Primitive Culture Killed My Cat


Update: Read the unfortunate January update to this story: What Became of the Dog That Killed Matit (and What It Means for Kalavan).

Society: a highly structured system of human organization for large-scale community living that normally furnishes protection, continuity, security, and a national identity for its members.

This month opened with one of the most traumatic days of my life that I can remember. On October 1st, my neighbor's large brown and white dog came onto my property early in the morning and attacked and killed my blind cat, Matit, by breaking her back in its mouth. The dog then ran off with her body down my driveway toward its house, and I was forced to pursue on foot to recover her body and attempt to save her. But the deed was done. I could do nothing but sit and weep over the corpse of the creature that, perhaps, I loved most in this world.

For the full story of exactly what happened that day and how it has affected me, you can read the account on my personal website: Matit Deserved to Exist.

Last week, I buried Matit beneath a large tree she loved to climb behind my house. I've almost always had a rather stoic and transient approach to the present, past, and future. I make it my mission to accept changes, whether positive or negative, to the best of my ability as they occur. Indeed, accepting this sudden and terrible change was one of the first thoughts in my mind as I held Matit's body just minutes after she died: "I have to accept this new reality I am living in, one where she is no longer an experience but only a memory for me."

But I deliberately treated her burial with great care, demarcating the place where her body went with stones and a sign fixed upon the tree that reads "A Memory of Something Perfect that Deserves to Persist." That's all she can ever be for me now: a memory worth holding onto in the hopes that it will continue to positively impact me as I carry it forward in my life.

The morning that I buried Matit, I called the killer dog's owner over to my house to have a serious discussion about the responsibility he bore for his dog taking something I loved out of this world. What struck me most about the conversation was that he did not see his dog's actions as a problem, necessarily. It's not that he was unsympathetic. He could tell by the way I presented the story of what happened to the cat I had raised from sick and blind stray kitten how much she meant to me, even if it was not a sentiment that he or his peers typically shared toward a pet. He knew that my sorrow and loss were genuine. But he still seemed to take the position that this type of violent behavior was to be expected from dogs and that there was nothing he or any other dog owner in the village could or should be expected to do to change it.

As he was saying this, my own dog, Popoke, was nursing Matit's three kittens who survived her. Popoke seemed to volunteer to take over the position of mother in Matit's absence, even though the kittens were already more than old enough for weaning. I don't recall seeing them nurse on Popoke at any time while Matit was still alive, in any case.

Popoke and her puppies reside outside in my fenced-in area, in the direct presence of my cats, ducks, rabbits, and chickens. All these manners of creature, predator and prey alike, have been reared to live in harmony at my home. That is the order I have intentionally cultivated and worked to protect as a conscious goal as part of my presence in Kalavan village. I gestured down toward Popoke and told my neighbor, "This is what a good dog looks like, just so you know. This is a dog that will never randomly attack or kill something, no matter how big or small it is, unless it invades her property and she perceives it to be a threat to herself, her puppies, or any of the other animals under her care."

Popoke was born at my house two years ago during my first winter here. Her mother, Penduk, was a stray who showed up shortly after I moved in and began refurbishments on the house. Penduk seemed friendly but abused and anxious, so I took pity on her and started feeding her. And though Penduk was generally a wonderful dog who seemed to be adapting well to the comforts of domesticated life, it was only a matter of time before reports came back to me that she had been opportunistically killing neighbors' chickens from time to time.

It didn't matter that she had a home and was well-fed now. The killer survival instinct had already gotten into Penduk from her time as a stray, long before she ever met me. Being a good dog 99% of the time wasn't good enough. The risk would always be too great that she could attack and kill another animal. I made the responsible choice for the sake of my social and ecological environment to give her away because I knew there was no way she could safely continue to be present in Kalavan, a village full of pets and livestock, without disrupting the order of the local society. Yet, as I have learned through this terrible tragedy that befell poor defenseless Matit, people in Kalavan, as a rule, seem to accept that it is ok for their dogs to kill each other's pets and livestock from time to time. Dogs will be dogs, after all.

The important thing to note here and my purpose for confronting the owner in the first place is that it would not solve the problem, in principle, just to remove the lone offending dog that happened to be the one to kill Matit. The killer dog's behavior is a product of the standards of his human owners, which, in turn, is a product of the standards of his peers and neighbors. It's a self-replicating broken system. When enough people in the local environment consciously choose a higher state of order to hold themselves accountable to, these types of tragedies won't have to happen anymore.

