The Other I

March 4, 2011

How do we know what we know?

Record-breaking bomb dog Last week a British soldier who worked with his sniffer dog to find and de-fuse road side bombs was killed by a sniper.  The pair had saved the lives of thousands and were inseparable.  When his master was killed, the dog was unhurt.  But he went back to the camp, crawled into the tent, and died of a massive heart attack.

Did the dog die because his master had been killed?  It is easy to believe.

The things that our two dogs knew were amazing.  When we called the vet to put down our oldest Kuvasz, Suli, we took her younger companion, Dugo, to stay with a neighbor several blocks away.  When we bought him back home, he did not look for Suli, something that had never never happened before.

It’s not just dogs and fish and dolphins and monkeys.

For thousands of years, philosophers have puzzled over how we humans know what we know.  I don’t claim to know the answer.  But I am convinced that we often know things we don’t know we know, or have any idea of how we know them.


September 14, 2010

Avoiding celebrity

Filed under: The English,Two Kuvasz Dogs: Suli and Dugo — theotheri @ 8:53 pm

The search for celebrity seems to have become a passion for a lot of people.  Somehow to have millions of people know about me and what I have done seems to be the ultimate fantasy.

It’s not particularly hard to see that celebrity almost always comes with a price.  It is not hard to find examples of the destruction celebrity has wrought on personal lives and relationships, especially when it is accompanied by money.

Today, though, I began to think about those who actively avoid public notice.  Two weeks ago, an 89-year-old woman living by herself in an apartment in Torquay, England died.   She did not seem to have any relatives, and the town council was planning on giving her a pauper’s funeral and burial in a local plot.

That was before they found the medals.  And the letters.  And the papers in her apartment.

During World War II, she’d been one of a small group of young women parachuted into France by Britain where they worked as spies.  She was fluent in French, having lived there with her parents for many years before the war and after being arrested by the Nazis twice convinced them she was an innocent French woman.  She was also sent to a concentration camp where she was tortured by something similar to water boarding, and from which she escaped.  She also escaped again from a forced labour camp,

But in Torquay she was simply known as an old lady whom people liked but didn’t know.  When mail arrived and someone noticed that it was addressed to her with the title MBE she laughed and said it was a mistake.  Ster Orde van het Britse Rijk.jpg

But it wasn’t.  She really was a member of the Order of the British Empire.  Donations are now coming from around the world for her funeral.  A military contingent will be present, and two different funeral directors in the town have offered their services free of charge.

Some cultures are more private than others (the English are more private than most Americans, for instance).  Some people avoid celebrity because it comes at a price they do not want to pay.  Some people simply find public attention acutely painful.     Some people have enough personal confidence not to want or need the distraction of public adulation.

And some people I think avoid the public spot light because of where they have been and what they have seen.

April 12, 2010

Please go home now

Filed under: Two Kuvasz Dogs: Suli and Dugo — theotheri @ 9:00 pm

For reasons you can no doubt approximate, I was remembering the day in Spain when our neighbour KS came to visit.  Peter and I sat on the porch with Dugo our Kuvasz dog  talking with her as the day seeped away and as dusk set, dinner time crept by unacknowledged.

That was when Dugo stood up, shook himself vigorously,  walked over to the gate leading out of our property and stood looking at K.  The message was not received by the intended recipient.  So Dugo returned to the porch, went up to K, and then returned to the gate.   Still no response.

Dugo’s next strategy was to insist that we open the door from the porch to let him into the house.  Which we did.  K remained unmoved.  Within five minutes Dugo began to scratch at the door to be allowed back onto the porch.  Clearly K still had not got the message.  Peter opened the door and Dugo returned.

Since the subtle message clearly wasn’t working, Dugo walked up to K, and simply began to bark in her face.

That, at least, allowed Peter to stand up saying “ah, it’s his dinner time.”

That, at last, suggested to K that perhaps the visit had been of sufficient duration.

Dugo escorted her to the property gate.

December 25, 2009

Christmas 09

Filed under: Just Stuff,Two Kuvasz Dogs: Suli and Dugo,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 11:53 am


September 2, 2009

Canine prohibition

Filed under: Two Kuvasz Dogs: Suli and Dugo — theotheri @ 8:59 pm

One evening shortly after our dog Suli came to live with us, she and Peter were enjoying a quiet half hour together before I got home from the university.  When the telephone rang, Peter put his glass of wine on the floor and left the room.  When he returned, the wine glass was empty and Suli was – well, there is no other word for it – Suli was drunk.

