“Dog” is “God” spelled backward
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2001:
The animal dimensions of the September 11 terrorist
hijackings of jetliners and mass murders at the World Trade Center,
the Pentagon, and Somerset County, Pennsylvania, were as evident
as the search-and-rescue dogs sent to each scene to help find
survivors and remains, the bomb-sniffing dogs at airports whose
numbers suddenly seem all too few, and the many pets in transit who
were held overnight in air terminals when their flights were grounded.
Many stranded people probably wished they could hug a dog or
cat during the 30-to-48 hours before air travel resumed, and many of
the animals would have welcomed the attention, but there was no way
for anyone to make pet-sharing arrangements.
Messages of concern and condolence came immediately from
animal people around the world. Among the first to respond, with
sympathy making even broken English eloquent, were many residents of
nations which have also suffered recent terrorism.
Hundreds of ANIMAL PEOPLE readers, sources, and advertisers
were directly affected. All staff of the American SPCA survived
without physical injury, ASPCA AnimalWatch editor Marion Lane said,
but many suffered losses of family and friends.
“My sister was a flight attendant on American Airlines flight
11, which was the first to strike the twin towers,” ASPCA
president Larry Hawk said.
Three weeks after driving her daughter to a university
dormitory near the World Trade Center, Friends of Animals president
Priscilla Feral was relieved to hear by cell phone that she had
survived without serious injury, despite thick smoke filling the
building, but both mother and daughter had a harrowing day.
Evacuation of the dorm residents to a temporary shelter in Greenwich
Village was at last achieved at dusk.
“I work two blocks from the World Trade Center, next to the
Center for Animal Care and Control, so I am sure they are okay,”
Elizabeth Forel reported. “We always have an office meeting at 8:30
am. Shortly after it began we heard a loud explosion. One woman
thought it did not sound good. She looked out the window and said
people were running. Two minutes later one of the other people came
into the room and said that a plane had crashed into the WTC. I got
on the phone to a friend who has a view of the buildings. As we were
talking she said that she saw another plane. The rest is history.”
Soon Forel, like thousands of others, was waiting in line
to donate blood and seeking other ways to help.
North Shore Animal League America operations director Perry
Fina saw the World Trade Center disaster on his way to work. Among
the last commuters to cross the Whitestone bridge before it was
closed, Fina bunked for the duration at the North Shore adoption
shelter, with other staff, who followed a disaster plan previously
practiced during severe snow storms. North Shore president John
Stevenson told ANIMAL PEOPLE that many family and friends of North
Shore personnel worked at the World Trade Center.
Nancy Wedlock, New York representative for DELTA Rescue,
often has business in the vicinity, but stayed on Long Island on
September 11. She picked up her daughter from a high school whose
students include hundreds of children of people who work at the World
Trade Center, many of whom feared they had lost one or both parents.
“Considering the magnitude of this disaster and its human
toll, the [immediate] animal toll is minimal,” observed Livi
French of The Caring Corps. But for animals the toll could rise,
French warned. “More likely there will be orphaned animals waiting
at home, all over the city and throughout the Tri-State region,
waiting for guardians who were killed. We don’t know who the victims
are–and may not know for days or weeks.”
French appealed to news media to ask “family, friends and
neighbors of the missing to pitch in and feed and take care of the
The animal dimensions of the story reach beyond the dead,
injured, missing, and frightened and grieving families. It is not
coincidence that political fanaticism tends to occur in the same
places as official intolerance of street dogs–and often of cats as
By natural inclination most dogs and cats are an easy-going
lot. They come in a much greater range of colors, shapes, and
sizes than most animals, not only because of human intervention in
their breeding choices, but also because they readily accept as
mates and companions other creatures who do not look exactly like
them–and undoubtedly did for millions of years before human
ancestors lost their tails and began to walk upright.
ANIMAL PEOPLE has logged more than 500 documented cases of
dogs and cats exercising heroism and compassion on behalf of other
species during the past 10 years, not counting the deeds of trained
service dogs. With the North Shore Animal League America, sponsor
of the Lewyt Award for Heroic and Compassionate Animals, we honor 10
dogs and cats per year for such actions, but their acts represent
those of countless others.
Many heroic and compassionate dogs and cats respond to the
distress of complete strangers, like the dog who on August 26
plunged into the overflowing Gandak River near Patijirwa, India, to
save two drowning boys.
“Sources told the Times News Network that the dog swam in and
swam out with the boys on her back, fighting the strong current,”
The Times of India reported. “While politicians jostle for media
space with a war of words over flood relief, the stray village dog
remains anonymous. Heroes, it is said, are known not by their
names but by their deeds.”
Cats, being smaller, less often physically extract humans
and other animals from danger–but instances of mother cats nursing
orphans of other cats and even of other species are not only common
but counted upon by many zoos and wildlife rescue centers, who
depend on nursemaid cats to suckle young animals of all kinds whose
own mothers cannot or will not nurse them.
In this behavior, hens too deserve a mention, as the
willing and able universal surrogate mothers of every avian species.
Students of animal-and-human relationships have begun to
recognize that dogs almost certainly domesticated humans, not the
other way around, as Santa Fe archaeologist Dody Fugate and Colorado
State University researcher Jennie Willis explained in April 2000 to
the annual convention of the American Association for the Advancement
of Science. Long before humans or even human-like ancestors evolved,
Fugate and Willis said, wild canines had already developed the pack
structure which became more-or-less the model for the social
structure of advanced primates, including humans.