That's what we call achieving a higher state of civilization. Culture progresses exactly as fast as people require or demand it to. When enough people make the conscious decision to hold themselves and those they interact with to a higher standard, the collective standard raises. There is no other way to do it, except by brute force, dictatorship, and violence.

Imagine if I had attempted to solve the problem presented to me by, for example, killing the dog that killed Matit. Bear in mind that for the purpose of this illustration, doing so would have nothing to do with enacting some sense of revenge. I am perfectly aware that the dog is not a murderer. It cannot consciously choose to kill, and it cannot understand the value of the life it has taken. Holding a personal grudge against it makes no sense. Killing it would simply be a defensive means to an end: ensuring that it would be impossible for it to ever harm mine or anyone else's animals again. Death is the most secure way to permanently neutralize a known threat.

If I had chosen to kill the dog that killed Matit, it would absolutely have ended the incidental threat the dog continued to pose. But it would not have solved the systemic cultural problem that allowed that dog to be a killer in this village in the first place. That problem has its origin in the minds of the humans who live here and tolerate the threat created by each other's negligent behavior. There would still be the threat of another killer dog rising up to take its place.

Consider that everyone in Kalavan is keenly aware of the threat that wolves (i.e., wild dogs) pose to their animals. They don't hesitate to shoot wolves on the occasion that they come into the village for an easy meal by killing someone's pig or chicken. The residents of Kalavan take whatever reasonable efforts they can to build defensive barriers around their animals and eliminate incidental threats as they occur. They do this because they have no viable means by which to fix the source of the problem itself. Nothing they can do will permanently stop hungry wolves from continuing to sometimes take the chance of going after an easy meal of their livestock or pets. So, everyone clearly knows that it reasonable to use force to stop a known threat to their property and loved ones.

At first, I asked the owner of the dog to do the responsible thing and get rid of it by selling it or giving it away to someone outside the village, as that would be the only way to permanently end the threat it posed to everyone's animals. He countered by saying he could just keep the dog tied up during the day, but he would still let it loose at night, meaning it would still be free to run around the village killing at will. He recommended that I just keep all my animals inside during each night so that there would be no way for his dog to attack them. I told him firmly that protecting my animals from his dangerous dog was not my responsibility. As its owner, he must take accountability for the destructive and chaotic effects of keeping it. It was his responsibility to make sure his dog did not harm others.

"But Gregory. That's just the way dogs are. They kill things and get into fights. Either of my other two dogs would do the same thing."

"Then you have three dangerous dogs that pose a threat to all your neighbors. The only responsible thing for you to do is to get rid of them and only keep dogs that have proven they are safe to be around the animals in Kalavan. Dangerous dogs are incompatible with villages full of animals. That's just a fact."

I can only imagine how condescending what I said must have seemed to him. Who was I to tell him how life in an Armenian village ought to work? He'd been a rural farmer his whole life. I just moved here three years ago with my newfangled and highfalutin Western sense of culture and order. Goshdarnit, his grandfather kept dangerous killer dogs, and so did his father, and now surely he would too. It's the Armenian way, and that's the way he likes it! This is what I imagine was going through his head, anyway. It is even common for dog owners in rural low-income situations like this to intentionally underfeed them because they believe it makes them more alert and aggressive. I can only assume that the dog's intention was to eat Matit, hence its attempt to carry her body back to its home.

I then told him that I was going to make it as easy as possible for him to make the right choice and do the responsible thing while the option was still available to him. Since the dog is part Armenian Gampr, there's a good chance someone will pay money for it. I could help him take pictures, post them online, and find a buyer for the dog. Additionally, I would gladly give him one of Popoke's puppies as soon as they are big enough to got to new homes as a replacement. He makes some money and gets a free dog. That's about the best he can possibly hope for in this situation.

The alternative is that I will start handing out flyers around the village with pictures of his dog, warning all neighbors that it has been seen killing small animals and repeatedly returning to properties where it has killed before to try again. All residents of Kalavan should take whatever means necessary to defend their homes and animals, just as they would from wolves and other dangerous wild creatures. I gave a copy of one of these flyers that I had already designed and printed at home. In my experience, Armenians respond far more strongly to public condemnation and destruction of their reputation than they do to individual criticism.

The implication was clear to my neighbor. Now that we've had an eyewitness to the dog killing a cat on someone else's property, it would certainly just be a matter of time before a vigilant neighbor somewhere in Kalavan spotted the same thing happening again. In fact, it was quite likely that this dog has killed before but that no one ever happened to be present to directly witness it. Even I barely made it out of bed in time to catch it in the act of killing Matit.

