Meet Flora. She's three years old and of the canine variety; full of attitude, rebellion and halitosis laden affection. Physically, she's somewhere between Brian May and King Charles II; she's all shaggy black ears and fluff. She is trained to sit, stay, come, fetch and find, which makes her sound terribly clever and makes me sound really competent. Alas, while Flora may be trained to do these simple commands, she also has an iron will and getting her to do them when I want her to is sometimes a challenge.
Flora doesn't really respect the fact that she's a dog. Flora thinks she's a person; one of us, and my daily challenge is to get her to understand this simple, unequivocal biological fact and be at one with her doggy-ness. Flora attempts to usurp my children every day; it is her mission to climb to the top of the familial tree, confound the hierarchy and take her place on my knee. Mini insurrections occur daily; rampant food thievery and sofa jumping are just two of her methods for familial dominance. She loves my husband but has overwhelming disregard for his authority, and the one and only time I have ever heard her be aggressive was when he forcibly removed her from my knee. She adores me with a fierce and enthusiastic loyalty that remains unquenched, no matter how cross I am with her, no matter how much I push her away. She returns time and again, to mutely plead with her huge, liquid brown eyes, that manage to say so eloquently, "just let me be near you...let me sit with you...I love you."
It's humbling to admit, but Flora probably does love me more than anyone else (and trust me, I am blessed by love in my house) as her love is more unconditional than that of a baby for it's mama; I think I could starve Flora, and she'd still come wagging her tail when I walk in the room. She is my constant companion and is probably my best friend.
This year Flora had puppies, and whether it was the hormonal turbulence of the pregnancy and aftermath or just a maturing and general wisening up, I'm not sure, but since then, Flora has been distinctly anti-men. She growls and barks when they come near her, and the bigger and more manly the man (read: louder) the more she barks.
What does Flora know that I don't? I've wracked my brains and I still don't know the cause of Flora's rampant Misandry. All is know is that somewhere along the line, men became a threat...men became the enemy. And it's no use me pointing out to her that, "it's not all men, Flora," because she'd just look at me like I'm an idiot because, quite frankly, that is beside the point. And it doesn't make any difference, because she clearly wants to warn me about something...and anyone reading the news, any day of the week, can see what that might be.
At the beginning of October, one story in particular resonated with me. A woman walking her dog early in the morning in Salford, was dragged into some bushes and raped. This poor woman's plight struck me because not a day goes by when I'm out walking with Flora that I don't worry, however fleetingly, that I might not be safe. That the beautiful woods where we frequently take our late afternoon stroll might not be harbouring a strange man behind the trees. That the winding and isolated cycle-paths where we walk are sometimes too quiet...too isolated for me to fully enjoy the tranquility without feeling a flicker of fear if I see a lone man approaching me.
Am I paranoid? Hell yes. But then, stories about men raping women do tend to have that effect on me. So I'm cautious about where I go and I'm careful to not be out when it's dark or too early in the morning. Indeed, this appears to be savvy advice; a way to live by and not get raped while out walking your dog. One of the police officers who was investigating the Salford rapist had this advice for local women:
"I would urge people to take extra care, remain vigilant and be aware of their surroundings.”
Sound advice surely, but aside from the fact that this presupposes the notion that the victim in this case somehow wasn't paying attention, it also doesn't really make it clear what we're supposed to be vigilant about. If I'm out walking with Flora, I am hyper-aware of my surroundings. I love my surroundings; they are the reason I live in this area and walking Flora amidst beautiful surroundings is one of the pleasures of my life.
I walk...I pray...I am aware of my surroundings.
My surroundings can't hurt me. The trees and bushes that I walk amongst can't assault me. The wildflowers and lonely footpaths, and the twisting stream will not - can not - rape me.
It is men who rape.
It was a man who raped this woman. It is men who rape that I am afraid of when I am walking with Flora in the woods, and I heartily resent being made to fear my environment. This is my world, as much as it is anyone else's, and I sometimes reflect on how wonderful and freeing it would be to walk with Flora in the moonlight or very early in the morning. I'm too chicken to do it though; I'm actually too scared to fully own my environment, and that is the depressing truth.
The next time I'm out with Flora, I'll try to be a bit more understanding the next time she embarrasses me by barking incessantly if a fellow (male) dog walker says hello. I'll try to be less irritated the next time she growls and shrinks away from the kindly old fella who tries to befriend her every time we meet. I just need to accept Flora for who she is.
My dog is a misandrist. And reading the papers these days, you can understand why.