But like me, she clearly didn’t like the feeling.

And whatever the opportunity, she never touched a drop of alcohol again.

Not quite like me.

(Perhaps the taste for alcohol varies in the canine species in the same way it does among other primates with whom we have some close acquaintances.)

January 13, 2009

1+1 does not = 2

Filed under: Two Kuvasz Dogs: Suli and Dugo — theotheri @ 5:31 pm

I think there are few parents who would say that having two children is the same as having one child plus one child.  With the addition of #2 comes an entirely new dynamic, not just between the sibs themselves, but between them and mom, and them and dad.

Owning two dogs – at least the two that we owned – likewise involved more than merely adding a second dog.  Suli and Dugo developed a relationship between themselves and also in relation to each of us.

We did a lot of hiking and camping with them, where they took their guarding responsibilities seriously.   Two white dogs are quite striking, and we have been stopped by people asking what kind of dogs they were as many as 30 times on a single evening stroll.  We were happy for this chance to socialize the dogs to strangers and we always brought Suli and Dugo to heel.

One evening in Flordia we were out for our regular tour around the town where we were camping and were stopped by a group of men asking about the dogs.  Suli came to heel as usual, but Dugo felt that, under the circumstances, some improvisation was required.  He came to heel facing behind me.  

He was watching my back.

Peter and I both thought it was a brilliant idea, and it became something else to talk about when people stopped to ask what kind of dogs they were.

January 9, 2009

Suli, the spider, and the mouse

One would be forgiven if, on meeting our guard dog, Suli, one concluded that she would be perfectly happy to annihilate everyone and everything that strayed into her orbit save for a very small number of people for whom she would lay down her life.

Her absolute, total, and unquestioning loyalty to us was humbling.  But there was another side to this independent dog.  One day Peter and I noticed her staring with fascination at the floor where she was lying in an upright position.  She was watching a spider crawl toward her and onto her paw.  She did not stir.  Then very carefully she lifted her other paw to pet it.

Unfortunately, although the spider was fairly large by spider standards, it was quite small compared to a Kuvasz paw.  Upon receiving Suli’s friendly overture, it curled up into a ball and remained frozen.  To reassure it, Suli very carefully pet it again.  I’m sorry to say it seemed to have killed it.  Whether the spider died of fright or of the dead weight of Suli’s embrace, I do not know.  Suli was crushed, and tried to lick it back to life.  But the attempt at resuscitation failed.

Some weeks later we were walking in deep winter snow, when Suli stopped, as was her wont,  began to dig, and uncovered a field mouse.  When she saw it, instead of attacking the mouse which seemed to be trying to back into the snow and disappear, Suli paused and then very carefully brushed the snow she’d displaced to re-cover the cowering mouse.  How the mouse felt is unrecorded, but Peter and I were quite astonished.

There is a theory called socio-biology that tries to explain apparently altruistic behavior as an expanded manifestation of survival of the fittest.  The theory is that the more genes two animals share, the more they will do to ensure the survival of the other, even if it means laying down their own lives in the process.  Which, the theory goes, is why a mother will so often be willing to lay down her life for her child.

Altruistic behavior shown by one species to another species, however, is not easy for socio-biologists to explain, since the genes held in common are very few.  Pure selfishness does not seem to operate here.  On the contrary, kindness seems to be its own reward.

It’s not all that easy for those who believe in original sin to explain either.  Man, born in sin, should not be prone to this kind of behavior, except among those who have been redeemed of their sins.

And yet it shows up among primitives and barbarians and all sort of people who, by one standard or another, have not been saved.

Personally, my hunch is that the theories are wrong, and that there is a deeper impulse to goodness and kindness and caring than they would have us believe.

January 4, 2009

Maybe there’s hope after all

Filed under: Two Kuvasz Dogs: Suli and Dugo — theotheri @ 3:09 pm

It’s not very hard to pick up a paper or news magazine, turn on the TV, or surf the web on any given day and conclude that The Bad Guys seem to be winning most of the battles in the world today.

