|Two Dialogues on "Apetheid"|
here is a strange country, far to the south of us, where an unusual set of laws called "apetheid" is in force. The apetheid laws legislate the "separate development of pet species." The principal effect of these laws is the enforced separation of dogs and cats, although the other pet species-- birds and fish and so forth-- are also affected.
There has been a lot of controversy about apetheid, so I made the long trip south to take a firsthand look at the situation. It was soon clear to me that the cats are the principal supporters of the apetheid laws; in fact, they had created them. Though the laws seem to talk about cats and dogs and other pet species in an even-handed way, the dogs of the country generally feel that they're getting a raw deal and are opposed to apetheid, sometimes quite vehemently.
I will share my investigations by quoting dialogues which I had with three dogs, and later, with three cats, who appeared to be representative of their species' range of opinions.
The Dogs' View
My dialogue with the dogs took place in a small, plain dwelling in the district of Sowagto-- a vast range of kennels where huge numbers of dogs are required to live by the apetheid "Pet Areas Law." My three spokescreatures were "Daddy" Barkalezi, a big, easygoing black Labrador, from a pedigree long respected for fighting and hunting prowess; "Comrade" Wusetsu, a skinny, hot-tempered young mongrel; and "Bigshot" Stetson Dudu, a high-strung, sharp-witted miniature poodle, who obviously commanded a lot of respect among his fellows, despite his small size. I should mention that there are many different breeds of dogs in that country, with widely varying appearances and personalities. There is considerable inter-breed fighting, especially between Labradors and poodles.
"Let's begin by talking about your objections to the apetheid system," I said, by way of introduction.
"It's a terrible injustice," declared Stetson. "The cats have appropriated most of this country to their own private use. Only 13% of the land area is really open to us dogs to use freely-- and these 'dog runs' are the most scrubby, unattractive areas. Everywhere else, we face 'no dogs allowed' signs or, at best, can be there only with the permission of the cat authorities."
"And that means we always be crowded together," cried Comrade. "Just look at this place! How can we lead decent lives, when we got to live like this?" Indeed, there was a furious cacophony of barking and howling in the next kennel just then, which interrupted our dialogue for some time.
"We have to carry our licenses with us all the time," continued Stetson, when the disruption had subsided. "Do cats have to carry licenses? No! It's blatantly unfair!"
"We afraid to go out at night anywhere outside the areas reserved for us," declared Comrade, "we could be picked up and hauled off to a pound without no warning."
"At any time, there's tens of thousands of dogs locked up, just because they were caught without a valid license," noted Stetson, pawing at fleas in his fur.
"Meanwhile, them cats have the run of the whole country, and lead fat and fancy lives," growled Comrade.
"The problem with cats is, we like being around them, but they don't care to be around us," commented Stetson, "except maybe when we're doing their dirty work for them, fetching and carrying things, like they never seem to do on their own."
"I came up to a group of cats the other day, wagging my tail real friendly," recalled Daddy, "and they were quite nasty to me. But most of them are pretty decent when you get to know them-- why, I grew up with a couple of Siamese who are still great friends of mine-- we used to have fine adventures in the woods together."
"Maybe cats are all right if you be friends to start with," grumbled Comrade, "but they sure be haughty most of the time. They just look like they feel superior to us and everyone else!"
"They think we're messy and unclean," said Daddy, "and don't like us for that." At his comment, I glanced at the narrow street outside, and made a mental note to pick my path carefully when I left Sowagto. "Also, they say we make too much noise," he continued, "but it's just our way of being expressive and showing our joy of life. The cats are so repressed-- they should try barking once in a while!"
"Whatever, we have as much right as the cats do to live and work where we want in this country," stated Stetson.
"Well, things have begun to change in the right direction," commented Daddy. "Lots of those 'no dogs allowed' and 'cats only' signs have come down."
"But things aren't moving fast enough," growled Comrade. "We wanna abolish apetheid, and especially, we wanna be rid of those rotten 'Leash Laws'!"
The others muttered their assent. A hot, dusty wind rattled the flimsy framework of the kennel. The three dogs chewed pensively on their meal of dried maize pellets.
"Maybe you should sit down together with the cats and talk things over," I said. "Dialogue is always the best way to solve these inter-group problems."
"Well, maybe we should talk," cried Comrade, "but just so them cats stay cool, man-- none of this arched back and hissing and scratching folks' noses!"
"I favor dialogue," declared Daddy. "After all, you gotta admit the cats helped build this country."
The Cats' View
My discussion with the cats occurred in the spacious back garden of a fine suburban home near Purrtoria. Speaking with me were Reggie Graceworthy, a big handsome longhair; Leonis "Kik" Butha, also called "the Rock", a thin-lipped tomcat with a paunch and whiskers trimmed into a tight little mustache; and Pieter van der Meowe, an elegant white shorthair who was clearly a leader in his community. I should note that two major breeds of cats, longhairs and shorthairs, inhabit the country. Long ago, there were some terrible catfights, but the two breeds get along much better now.
