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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Cowboy Meets Nala

Anytime something interesting happens outside, I share the footage with Bow.

The most interesting thing that happened yesterday was a chance meeting between Nala the kitten and Cowboy, the neighbor dog.

I was just out there enjoying the wildflowers by the fence and watching the insects that buzzed and fluttered around them.

The kitten, Nala, has taken to following me wherever I go, and on hot days, she naps in the shade while I chase butterflies.

While I was on the lookout for Monarchs, and searching between the blooms of the bidens artistosa, along came Cowboy, the neighbor dog.

Everybody in the neighborhood knows Cowboy by name, and we all accept him on our land, because he is an exceptionally well mannered dog. He does not chase livestock. He does not tease my dogs, and in general he seems to understand the rules of civilized behavior. But Nala had never met him before, and she was very defensive.

It took quite a few minutes before the standoff was over. Cowboy was friendly, but he did not force himself on Nala. He just circled her at a discreet distance, with his tail wagging.

Eventually, a truce was established. Nala rested in the shade, and Cowboy stayed far away from her.

This arrangement left me the time to watch a Monarch butterfly on my side of the fence as it made its way to the other side.

Should dogs be allowed to roam free, even when they are owned? It depends on the dog. If he is well behaved, why not? There was a time when all dogs roamed free, and when they behaved badly they were shot. This left only well behaved dogs roaming the streets, the fields and the pastures.

It seems counter-intuitive, but a laissez faire policy -- both toward the dogs and towards the people who have to defend their property from unruly dogs -- is ultimately much more humane and results in a much happier situation for both dogs and humans than a policy of zero tolerance for strays and zero tolerance for property owners defending what is theirs with a gun.

I saw a situation where strays wandered free when I lived in Taiwan: The Strays of Tamsui. The dogs were well behaved and would not even accept food from a stranger on the street. They stayed well clear of passers-by, and they never formed hostile bands. Some people that I spoke to about how idyllic this situation was told me I was naive. There had been great cruelty to dogs that led to this well behaved population of strays. I was not being naive. I understood that a balance has to be struck.

I understand that dogs can form gangs. I have seen this with my own eyes here on my land. I have had one dog killed by other dogs, and I have had to stand my ground and defend against attacking dogs, long before there was an animal shelter in this county. I am not naive.

But here is the takeaway: if you want to be able to allow nice dogs like Cowboy to roam, you need to take the risk that every once in a while, a stray may have to be shot by a landowner. This is part of the process that creates a balance. Balance is not some kind of hippy notion of peace and flowers. Balance means the give and take that allows us to move freely among others, with each individual respecting the rights of others. If you take away all the guns and the freedom of motion, that balance can never be established. And that's true about free range children, too, and maybe someday chimpanzees as well.

After all, we did the same with humans in general. We didn't just miraculously become more enlightened until it became safe to walk among strangers in peace. We just culled out those among us with the more violent tendencies. Sometimes people forget that.


  1. Does Nala's name have a special significance? I just want to know how kitten came to be called Nala.

    1. My daughter named the kitten Nala when I told her that we had a kitten on the property on her birthday. It was a kind of birthday present to her, as she has always wanted a cat, but I am allergic to them.

      I think she chose the name from a character in the Lion King.