs of him in the shelter show the same posture. After three months, a curl appeared in his tail. His walk became steady, calm and proud. His attitude towards humans changed as well. In the beginning, he greeted all humans; after three months he no longer felt he needed to ask everyone for reassurance and started to ignore humans we met in the streets and in the park.41

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