Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Quaker dog-training. How good are we?

My mother's little dog was a very sweet character and good most of the time. There was one thing however about her that puzzled me. Whenever you gave her a command such as "Sit" or "Lie Down,"  she would wait for a moment as if considering the request, then perform the task as if this was a joint decision. For some reason she would always say "Woof" afterwards.

 Over the years I have become very used to rescue dogs, at times very naughty rescue dogs who really push the boundaries while they are with you, and then become destructively devastated when they are not.
It would seem a better character reference to say that my present "personal trainer" was once the kind of dog you see advertised by animal rescue charities as having been badly treated, and who deserves a second chance. Instead however, I have that uncomfortable feeling that even rescue dogs can be very much like their owners. This one with a proud record of extending both my physical and mental endurance, is still quite a rebel, very strong willed and with a great sense of fun. Instead of being a truly deserving case, it would seem most likely to me that she ended up on the streets just through taking herself off- being very naughty. Whether or not we always deserve it, there is compassion about!

Anyway, my mother's King Charles Spaniel had a great sense of self-importance, as would seem fairly typical of the breed. Whenever I see these dogs about, it is so tempting to ask their owners if these "little angels" also answer back. Through living in England, I can imagine these little dogs sitting on plush cushions in a Restoration Court, or even a royal lap, knowing all too well that with a possible exception of his mistresses (of which there were quite a few) they were undoubtedly Charles II's favourite subjects.

A little dog such as this one could well have been present as two plainly dressed women presented their case about Quakers. Charles II listened to Margaret Fell and Ann Curtis explaining why Quakers were loyal subjects even though through loyalty to their conscience it was impossible for them to take an Oath of Allegiance. From their very privileged position these little dogs could look down on all delegates. They already knew how to be socially acceptable, enjoy every possible comfort and get their own way at court.

These days it would seem Quakers are presented with a choice. In the past we would follow certain commands without question, even if this meant loss of property, imprisonment, and considerable personal danger. Now we are more assertive about what we believe to be our rights and so there is the cushioned option.

This transformation would seem to me as being very strange since the authority which spoke to early Quakers hasn't changed. There are still the same Scriptures containing laws and commandments, besides the many available insights of other faiths to enrich our perspective of the truth. At times however there is a tendency among Quakers to re-negotiate their position, so that we can also be like royal dogs, aiming somewhat lower in our search for a pack leader. Although you cannot serve both God and Mamon, it would almost seem at times that Power might also do.

Present day Quakerism may involve a process to consider whether a command suits our present condition, rather than to demonstrate implicit trust in our Master. Even when we are living according to our testimonies, there is a considerable temptation among Quakers to say "Woof" "Did you see that?" "That was our peace testimony!" "Just look what we can do!" Because we are talking about now, people these days people will then scratch us between our ears and say what lovely creatures Quakers can be. Since the world is a wonderful place when everyone likes you, how hard it is to resist rolling over onto your back, getting your tummy tickled and then forgetting entirely what you did to begin with. At times like these, it can be harder to tell the difference between a dog and a cushion.

In the past, Quakers seemed much more reliant on their horses to carry then about the country rather than to take on dog ownership in a big way. This isn't to say that besides companionship dogs didn't have their uses.

Nearly all dogs are acutely aware of a need for leadership and their food source. Perhaps Quaker dogs were also very much like their owners. Nearly everyone was hungry due to the general privations of the time, and their owners were undoubtedly hungry after truth. There might have been dogs living at Swarthmore Hall to guard the property (where's the account book of Sarah Fell when you need it!?) Here they would have identified with the household in some way, knowing that they was something important to defend.

No doubt there were rat catchers, birds that needed scaring away and dogs that brought food for the table because if you happened to live in that household there was always going to be an awareness of what you are up against and then some sense of mission. Although some dogs in those days undoubtedly lived on cushions, being a Quaker has always involved a journey and some kind of adventure.

I wonder if Quakers these days can feel quite the same degree of loyalty to the past. Perhaps we look at all those ancient letters and documents, find them a little hard to decipher, re-negotiate, and then woof having achieved considerably less than we might do.

So where are we now as Quakers? Has obedience to the truth now gone out of fashion? Should we enter dog shows even among other faiths because we still have something to offer? Do we celebrate diversity as you do among dogs, identify our talents and then do the appropriate training. Quakers can be very good at obedience training, jumping through hoops, running along see saws, climbing ramps and wiggling through sticks to help make the world a better place so perhaps we should do this often.

No comments:

Post a Comment