But maybe that’s because the Bad Guys are better at getting noticed.  Acts of kindness or integrity are often private, and don’t get public attention.  This is my favourite “Suli and Dugo” story, an interaction that I myself watched with astonishment but which did not make it onto the Nightly News.

Dugo was still at the stage where he wanted everything.  Most of all, he wanted whatever Suli had.  He didn’t want something like the one Suli had:  he wanted the one Suli had.  Along with his own, of course.  We watched his acquisitive behavior acted out principally in relation to the dog biscuits we gave to each of the dogs to chew on each evening.  For weeks after his arrival in our house, Suli let him take her biscuit, leaving her with a discarded rag as comfort.

And then one day Suli decided it was time for Dugo to understand something about sharing.  What Peter and I had fully expected to happen was that eventually Suli would turn Dugo onto his back, making it clear that her biscuit was hers and not his.  But that is not what happened.

Instead, as usual, Dugo walked over to where Suli was lying with her biscuit between her paws.  He tried to take it but this time Suli wouldn’t let him have it.  He kept trying and she sat there calmly with her paw over her biscuit.  He started to whine and bark.  Suli was unmoved.  

And then Dugo had an idea.  He got his own biscuit, brought it over to Suli, and dropped it in front of her.  At which point, Suli accepted Dugo’s offering, picked up her biscuit and gave it to Dugo.

And that was the last time we ever saw Dugo try to take what belonged to Suli.

Personally, I don’t know if I was more impressed by this show of intelligence or of training procedures or of the obvious sense of justice that this interaction seemed to display.  Among mere dogs, no less!

I did adjust my view somewhat about just how deep our human roots go in the evolutionary tree.

December 30, 2008

Dog training by an expert

Filed under: Two Kuvasz Dogs: Suli and Dugo — theotheri @ 5:05 pm

Dugo was, from the start, irrepressible.  He was born believing that he was number one, and was a natural-born show-off as well.

Within hours of arriving at his new home, he discovered he could fit under the couch:


It drove Suli wild because she couldn’t reach him.

When Dugo got bored, he came out looking for trouble:


Suli let Dugo play with her.  But this wasn’t playing. Dugo is on his back for one of his many transgressions.


We were glad for all the help we could get.  In fact, by the time Dugo was trained properly, we knew Suli deserved about 90% of the credit.

December 28, 2008

Fighting to be top dog

Filed under: Two Kuvasz Dogs: Suli and Dugo — theotheri @ 4:36 pm

We had no idea when she first joined us that Suli had ever met any Black children, let alone that she had formed an opinion about them.  Which turned out to be, to say the least, highly inconvenient.

We were watching a performance by Black children on television one evening when Suli, whom we thought never noticed what appeared on the screen, walked up to the TV and growled.  We were astonished, and the next day asked her breeders if they had any insights.  They too were surprised but said that they’d come home from work one day and found a group of neighbourhood children standing at the gate teasing the dogs. The children were Black, which, Aino suggested, might be Suli’s problem.

It was very soon our problem.  A family with two children lived four doors down the street from us, and they were Black.  Suli bit through her lead one day (we didn’t know until then she could do this) and made a dash for #4.  I ran as fast as I could which was a good deal slower than Suli, and arrived with Suli barking at the front door, and two frightened children peering through the glass.

One of the best training guidelines we’d learned from the monks was to dominate a dog the way they dominate each other:  put them on their back, and shake them, making as loud a noise and as big a demonstration as you can muster.  

I didn’t need encouragement.  I threw Suli on her back, and shook her, all the while appearing, to all intents as purposes, like a woman completely out of control.  We’d already seen Suli put on hysterical shows of her own, so I had a pretty high standard against which to compete.

When I’d finished, I stood up, secured Suli to a much shortened lead and looked up at the two faces at the window.

I will never forget their expressions.  Nothing, absolutely nothing else I could have done, including the profound apology to their parents that evening, could have convinced them that I thought Suli’s behavior had been totally outrageous and would not, if I had anything to do with it, be tolerated.

As it turned out, it was not the last time Peter or I would have to make it clear to Suli that there were some things that the Top Dogs in the pack would not tolerate.  It wasn’t that she was a slow learner.

