Transcript

480:

Animal Sacrifice
Transcript

Originally aired 11.30.2012

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/480

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Noah, Abraham, King Solomon-- they all sacrificed animals, right? That's just the way they did it in the Old Testament. That's how you worshipped God. And the Old Testament is pretty unambiguous that this is God's very favorite way for people to worship. Exodus says that we're supposed to continue doing this "for generations to come."

Deuteronomy warns us against worshipping in other ways, quote, "detestable ways that God hates. See that you do all I command you. Do not add to it or take away from it."

So as a kid going to Hebrew school in suburban Baltimore, I never understood why we weren't doing this for God, how we got off the hook from animal sacrifice, the thing that he specifically said was the very best way to show our feelings for him. And it wasn't until this week that I finally learned the reason that we were off the hook. And the reason turns out to be astonishingly simple. Here's a scholar from Boston University named Jonathan Klawans, who is deeply over-qualified to answer this question.

Jonathan Klawans

The book of Deuteronomy actually also makes very clear that the only legitimate place for sacrifice is in the place where the Lord God will choose.

Ira Glass

And the place that God chose was the temple in Jerusalem. When that was destroyed back in the year 70, it became basically illegal for Jews to sacrifice animals anywhere. Anyway, Jonathan Klawans says that there is a real bias against sacrifice today that began with people centuries ago.

Jonathan Klawans

None of these people were vegetarians. These weren't animal rights motivations. This was a notion that somehow prayer is better than sacrifice because it's more meaningful. It's more spiritual. In a way, I view sacrificers as a historical underdog.

Ira Glass

In our conversation, by the way, he was careful to point out that he is not an advocate for animal sacrifice. Hold those emails. But he wrote a book that covers this material called Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple. And he thinks that modern people have not bothered to think through what it would feel like to bring an animal to temple to kill it, to burn parts of it-- or all of it-- as a gift that you were personally giving to the creator of everything.

Jonathan Klawans

It's stuff. One is giving something. One of the points that's often emphasized, even in the biblical tradition-- and also in later rabbinic tradition-- about sacrifice is that a proper sacrifice is something that one owns. You can't go steal an animal and sacrifice it to God. And we also have to remember even if we think of animals as property, ancients-- one has to imagine the domesticated life of people, shepherds, living with their animals, who know their animals. A proper sacrifice has to be unblemished.

To have an unblemished goat, one has to really care for that goat, from the time that the goat is born, to ensure that that goat will not become blemished in some way.

Ira Glass

So you have a relationship with that goat. When you inspect it for blemishes-- which is Bible speak for any kind of nick, or bruise, or anything-- the goat looks you in the eye. And when you give this animal that you personally know to God, God isn't some abstract being. He is someone, someone who takes delight when you bring something to him, who you have this very literal interaction with. The Bible talks about the smell of the smoke reaching and summoning God.

Jonathan Klawans

So yes, there's something really powerful there. There's a ancient writer who writes in the Roman defense of sacrifices. And he says, worship without sacrifice is just words.

I love that phrase, because it totally turns us on our head. We moderns assume that prayer is better than sacrifice. We're so programmed to this. We think that words are better than deeds. Or we think that thoughts are better than actions. But talk is cheap.

Ira Glass

Of course, what the animal gets out of this transaction-- the Bible doesn't say a lot about that. But understanding sacrifices, weighing the sacrifice that an animal makes for us, that raises some very basic questions.

Man 1

What is sacrifice?

Ira Glass

Well, today on our program, animals and what they sacrifice for us. We have a story from Susan Orlean about household pets that are asked to get off the couch and do much more than my dog or yours ever does. And how I learned that everybody who I work with here at This American Life-- they have for years been very, very concerned with one animal. I really had no idea at all.

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One. Semper Fido.

Ira Glass

Act One, Semper Fido. So our show today is about animal sacrifice. And of course, there are times when we ask animals to make the ultimate sacrifice. And in this act, I am not talking about the cows and chickens who die for burgers and fast food. I am talking about pets-- dogs, specifically. Susan Orlean tells the story.

Susan Orlean

Tommy wasn't a bad dog. He wasn't a mean dog, but he kept getting into trouble. Tommy was a German shepherd who belonged to the Snyder family in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Tommy's trouble was impulse control. He refused to stay in the yard. He chased ducks in the city park. And on at least one occasion, the authorities had to round him up. Gina Snyder was in high school at the time.

Gina Snyder

The problem with Tommy was that I thought he woke up, and he said, oh, for the open road. He was ready to take off. Run anywhere, that was his nature. Even though he was fastened to the doghouse, if he wanted to go, he would go. He would take the doghouse with him and run out the front yard and down the street--

Susan Orlean

Dragging the house.

Gina Snyder

Dragging the house behind him.

Susan Orlean

This was in the early 1940s, before there were dog whisperers and dog therapists and beef-flavored Prozac. The Snyders really liked Tommy, but they just didn't know what to do with him. But then World War II started and provided a solution.

