Monday, 4 April 2011

Personal post: An old memory came up...

When I was eight, I was bitten by a dog.

I loved animals so much when I was a kid. I wanted to be a vet more than anything in the world. My mum worked a few shifts at an animal shelter run by the RSPCA, just as a volunteering thing, and after she picked me up from school, she'd take me over there so I could play with the animals. They were mostly ex-pets the old owners just didn't have the time for, so they were perfectly fine, and it was like having a dozen pets of all different kinds: dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, sometimes lizards. They had someone to play with them, the staff could go and do other things, and I even helped out taking care of some of the sick ones. I loved it, and it wasn't just about the play. I didn't get why people wouldn't want these animals. They took a little more care than they were willing to give, but they were beautiful animals, loving and full of life and personality. I felt proud that I was there for them, and I loved them so much that I was happy to be their friend.

Then, one summer night, they brought in an old dog they'd rescued from an abusive household. The kids would beat it up, the parents would ignore or not feed it. Once or twice, the kids would shave it, and there were still tufts of hair longer than the other parts and deep cuts in its skin. There were even a few burns. It had been through a lot. It was tranquil enough around the adults - repeated beatings had taught it not to tangle with anything as large as them - but I went bounding up to it, arm outstretched, ready to love it like I loved all the others, and it bit down deep into my arm. Its teeth tore through an artery and I was rushed to hospital.

Days spent in the bed after the operation. I spent the whole time wondering why it bit me. I realised that it was only chance, blind luck, that that dog had had that family, that its life was ruined. It wasn't a bad dog to start with; it was made that way by a whim of fate. There was no meaning behind it's life; it was bought as a puppy, abused for years, and now it was going to be put down because it bit a child in what it thought was self-defence, and none of it was anyone's fault. None of it had purpose. There was no agency on its part. Our lives, and our course down them, are simply the products of a dice roll. For an eight-year old child, the realisation that lurking behind my fragile little world of order and happiness was a universe of writhing chaos and cruelty was painful, but not so much as the knowledge that I would never love animals again the way I did. The chance that the dog would be bought by that family, abused, abandoned, and exposed to me was enough to ruin one of the first things I ever really loved. I was a victim of chaos. I found other loves; writing, film, music, science. Eventually I found Kari. But it never felt stable. It never felt like the good things in my life, the things that made me happy, could sustain against a cold, malicious outside and an aloof, uncaring universe.

Last night, I slept with Kari in my arms, pressed tight against me, but I still had a nightmare about that damn dog.

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