But she was very stubborn.

December 27, 2008

I always want the best for myself

We learned a lot from watching our female dog Suli train Dugo, our new six-week-old male dog.  It was always interesting, but it wasn’t always easy.

We started out with two guidelines.  The first was that we treated each of the dogs with absolute fairness.  If one got a biscuit the other did.  When one was fed, the other got his supper at exactly the same time.  The second understanding was that, although we may operate under a principle of equality and justice, the dogs had to be allowed to work it out their own way.  Whether we liked it or not, one dog was always going to be dominant, and that would, by all laws of canine behavior, be Suli.

We did not worry about Suli having to defend herself.  She was much bigger, and we’d already seen that she had developed an aggressive strategy of defense that could terrify grown men.  Nor was it surprising that Dugo wanted what belonged to Suli.  But it was something of a shock to watch Suli let him have whatever he wanted without any objections at all.

Here is an illustration in four parts.  At first sight, they look like four cuddly vignettes.  But it was a battle by Dugo to Possess the Whole WorldThis is how you do it, Dugo We have just given Suli and Dugo each a bone.  Dugo is lying on his to make sure nobody takes it, and is working on a rag instead.Yours is better than mine

Dugo is looking at Suli’s bone.   His simple philosophy is that Suli’s is always the best.

What's yours is mine

Despite appearances,  Suli and Dugo are not sharing the bone.  Dugo is taking it.

Exchange completed

To our chagrin and horrow, Suli lets Dugo have her bone without a fight.  He is still lying on his bone, and Suli is chewing on the second-class rag.

Peter and I had never seen anything like this before, and letting this outright theft go by without intervention by us took a great deal of respect for canine culture.

We needn’t have worried.  What happened next was a revelation.

December 26, 2008

Dugo joins Suli

By the time Suli had been with us for a year, Peter decided that she was becoming neurotically lonely, a diagnosis undoubtedly foisted on her as the result of living with a psychologist.  

But both of us were out of the house for most of the day, and it was clear that Suli was not the kind of dog to survive that many daylight hours cooped up inside alone.  So we went back to our two Kuvasz breeders, and just after Christmas, Dugo arrived to live with us.

He was six weeks old when he arrived, and had been named Dugo by Aino and Doris because it means “little cork” in Hungarian.  It fit him so well we never changed it.  Occasionally, when he was trying to be grown up, we would add a royal “ram” at the end of his name.  But Dugo was who he really and always was.

Dugo was simply darling.  He thought so too, and that he had a god-given right to whatever he wanted.  (If you’ve never had a dog yourself, think “two-year-old boy.”  It will be a decent approximation.)

So we loved him.  But if all of us were going to survive together, Dugo was going to have to be trained.

Fortunately, we had help.  Suli thought Dugo was simply marvellous, but she was under no illusions that he arrived as an uncivilized ruffian who had to be taught how to behave properly.

 Watching her achieve this was one of the fascinating experiences of my life.  We learned more about dog training from Suli than from any of the books we bought to help us deal with this self-determined breed. 

Dugo being charming

December 21, 2008

Stay upstairs for Christmas

Filed under: Two Kuvasz Dogs: Suli and Dugo — theotheri @ 3:13 pm

The first Christmas after she arrived, Suli had been living with us for several months and several of my sisters came to spend the holidays with us.   They arrived on Christmas Eve, and endured what came to be called The Initiation as Suli put on her show demonstrating that she was unambiguously in charge, even though you might think that she was quite possibly crazy.

After her Show, we introduced them to Suli, and spent the rest of the day enjoying each other with pre-Christmas drinks and dinner.  We all went to bed after midnight, and felt quite pleased that Suli had accepted our guests with no more tirades.

Peter and I were up early the next morning, and were in the kitchen preparing the Christmas turkey when we heard The Trouble.  Suli was sitting at the bottom of the stairs growling low in her throat, a sound that was as terrifying as any of her hystical displays.  This was deadly serious.  My sister Mary stood at the top of the stairs, calling us to provide safe passage.  

We escorted her down the stairs,  assuring Suli that Mary was not Public Enemy Number One.  By the end of the day, they were permanent friends.   Suli never forgot Mary again.