Announcer 1

New recruits, a small detachment of the 125,000 dogs ordered by the quartermaster general for rigorous training in connection with MP sentry work the world over. They're using purebred Dobermans, shepherds, Dalmatians, setters, collies, Airedales, even poodles and Great Danes. And each dog is carefully selected by experienced trainers for boldness and aggressiveness as watch dogs, fierce enough and tough enough to hold a man at bay until human help arrives.

Susan Orlean

There are lots of dogs in the US military these days. That hasn't always been the case. The US didn't have a canine corps in World War I, even though every other country in the war did. And at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the only American military dogs were a few dozen huskies in Alaska.

There were, though, a lot of people who believed we were missing out on an opportunity. After all, dogs could do certain things, like sniffing for land mines, that human soldiers couldn't. And they could handle jobs like guard duty on their own and free up troops for more demanding roles.

The biggest advocate of dogs in the military was a very determined New York socialite named Alene Erlanger. Between lunches with her friend Eleanor Roosevelt, caring for her aviary of 500 rare songbirds, and operating the preeminent poodle kennel in the country, Erlanger helped found an organization called Dogs for Defense to promote the cause.

She managed, finally, to persuade Quartermaster Edmund Gregory to try out a few hundred dogs to guard ammunition plants and depots. It was a success-- in fact, such a success that Gregory wanted 125,000 more dogs as soon as possible to serve beside American troops.

Announcer 1

Each sentry dog must immediately learn not to get excited by the presence of another dog. The untrained [INAUDIBLE] dog's greatest failing, and so they're trained to walk through a group of dogs, paying attention only to the soldier trainer.

Susan Orlean

The problem was finding 125,000 dogs on short notice. The solution was something never done before or since in this country. The Army asked Americans to loan their pets to the war effort, to sign them up as soldiers. Using Rin Tin Tin, the movie-star dog, as its mascot, Dogs for Defense began running ads and news features recruiting dogs for the Army. And amazingly enough, tens of thousands of people from all over the country responded.

Of course, this was a time when people did just about anything they could to support the war effort, collecting scrap metal, rolling bandages, growing victory gardens. And now the War Department received thousands of letters from eager volunteers-- that is, people eagerly volunteering their dogs to volunteer, like this one. "We want to kill all of the Japs we can. We are glad to give Laddie away if he will help."

Or this one, from Bogalusa, Louisiana. "I went to the picture show last night, and on a newsreel reel or something, I saw where they are training dogs to help our soldiers on guard duty. Now, I have a pretty dog. He is a very smart dog. He was my brother's dog, but when he joined the Navy, he gave him to me. Now, if you all can use him and promise to feed him well, you can have him, for I know if he could talk, he would say that he wants to help our country. Yours truly, Earl Buck Boyd."

Here's one last one, from a woman in Towson, Maryland, offering her nine-month-old pup. "I love him because I know he will make a fine dog. But I also love my son, and I gave him up for war work. And I will give my dog also if he can help in this war. It is not much I can do, but if you can use him, send for him any time you want him. But when the war is over and he is still alive, return him back to me."

As for Gina and her German shepherd, Tommy, Gina's father liked what he had heard about Dogs for Defense.

Gina Snyder

At any rate, someone came out to look at Tommy. And they said, yes, they would take him. And as I think back on it, it's sort of like if you have a teenager who's just difficult, having a lot of trouble, you can't really get him to be going the right way, and you think, oh, let's send him to military school. That'll probably straighten him out, get education and organization and so on. And this is sort of a little bit the way I think that Tommy went to the K-9 Corps, that they would train him--

Susan Orlean

Shape him up.

Gina Snyder

Shape him up.

Announcer 1

The training's all important, and stress is laid on perfect and immediate obedience, learning to sense and discover the presence of suspicious persons out of sight or earshot of their MP master, to attack when ordered, to grab a trigger arm if there's a gun. Go get him, King. Get that trigger arm. Hold tight.

Susan Orlean

At first, the Army and Marine Corps accepted just about any healthy dog that was at least 18 inches high at the shoulder. Over time, though, it became clear that not every dog was Army-ready. Great Danes were too big for combat. Hunting breeds were too easily distracted. And Dalmatians were too easy for the enemy to spot, even after the Army dyed them brown, since the dye came off in the rain. So the Army politely refused any dogs other than German shepherds, Belgian sheepdogs, Dobermans, collies, huskies, malamutes, and mutts that were mostly one of those breeds.

There were an estimated 13 million dogs in the US at that time. America was undergoing the great migration off of farms and into cities. And people had less space than ever. And yet the number of dogs was exploding.

The thing is, we were keeping dogs for different reasons than in the past. Instead of being workers on farms and ranches, now dogs were just kept to be our companions. They were emotional allies.

Now dogs lived among us, inside our houses rather than out in the yard, and treated as family members rather than livestock. Sending them off to war wasn't exactly the same as sending off a son or brother, but it was a lot more intimate than donating scrap metal or buying a war bond.

