BOOKS: Girl On A Leash

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1999:

Girl On A Leash:
The Healing Power of Dogs
by Betty Lim King
Sanctuary Press (1114 Applegate Ct.,
Lenoir, NC 28645), 1999.
224 pages, paperback, $19.95.

“Every religious, racial, age, ethnic,
and gender group builds a wall to protect
what it believes sets it apart from other
groups and makes it superior,” Asian scholar
and dog rescuer Betty Lim King observes
toward the end of her memoir Girl On A
Leash. “Unfortunately, such verities and
myths not only exclude but often demean
those who are different.”

Of Chinese ancestry but raised as a
Roman Catholic in the Philippines, Betty
Lim King in early life admired and envied
the indifference of dogs to human distinctions
of class and gender, and the freedom
that dogs enjoyed relative to herself and four
sisters. Traditional Chinese culture was
always before them in the often cruel behavior
of their grandmother, whose feet had
been bound, was permanently hobbled in
consequence, spitefully scarred the eldest
sister’s face for crying as a colicky infant,
and often told the girls they were worthless.
Their parents––a wartime love
match––broke from their heritage to the
extent they could, encouraging and assisting
the girls to then rare academic achievement.
Only dogs, however, seemed to
know how to be happy or give joy.
As Lim King and her sisters pursued
their education abroad, eventually settling
in three different nations, and as Lim
King herself became even more peripatetic
through marriage to a U.N. diplomat, dogs
rather than culture, community, or career
became Lim King’s major stabilizing influence.
To considerable extent they also vicariously
represented her. A student by
nature, in time she became a student o f
nature, too, and began allowing her dogs to
teach as well as comfort and amuse her.
“One needs to be empowered, not
hobbled by mindless leashes,” Lim King
eventually observes. “One has to be proactive
and make changes, take decisive
action,” not just in rebellion but toward
building different relationships.
Being human, she could take that
idea farther than a dog could––and did.
“One day,” she continues, “I was
precipitously impelled toward a new turning
point: I became vegetarian. It was a long
drawn-out struggle, because as a Chinese
gourmand I used to eat everything edible,
and to a Chinese very few things in this
world are not.”
Among many self-liberating experiences,
each bringing new burdens of obligation
as well, becoming vegetarian seemed
to bring the most insight and happiness––
and, despite the inevitable difficulty it
brought with her family, it also seemed to
help bring about new mutual acceptance.
“I now wear proudly and fondly a
new leash,” Lim King concludes. “It binds
me to every sentient being on this planet. I
shall keep it on for as long as I live.”

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