And Mary thought Suli was the classiest dog she’d ever seen.  When she was dying and I flew to Denver to help her close up her apartment, I discovered a picture of Suli.  It was the first thing you saw when you walked in her front door.Suli

December 20, 2008

Over the top guarding

We got our dog Suli as a guard dog.  We learned gradually what that meant.

To appreciate what Suli brought to her guarding duties, imagine a totally hysterical 125-pound tiger.  That is a distant approximation of  Suli when she was in full spate, and in full spate was a state in which she frequently engaged.

Our first introduction to her guarding strategy was the dangerous coffee cup I’d set on the floor beside my chair.  Surely it did not belong there and should be removed immediately.  And if I didn’t actually agree that the cup might be a nuclear bomb in disguise, I picked it up anyway to stop the cacophony which demonstrated Suli’s conviction that it was.  Eventually she learned that cups were standard household equipment, that the coat on the chair did not pose an immediate threat to life and that boots could be left on the porch without harm.  But she never did learn that a milk or mail delivery was harmless, and she put on a display behind the full glass window that would have intimidated the bravest animal lover.

To control this display at the door, the monks’ book on dog training recommended we frame the window with balloons.  The theory was that their popping would startle the dog and halt the barking and the lunging at the glass.  So we blew up about 30 balloons and placed them around the window frame the night before a milk delivery due at 6:30 the next morning.

We were awake and waiting upstairs.  

The strategy was a complete failure.  Suli was not phased in the least by the noise of the bursting balloons and continued her barrage until the milkman departed.  It wasn’t a problem we ever solved.  

But at least the milkman never came into the house.  Family and friends were invited in, and Suli subjected them to a similar initiation.  It was acutely embarrassing.

However, once Suli accepted someone, she remembered them forever.  Peter’s parents visited us from England, and when they returned for a second visit two years later Suli greeted them like long lost friends.

You felt special when Suli remembered you.

December 18, 2008

Man’s best friend. Or foe.

When we got Suli, the breeder initiated us into the difference between guard dogs and attack dogs.  Guard dogs do not generally attack someone whom they deem to be dangerous, but prefer to get them into a corner until reinforcements arrive.

The breeder gave us the example of a Kuvasz who guarded a farm and which the family left  in charge one weekend while they were gone.  When they returned Sunday evening, they found a new postman trapped in the farm yard, unable to leave, and certainly unable to enter the house.  The Kuvasz had not recognized the new postman, and decided that the best course of action was keep him penned in.

We rescued a workmen from our back yard shortly after Suli had taken up her duties.  We’d called in a tree surgeon to deal with an overhanging branch, and were discussing the problem at the front of the house with man in charge.  When we had finished he turned to leave and called to his companion.  We couldn’t find him but we heard a distant shout.

The workman had strayed into the back yard without a proper introduction, and Suli had him cornered there.  He was backed against the garden wall with his hands held protectively in front of his private parts.  He wasn’t hurt.  But he wasn’t going to risk going anywhere either.

Because although there is supposed to be an essential difference between a guard dog and an attack dog, when a guard dog like Suli decided you were dangerous, the difference seemed highly academic.

December 17, 2008

A dog isn’t just for Christmas

Filed under: Two Kuvasz Dogs: Suli and Dugo — theotheri @ 8:59 pm

We got Suli, our first dog, because we were being terrorized by someone who arrived at night and worked at the door until the burglar alarm went off.  The intrusions stopped in one night after Suli’s arrival.

Getting a dog, however, is not remotely like installing an alarm system.  I grew up on a farm where all our dogs lived outside, which made it a completely different proposition from living with a dog inside.  I thought that once she was housebroken and we had taught her how to heel, the bulk of our training had been achieved.

Suli made it abundantly clear that a relationship with her was not going to be nearly that simple, and it was soon clear that our Ph.D’s were completely inadequate to dealing with this new challenge.   

Suli chewed everything she thought might prove a rival for our affections.  That wasn’t just the odd slipper.  It was our books, a camera case, Peter’s leather gloves, my best winter hat and the student papers I’d bought home to read.  We bought a book by a group of monks who bred dogs in upstate New York, with an entire chapter on how to deal with this jealous possessiveness of our dog.  Within days the book itself was chewed.  But in the end, their advice was effective.  

