Saturday, January 18, 2014

Street Dog Shows Empathy

In the years I've been observing feral dog behavior in Puerto Rico, I've seen a mother terrorize her six month old daughter with painful bites to teach her to stay away from food even when mom wasn't near. This starving mother behaved ruthlessly.
Piles of kibble well spaced allowed the pup to eat after I demonstrated to her that I could keep mom at bay, which I did by spritzing mom’s paws with vinegar and water. This puppy was close to death from starvation when I first met her, so telling you mom, Blondie, was ruthless, no joke.
Regular feeding of the three resident street dogs gradually decreased Blondie’s food guarding to a less lethal level with occasional spritzing required.
Other strays were soundly routed by resident three with the puppy learning to attack viciously. Two meals a day at the Carr casa attracted street dogs from the area, before long eyes peered out of the tall grass at the edge of my yard with as many as six dogs at a time. The home team worked hard to chase the interlopers away.
One white and lemon starving yearling bitch refused to go no matter how hard they bit her. She would retreat, but not leave. Other dogs were chased off, but returned. The three were a formidable team, but food twice a day! Personally, I've always wondered how some dogs I’d seen over a mile away ended up on my door. Who snitched?
I don’t know what the “right” thing to do was, but I started putting piles of kibble close to each pair of eyes in the grass. The three retreated to protecting the yard. Every time they would chase a dog on one side a dog would dart in from the other to snatch a mouthful of food. The three would have murder in their eyes and force in their bites, packing calories of energy for a fight.
My husband said I was pulling them in to the house, but starving in front of me is not going to happen, most left after a meal or two, with added energy to pursue usual methods of feeding. Home team convinced them. My first encounter with dogs coming out of the grass in volume felt surrealistic like my favorite thing gone wild.

The white and lemon girl now named Snow White hidden in the grass approached the pile of kibble slowly, one stutter step at a time, her head so low it touched the grass. Her tucked tail and lowly haunches spoke to how sorry she was to be there. She gazed at the ground under her waiting to be attacked. So many times Blondie did just that; until I spritzed in her vicinity. For whatever reason, Snow White never ran in to grab a mouthful the way the other dogs did. She humbly, slowly walked up, if she got bit she didn't move, she took it, collapsing on the spot ever closer to the kibble. Most times she would be forced to retreat to the tall grass.
Snow White repeated this behavior until Blondie tolerated her lying down five or six feet away from the kibble. And then one day from the down she rose to a sit with low head and eyes on the ground she sat! Blondie rushed to establish dominance by towering over her in an upright posture, standing on her toes, but didn't just beat the snot out of her as per usual. Snow White looked prepared to drop, but held her sit. Blondie looked like she didn't know what to do, as the two maintained their positions. Snow White was the perfect pacifist. Blondie tired of it and walked over to a pile of kibble. Blondie never seemed to notice that as she walked away, Snow’s haunches rose from the ground. She was two steps closer before Blondie looked at her again. To my surprise Blondie only resumed eating. She had not walked to the closest pile of kibble, but allowed two piles of kibble in between them. Before long Snow crept to the nearest pile, before she could open her mouth. Blondie stood over her growling. Snow froze, Blondie gradually calmed down.
Blondie stepped to the right, obliquely away from Snow White. Blondie lowered her head in the direction of the kibble and Snow began to eat, slowly, cautiously with the tip of her tail swishing low.
Blondie in that moment decided to allow Snow White to eat, no coercion from me. I only intervened to prevent dogs from being wounded.

Was this empathy? Altruism, giving up her kibble? Did she finally think she had enough to share?  

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