Most of the people here own guns and are accustomed to shooting wolves when they come to attack their animals. How long does he think it will be before someone here kills that dog, either pre-emptively since they now know it is a threat or as a direct result of the next attack? Indeed, what does he think I will do the next time his dangerous dog returns to my property? What would he do in my situation?

The point was made. There is no future in which that dog remains in this village. He can do the responsible thing and find a new home for it now, in the process making some money, getting a new dog for free in return, and sparing the inevitable conflict that will arise with the rest of the village once they suspect his dog is responsible for their missing animals. Or he can wait for the inevitable next attack and for someone somewhere to take matters into their own hands. The choice was his. But the standard for acceptable dog behavior in Kalavan could not remain the same as before. It was time to upgrade and evolve to a higher state of culture and civilization.

"Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Übermensch—a rope over an abyss."
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

I will forever remain deeply saddened that it took a sacrifice of a creature I cared about so much to initiate what will likely be, at best, a long drawn-out change in the culture of Kalavan regarding acceptable animal behavior. But I also know that without that loss, I would not have had the incentive or prompt necessary to have difficult conversations and risk rocking the boat by holding my neighbors accountable to a higher standard of action. I've received anecdotal reports of the same neighbors being negligent and not seeming to care when their pigs invade and ruin other people's gardens. They don't care because they can afford not to. The costs required to do something have been until now still greater than the consequences of doing nothing about it. Someone has to be the first to say "no more," to accept that chaos is unacceptable and call others out on their negligence. This is the only way that culture and society at any scale move forward.

Is it possible that my actions and demands regarding this matter will backfire on me, that they will further alienate me from my neighbors and contribute to a negative public reputation for Kalavan? Yes, obviously. But that is the risk that iconoclasts play by pointing out the flaws that no one else sees and making the demands that no one else has the moxie for. The alternative is to accept that dogs will be dogs and Armenian villagers will be Armenian villagers. Accepting the primitive state of their culture regarding respect for each others' pets and property ensures that no one of a higher standard of culture will ever be able to safely associate with them. Their standard of living and thinking will remain firmly where it has been for the longest time.

If Kalavan's publicly promoted mission is to be believed, the people in charge here wish for the village to reach a state of economic self-determination and advance to a state of increased and sustainable human welfare for existing residents, their children, and those like me who identify with such values and undertake the effort to relocate here. For any of that to happen and last, the village's reputation must be grounded in the truth, not wishful thinking and a pleasant veneer for the press.

When one person takes the initiative to start picking up the trash that others have just grown accustomed to having strewn around in public places, it may only be a matter of time before more litter is carelessly tossed there to take its place. But if enough people adopt and uphold the same standard, the unconsious expectations of the culture begins to improve. I will be the first to delcare that the time has come to ensure the safety of our pets and property in Kalavan. It is a standard I now refuse to back down from, regardless of whatever negative effects it might bring me. It is the least I can do for Matit in memory of everything she meant to me.

Our homes exist to protect and maintain the things we accumulate and care about. The home is where we should feel most safe in the world, the place of least surprise and insecurity. Out in the untamed nature of the wild, anything can and will happen because no one has come along to cultivate a system of order and control over every natural force that acts out there without discretion. Every plant and animal in the wild is opportunistic. It acts for its own immediate gain without respect for the long-term effects of its actions and who will be affected. The point of society and civilization is to overcome these limitations by creating mutual systems of respect, support, and protection. But these systems only work to the extent that we participate in them with people who reciprocate back to us.

There are still two other large and dangerous white dogs I've seen around Kalavan since I moved here. Everyone seems keenly aware of the fact that if these two dogs ever come into close proximity with each other, they will violently tear into each other. I've seen it happen on my property, in front of the school where young children play and learn, and in the middle of the road numerous times over the last three years. Both dogs are usually bloody by the end of each encounter, sometimes with chunks of flesh missing from their faces. Everyone seems to be of the same mind about the issue: "That's just what male dogs do. Just try to avoid them when they do that. Hopefully, they won't accidentally or intentionally ever do something like that to a child or other animal." The owners of the dogs don't care about the threat they pose, and no one has thought to hold them to a higher standard. As long as this kind of violence and barbarism are the accepted cultural standard, Kalavan's future is limited. I say "no more."

Create your website for free!