It is possible that dogs were already traveling with,
foraging with, and protecting humans from other carnivores even
before humans learned to use fire.
The capacity of dogs for befriending and looking after
advanced primates other than humans has been observed by Jane
Goodall, who describes numerous instances of dogs inviting the
acquaintance of captive chimpanzees, and says she is aware of one
case of a dog adopting an orphaned monkey in the wild.
One way or another, the legend of the wolf-reared twins
Romulus and Remus founding the ancient Roman civilization had
antecedents in the creation myths of India, Persia, tribes native
to the Philippines, and the Shawnee of North America, as Douglas
Gordon of Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia,
related in the March/April 2001 edition of Best Friends Magazine.
Within view of the smoke from the World Trade Center,
Interborough Rapid Transit archaeologist William L. Calver about 100
years ago discovered ceremonial burials of dogs alongside the Harlem
River. Explained Celestine Bohlen in the August 18, 2001 edition of
The New York Times, “The Native Americans who lived in upper
Manhattan between A.D. 1000 and 1500 shared a belief still held by
their descendants, the modern Delaware living in Oklahoma, that
dogs have a special role as their masters’ guardians.”
The role of cats as protectors of humans came later, yet
appears to have been an essential precursor of the development of
civilization: agrarian societies could not horde grain effectively
without cats, whose remains have been discovered in proximity to
most of the earliest known civilizations not only in Egypt, where
they came to be revered, but throughout Asia. The Vikings acquired
cats and took them aboard their longboats as necessary adjuncts to
their introduction of maritime conquest and commerce to northern
Europe and North America. In South America, the rise of the Inca
civilization coincided with the use of small wild cats to protect
granaries. The domestication process was not completed to the extent
that it was in Africa, Asia, and Europe. After capturing the Inca
granaries, the Spanish brought domestic housecats to take over the
In evolutionary terms, humans appear to be post-pubescents,
just discovering and testing newly gained strength, only beginning
to develop mature judgement and appreciation of other beings–and
just in time, as our reproductive capacity threatens to overwhelm
ourselves and our whole environment. Our relations with other
species are still largely characterized, as throughout our history,
by infantile selfishness, cruelties done from ignorance, and some
deliberate cruelty done by way of venting frustration and
Yet we are growing in perception and empathy, partly through
the scientific discovery of our kinship to other species, partly
through the growth of a global humane movement, partly from
expanding recognition that we have become so powerful that we could
destroy all creation. Among our key discoveries in terms of
developing the capacity to recognize and interdict interpersonal
violence is that juvenile cruelty to animals tends to precurse adult
violence toward fellow humans–and as ANIMAL PEOPLE often points out,
this pertains to whole societies as well as individuals.
We believe it is no accident that in the U.S., violent crime
dropped, violent child-rearing methods fell from vogue,
participation in sport hunting declined by half, and the disposal of
“surplus” dogs and cats through shelter killing plummeted by 75% all
at the same time during the past 20 years.
Likewise we believe it is no accident that despots including
the Chinese Communists, the mullahs of Iran, the brutal Bucharest
mayor Trian Basescu, the “war veterans” invading Zimbabwean wildlife
preserves at behest of quasi-dictator Robert Mugabe, and the goondas
who rule some districts in India and Sri Lanka through the bought
votes of illiterates all routinely demonstrate their power by
bludgeoning, shooting, or poisoning dogs. In medieval Europe the
Inquisition intimidated critics by burning cats and witches.
Like Christian and Orthodox Jewish creationists, the Islamic
fundamentalists believed to be responsible for the September 11
disasters deny evolution from animal origins, claiming direct
kinship only with God.
Yet ubiquitous within myth and literature, including the
holy books of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam, are
stories of a god or representatives of a god coming to Earth
disguised to test the better qualities of humankind. Usually these
emissaries give a sign, unnoticed except by the genuinely good, of
their true identity and the nature of their mission. With such
stories in mind, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary cofounder Michael
Mountain likes to point out that in English, the most-spoken
language in the world, “dog” is “god” spelled backward.
To many devout, especially Islamic fundamentalists who in
Iran and elsewhere have incorporated intolerance of dogs into
religious teaching, this notion is blasphemy. Religious authorities
from the Vatican to the Taliban have recently rebuked dog and cat
lovers for giving animals the devotion which they say should go to
people and/or God–by which they mostly mean humans should obey the
decrees that clerics proclaim in the name of God. Yet if an almighty
power from beyond were to judge humanity, our conduct toward the
fellow species most willingly helpful to us would be the logical
place to begin.
It is easy to imagine dogs as emissaries of the divine,
walking among us like the angels in ancient texts, testing the
character of people. Dogs provide an almost perfect moral test for
humans, in that they are in all places and are so easily vicitmized.
In most nations of the world there are no consequences for committing
even the most heinous acts against dogs. The only impediment to
cruelty is the goodness within each human heart.
One can also imagine the concept of infinite, unconditional
love emerging from the forgiving nature of the dog, and that the
purr of the cat echoes the “music of the spheres” that Buddhists try
to replicate with the chant of “om.”
But it must also be said that if God was a dog, or a cat,
September 11 might have passed without calamity.