The dog who is barking in this video is Madonna and the other dog is Rocky. After I shot the video, I was very hesitant to share it because I was sure people would be quick to slap labels on Madonna. But I trust you, the reader, to resist that temptation and work through her story with me. As I unpacked this story, I touched upon my raw nerves and I am going to request you to be willing to do the same. I ask you to bravely go where you may not have gone before, because my own experience tells me that this journey will be meaningful.

RECAP : Lives of Farmies

If you missed our earlier blog that introduces our protagonists and want to catch up on that first, here you go.

Labels that media loves to associate with free living dog to drive a sensationalist narrative.

“Ferocious”, “feral”, “aggressive” – labels that Indian media loves to associate with free living dogs. Videos and images of this kind quickly get tagged to drive a sensationalist narrative of “ferocious dogs” that are out of control and need to be removed. It is a convenient label to forward a certain agenda. But is Madonna “ferocious”? To answer this, we need to cast aside personal agendas and analyse the behaviour we see.

“Rocky should understand no means no!”

When we attempt to analyse animal behaviour, a bit of back-story can help. Madonna’s back story is that she was on heat. Rocky was perusing her. Madonna was not interested and asked him to back off a few times. But he was not backing off and this was her escalating the intensity of her message. Some of dog professionals I asked to analyse this video said, “Rocky should understand no means no!”. So, we can see that this is not an instance of Madonna’s ferocity, it is her warding off Rocky’s harassment. But, what about when not in heat? What kind of a dog is Madonna? Check out the video below to get an idea.

Madonna’s extraordinary patience with the puppies is touching.
And she is just a love bug with humans!

This is a video of Madonna caring for her younger siblings, Double Dose and Smiley. She, herself is a juvenile, but her extraordinary patience with the puppies touches me. It’s not often that we see “teenagers” with such patience, regardless of the species. In addition, these are not her own puppies. They are her mother, Bobby’s. Madonna not only indulges Smiley and Double Dose, but also responsibly cares for them when Bobby is not around. Bobby will frequently leave the pups in Madonna’s care and go do whatever it is free living dogs do (that’s a whole other topic for another day).

Madonna is also a love-bug when it comes to humans. After watching the harassment she was suffering, I decided to get her neutered. She was so easy to handle through the process. I did not need dog catchers. She jumped into my arms when I called her. We did not use muzzles or leashes. She stayed put when she was injected with the sedative. Once she recovered from the surgery, she bore me no ill will for what had been done to her. To this day, she runs into my arms with joy. She is soft like velvet to the touch and her heart is soft and fluffy, full of room for the pups, for her mum Bobby, for me and my neighbour who shares caregiving responsibilities with me. I think it is safe to conclude that Madonna is not a “ferocious dog”. That is not her personality.

Madonna is not ferocious. But is she angry?

But that’s not the end of our discussion. The question on my mind is, “Is this anger?”. Among us, dog-lovers, there is a general reluctance to use the term “anger” and I understand why. It’s partly due to fear of the media latching on to that and building a case of “ferocity of dogs”. But I also think it is because we view “anger” as a negative emotion associated with our darker side, one that we don’t want to attribute to animals that we see as innocent and free of a darker side. But is anger, as an emotion, such a bad thing?

With Madonna, it feels like this emotion is justified. I have seen the violence that is part of dog mating behaviours. Several female dogs just give in to the violence out of sheer exhaustion. But not Madonna. She fought back with what seemed like anger It did not feel like a representation of her “darker side”. It felt like her inner “shakti” pushing back with appropriate anger at her boundaries being violated. I felt indignation on her behalf and I muttered under my breath, “You go girl!”. My feminist sensibilities appreciated her anger. And then I found myself wondering about my own anger.

Where does anger come from?

Where does anger come from? At first, it seems like it is an escalation of irritation or even entitlement. “I want something done my way and if I don’t, I get angry”. Sometimes, it seems to be philosophically driven – “I feel angry at the way certain people are treated in this world” or it could be a direct result of how someone treats us. But a deeper look at these reveal helplessness. A helplessness arising out of not knowing how to emotionally regulate when we do not get what we want or are unable to take ourselves out of a situation that is unpleasant or unable to change what we want to have the power to change.

Since this incident, I have been taking time to examine my anger when it washes over me. Each time, I discover unsavoury helplessness. This is where I found my raw nerve. I hate helplessness. It makes me feel weak and out of control. I feel like a victim and there is a hopelessness associated with it. I do not want to feel like that for a second and so I quickly pull up anger. Anger is actionable and I feel powerful and in-control. So I understand why we often want to leave anger unexamined and want to categorise it as a bad emotion. Then we get to be “bad” rather than accepting that something bad has happened to us and we are utterly helpless to do anything about it. It’s better to be bad, than to feel bad right?

Why do we despise our anger so much?

This brings us to the question of why we despise anger so much? Most of us hate our own anger. Anger does not have to be ours or directed at us to cause discomfort. Just being in the presence of it causes discomfort. Animals too are uncomfortable in the presence of anger. I think this is whole other topic , a rabbit hole that we don’t have the time to get into today.

“Anger in dogs” was the topic of our discussion at a recent conclave in the BHARCS Auditorium and there too we decided not to brave the rabbit hole, but we did take something away from all of this. We decided that, as uncomfortable as it is, we are going to stop running away from the concept of “animal anger”. We are not going allow our discomfort to take over, but instead try to create space for it, so we can understand it better. Who knows? If we created space for animal anger, we will perhaps create space for our own, carry less shame about it and perhaps eventually understand it better.

This is a dog-behaviour blog, so perhaps I have stepped into spaces I should not. Or perhaps, this type of an animal mirror is much needed in the field of animal behaviour, to blur lines between “us and them” and to see ourselves as part of our co-created lives. What do you think? Should we be looking into this mirror? What do you see when you look?

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