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Columnist — Kathy Bradley

Losing friends: Animal and human

A couple of months ago Lily and Tamar got into a terrible fight. It was Saturday night. We took them, in separate vehicles, to the animal emergency room, driving the 20 miles into town with all kinds of fear and trepidation that the vast amounts of blood spread all over Mama and Daddy’s deck and laundry room were an indication of horrible, horrible injuries.
    As it turned out, though they both had to stay the night, the only serious wound was one on Lily’s left front leg that required stitches.
    Once we got them home, we undertook a complex logistical effort to make sure that the two of them had no contact with each other. One got to play in the yard in the morning, the other in the afternoon. After years of sharing a bed, the two were banished to not just separate rooms, but separate houses. It was exhausting.
    And emotionally draining. These two dogs have been bosom buddies for nearly six years. With the exception of four or five incidents involving bared teeth, otherworldly growling and bites that drew blood, they were completely simpatico. They cried for each other when they were separated. They chased deer and rabbits and squirrels in tandem. They began each morning licking each other’s faces as though to reassure themselves that all was right with the world.
    When I took Lily back to Saint Buddy to get the stitches removed I asked him what we could do about the problem. He presented me with a copy of a scholarly article on "intraspecies female aggression" and warned me that what I was going to read would not make me happy.
    He was right. The experts say that IFA, as I’ve come to call it, is not an unusual problem. There were explanations about canine society and the necessity of an alpha dog, warnings about trying to treat dogs equally as one would people and suggestions about behavior modification.
    The experts’ conclusion was that IFA is not easily solvable. In fact, they wrote, it is unlikely, once IFA has been introduced into the relationship, that the two dogs can ever be trusted with each other again.
    It made me sad.
    And it made me even sadder to think of the human application. It didn’t take me long to think of more than a handful of relationships, mine and other people’s (and not limited to females, thank you very much), that had gone from close and loving and attached-at-the-hip to distant and cruel and vicious. And, like the veterinary experts said, most of those relationships cannot be healed.
    With dogs the aggression is instinctual and arises from fear. We humans, with our advanced brains and social connections, are supposed to live beyond the reach of instinct and, yet, it occurs to me that the source of all those broken relationships can, in one way or another, be traced back to fear. Fear of loss, fear of separation, fear of fear.
    We’re working with Lily and Tamar, carefully reintroducing them to each other. When I take Lily up to Mama and Daddy’s each morning I hold her leash tightly and allow her and Tamar to touch noses through the wooden gate on the deck. We’ve even taken a couple of long walks, one on a leash, one loose, making sure that a safe distance between the two is maintained.
    Neither one gets so much as a pat on the head until she responds to a command of, "Sit!"
    Will it work? Will they somehow figure out the parameters of their relationship and learn the behavior that will allow them to once again run freely over hundreds of acres together? I don’t know.
    What I do know is that every time I look at them, separated by barriers that they created themselves, I see not just their faces, but human faces. And it makes me want to cry.

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