I wish I could remember either the advice or the name of the book, but we gave it to another grateful dog owner who was struggling with a similar problem.

It wasn’t just Suli, though, who had much more to learn.  So did we.

December 8, 2008

Some things you don’t need science to tell you

Filed under: Two Kuvasz Dogs: Suli and Dugo — theotheri @ 9:26 pm

I read this morning that researchers in a university here in England have concluded that dogs have emotions that are “surprisingly” like humans.

Telling a dog owner that dogs have emotions is a little like telling parents that their children have opinions of their own.  Or maybe that the sun is going to come up tomorrow morning.  Most of us who have ever lived with dogs don’t need research to learn that dogs can be loyal, jealous, sad, surprised, short-tempered, opinionated, intelligent, and in my experience conniving, grateful, and painfully generous.  Our first dog, Suli, for instance, decided that Peter was “top dog” and made it absolutely clear that he belonged to her.  Our second dog, Dugo, would have to settle for me.  And that’s how it worked out.

My first thought was that the research was a waste of money.  But it is less than fifty years since Behaviorists argued that even human thought didn’t exist as a scientific reality.  Experiments were done on animals as if they had no more feeling than a machine.  In fact, the theory was that animals were indeed actually machines whose wiring was simply intrigueingly complex.

So providing evidence of animal behavior that is overwhelmingly like human behavior when we are feeling jealous, angry, generous, frightened, etc. is fairly recent.  And even now, such researchers are often accused of anthropomorphizing, sentimentalizing animals in a way that is not considered “scientific.”

But this new evidence and its interpretation that animals can feel complex emotions isn’t purely theoretical.  It has a practical impact.   It often influences laws in relation to animal treatment.  Animals must be slaughtered humanely, for instance, or given adequate food and shelter, and not treated with wanton cruelty or neglect.

Maybe we do need science to tell us some things.  Even when we already know it.

December 5, 2008

How we got a dog

Filed under: Two Kuvasz Dogs: Suli and Dugo,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 10:25 pm

In the mid- 1970’s,  Peter and I moved from a 5th floor walk-up in New York City into our first house, a townhouse in a Westchester village which looked out from our front door onto 20 acres of protected woods.  We loved it.  Shortly after our arrival, we had a house-warming party for a small group of friends which ended about midnight.

About two a.m. that night, I woke up in stiffling heat and realized I’d forgotten to turn off the central heating.  I started downstairs, which faced directly toward the front door flanked on each side by large transparent windows.  And screamed.   On the other side of the window was a man shining a flashlight on me.  Then our burglar alarm went off.

The scream and the alarm woke Peter from a deep sleep, and as he jumped out of bed, dislocated his shoulder while the man fled.  The burglar alarm was wired directly to the police and within minutes they had arrived.  We told them what had happened, and then I drove Peter to the hospital.  They worked on his shoulder for several excruciating hours, but eventually sent him to surgery to get it back into place.  Unfortunately, they intially worked on the wrong shoulder, but he came home the next afternoon with his arm in a sling.

Two nights later the burglar alarm went off again.  Rumours were circulating in the university department where Peter worked that it was a colleague who was harrassing us.  We didn’t know for sure yet who our terrorizing stalker was but when it happened four more times, we decided to stay in a motel to get some sleep.  Then two friends who had spent years tracking down war criminals set up base in our home.  They turned out the lights and stayed up all night, but our stalker did not arrive.  When they left the next morning they offered Peter an unmarked gun and told him that if he used it to pull the body inside the house before phoning the police.  Peter declined the offer.

By this time we were certain that the stalker was indeed a manic-depressive bully in Peter’s university department.  My brother Tom offered to drop a cement block into the front windshield of his car, with the note saying that the next time the consequences would be personal.  We declined that offer as well. 

But we had a problem. 

Then we remembered my Dad’s dog.  It was an Hungarian breed called a Kuvasz, a fairly large, pure white, guard dog.  Not an attack dog, but a guard dog.  For centuries, only royalty were permitted to own one.

The Kuvasz eliminated the stalking attacks with one visit.  We called her Suli after an African lullaby, because we were able to sleep again after we got her.   She taught us a lot about animals, about fairness, about ourselves and enriched our lives hugely. 

We still miss her.

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