I used to have a dog named Belle. I picked her from the litter because she was the cutest little thing you’d ever seen. But as it turns out, she was as dumb as a dog could be.
One thing she never got was the whole potty-training bit. We set up a small corner in our house and laid down some newspaper.
For some reason, she peed there like clockwork. She never made a mistake in that regard, thank God.
But when it came time to poo, it was a 50-50 sort of deal. Sometimes, she’d poo on the newspaper and sometimes, without a shred of rhyme or reason, she pooed in the middle of the room.
We thought this could be hammered out through a combination of positive and negative reinforcement. When she pooed on the newspaper, she got a treat, when she pooed on the carpet, she got a spank.
To us humans, this is just logical. After a while, you figure out, Hey, if I poo here, I get a treat. So I’ll just poo here from now on.
But not Belle.
The poor thing only knew that when it came time to poo, it was a 50-50 chance she would get spanked. She couldn’t figure it out.
How do I know this? Her face.
See, when she pooed, whether it was on the newspaper or in a hidden corner of the house, she looked us straight in the eyes.
Here, she was figuring out if we were mad or proud. When we inevitably discovered her poo, she would stand away at a safe distance (just in case it was spanking time) and looked at us with those beady eyes, a fearful, inquisitive sort of look on her face.
I found this interesting, so I remember I used to just hold her gaze. Then, (if it was spanking time) I’d bellow out an ominous: “BELLLLLEEE” and immediately her tail would go between her legs and she’d try to run away. If it was time for a treat, I’d just smile and she’d run up to me yapping and licking.
What a dumb dog, I used to think.
But I failed to comprehend the sort of hell she must have endured. Just imagine living with the stress of having to poo like any normal mammal, and having it result in some sort of punishment half the time…and not being able to figure out why.
Is it a mark of her intelligence or a result of this sort of stress that prevented her from learning the fine art of potty?
I thought about this the other day as I was working. As some of you know, I work for the United Nations and it is a political beast.
There’s office politics, the politics of climate change, the politics of travel reimbursement, the politics of emails, the politics of global security.
It’s all politics and it has no rhyme or reason.
There are days when I send the most innocuous email to a program officer, only to have it lead to an office-wide meeting about proper procedure.
In Geneva, I spent weeks on organizing a high level launch event. Things went smoothly from my vantage point but in the end, I was criticized for my “water protocol” (aka, I didn’t pour the water correctly for the high-level panelists).
In the height of this sort of stress, my thoughts were with my poor dog Belle, who couldn’t poo without feeling the burden of stress. The release of excrement is the one sacred and private joy we have in our busy lives, and I regret that I ripped that away from her.
In this work environment, I send an email and look to my supervisor with my beady eyes, completely unsure if I’ll be rewarded or spanked.
Is it a knock on my intelligence that I can’t quite figure it out or is it the stress of not being able to poo unencumbered?
They say that after a while, an owner starts looking like their pet.
I dunno…Do you see a resemblance?