"I've just come from a talk with the dogs," I began, "and they surely don't like this apetheid system. They think they do a lot of hard work in this country, and don't get their fair share of the rewards."
"We recognize that the country needs them, and their good work. We just don't think we cats should have to live next door to them," declared Pieter. "We simply don't like the mess, and smell, and noise that dogs are always making. Look at a dog's neighborhood, and compare it to a cat's neighborhood. If we lived together, those primitive doggy ways would take over, and spoil everything for us!"
"Mind you, we're not being species-ist about this," commented Reggie. "It's the primitive, uncivilized nature of dogs that we object to. But give me a puppy, and I promise you I could raise him to be a decent, quiet, law-abiding, feline-type citizen!"
"But he'd still be clumsy and ugly..." broke in Leonis.
"It's a question of the level of civilized development," said Pieter, as he scratched at a pesky flea in his neck fur. "Cats are bred for the settled, ordered ways of an agricultural community with its town life, while dogs are bred for a stone-age, nomadic, hunting lifestyle. That's why their behavior seems so barbaric to us. But as Reggie says, if you raise a puppy in the feline graces, he'll adapt."
"Oh, they could get civilized by us all right-- in a hundred generations! After that, then we'll talk about dismantling apetheid," was Leonis' sarcastic rejoinder.
"Actually, I like your wild dogs better than these city breeds," commented Reggie. "Look at your hyenas up on the plains-- strong, noble, independent-- they have pride in their bush culture. Take them to the city, and they'd lose that pride, without necessarily gaining the feline values of civilized city life."
"'You can take the dog out of the bush, but you can't take the bush out of the dog'," quoted Leonis. "And every damn dog seems to want to come to the city-- they hear how the dogs in Lagos and Nairobi have the run of the place, and they get ideas-- the damn mutts are getting so cheeky these days!"
"And when they get together in large groups," added Pieter, "they go crazy-- they run around, making a terrible racket, wrecking things, and biting-- mostly each other."
"Well, they'd better behave themselves around me," growled Leonis, his tail flicking irritably from side to side. "I believe in keeping dogs in their place. Damn your liberal ideas-- dogs need to feel the claw, Reggie, the claw!"
"So, I think you have seen that we have a lot of problems in living close to dogs," said Pieter to me. "It really is best if each group keeps to its own area, and develops within its own rich culture. Don't the cats in your country feel the same way?"
"We don't have any laws keeping dogs and cats apart," I answered, "but mostly each species keeps to themselves. I do know of many families where dogs and cats live together, though-- and of course they see each other at the local 'Dog and Cat Clinic'."
"Integrated hospitals!" cried Leonis with a shudder. "To be around dogs when one is sick! How frightful!"
"But we need dogs to do our work for us. They're much better at digging than we are-- and look at how much of this country's treasure is underground!" answered Reggie, helping himself to another portion of truffled mole-liver pate from a silver platter.
"The problem is that dogs reproduce so fast-- they crowd themselves out of the space we allot to them," said Pieter.
"But we multiply pretty fast, too," commented Reggie. "Just look at how short a time it took us to spread across this whole land, from a few pioneer cats down in one corner. And it's sad to think of how many game species we made extinct because of our hunting prowess."
A silence fell. A cool breeze, fragrant with jasmine and jacaranda, wafted over our little group. In the distance, I could see the Fur-Tricker's Monument, a huge hilltop statue of the pioneer cat who devised the ruse of arching his back and ruffling his fur, so as to appear twice his actual size and thereby deter dogs from attacking.
"Maybe you should sit down with the dogs and discuss things," I said finally. "Dialogue is always healthy for inter-group harmony."
"Well, maybe we should talk with them," said Leonis, "but just so they keep calm, Sir!-- no dashing about or slobbering friendliness or barking!!"
"I'm in favor of dialogue," declared Reggie. "After all, you have to admit the dogs helped build this country."
A Friend's View
When I returned to California and showed the above dialogues to a friend, he admonished me, saying, "Why do you waste your time talking about cats and dogs? Surely the problems of that country's people are what matter. We humans have conquered every corner of this world, thanks to our huge numbers, aggressive spirit, and high technology-- and it's our story that deserves to be written about by people like you!"
"Our numbers, aggressiveness, and technology did indeed help us take over the world," I retorted, "and these very same qualities may soon lead us to annihilate ourselves! Quite possibly, a million years from now felines and canines will once again be the master carnivores of the land, just as they were a million years ago. If that happens, the interplay of contrasting virtues of the two species-- teamwork, loyalty, perseverance, and exuberance on the one hand, and independence, cleanliness, self-control, and grace on the other hand-- will once again be one of the most interesting stories this Earth has to offer. I'm helping to keep this important story in focus during this perhaps-brief interlude of human dominance."(printer friendly version)