Each enlisted dog was issued a record book in which trainers detailed the animal's progress with comments like "Rollo is a high-spirited dog. He was very successful and did his job excellent." And "War Dog Mitzi has been on 25 combat patrols." Or "Dog caught cold while at sea, feverish." Or "Dog found to be out of her head. Trainers were unable to work with her."

Just as people wanted to know how their family and friends in the Army were getting along, they wanted to know how their dogs were doing. They sent them Christmas cards and birthday cards, and wrote to the Army asking after Butch and Chips and Peppy and Smokey. At first, the Army tried to respond to all these inquiries. But as the mail piled up, they resorted to sending out a form letter, saying that in the interest of military secrecy, no further information about the dogs could be provided.

Not everyone was satisfied with that answer. One couple, a Mr. and Mrs. Powell, complained to their congressman when they didn't get any news about their dog Lucky. The congressman contacted the quartermaster, who wrote back saying, "The desire for such information is but a natural one and well understood by this office. However, due to the large number of dogs constantly being received for training, it is physically impossible to furnish the desired information to each individual donor without incurring the expense of employing a large clerical force. It is the desire of this office to assure Mr. and Mrs. Powell that their dog is receiving the best of care and attention and has been given a position in the War Dog program where he will do the most good."

All that most people knew was that their pets were helping win the war. In the National Archives, there's footage of canine training that the military didn't make public until after the war. It shows dogs crawling through tunnels, running telephone wires across mock battlefields, and delivering ammunition and carrier pigeons to soldiers in trenches. In another scene, the dogs practice attacking enemy soldiers played by Japanese-American volunteers.

There was one job in the K-9 Corps that I didn't know about until recently, something the Army called Bunker Dogs. In the National Archives, I found pictures of three of them, a German shepherd, a Doberman, and a collie, each wearing an elaborate canvas saddlebag. The next photograph showed the contents of the saddlebag-- 40 pounds of explosives, a time-delay fuse, and a detonator-- with the caption "Bunker dog loaded for operation with equipment shown." These dogs were training to be suicide bombers. In the pictures, they look eager and happy, their ears and tails at alert, the way dogs so often do.

Susan Orlean

Did you ever try to picture where he was or think about his circumstances once he had enlisted?

Gina Snyder

Well, I think maybe only in the sense that I might have thought about my high-school friends who had gone into the Army.

Susan Orlean

Again, Gina Snyder.

Gina Snyder

I'm probably brainwashed by some kind of movies or something, because I could see him walking with a soldier and scouting patrol, or looking for Germans, probably very unrealistic, kind of daydreamed-- but bravely doing a service out on the battlefield.

Susan Orlean

When you donated your pet to the military, you had to sign a form saying you understood that the training and experience of combat might change your dog's personality permanently and that the government wasn't liable if your dog came home a killer. This could have had a chilling effect, so the Army publicized the fact that every dog would be deprogrammed before it was discharged, with lots of petting and cuddling. Newspapers ran encouraging stories about demobilized dogs and their successful return to their families, along with photos of the dogs at home, with captions like "Here's Spike in civilian life" and "Goofy the Warrior Dog comes home," and letters from families describing happy reunions.

Even Lassie got in on the effort. In 1946, the collie starred along with Elizabeth Taylor in The Courage of Lassie, a film about a gentle collie named Bill with PTSD.

Announcer 2

A sudden cruel twist of fate took Bill away from Kathie, and he found himself in a different world among strange people who fought and killed. Mutely and heroically, he struggled against this man-made inferno. Wounded and spirit shattered, Bill broke away and returned to the land he once knew. But he came back a killer. He heard the call of the wild and answered.

[DOG GROWLING]

Susan Orlean

Of course, this was war, and some of the dogs never came home. Here's Marine Private First Class Mason [? Wachtsletter ?] writing to the owners of a dog named Tubby. "Tubby was in the front lines 23 days and had been on about 15 patrols. The second night in, he ran four Japs into a cave. And when they thought he was coming after them, they blew their heads off with hand grenades.

Now I have to tell you the worst. Tubby was shot and killed the night of August 31. He behaved like a true Marine at all times and didn't even whimper when he died. We've buried him in the Marine Cemetery along with the other real heroes of this campaign. And if it is at all possible, I'll send you a picture of his grave. He has a cross with his name and rank. He's a corporal."

The first news the Snyders got about Tommy came some months after he had joined the Army.

Gina Snyder

It didn't say killed in action. I think that would have impressed itself on my mind. It said, killed something, and I don't know what-- "killed in service," or what it was. I don't know what he did, [? whether he ?] was a scout dog, a patrol dog. I have no idea. But all I remember is standing by the window crying, of course.

But as I look back on it-- and I think even at that time-- I thought, I hope he was brave. It was somebody in your family who had served and had died in the service. And that was it.

Susan Orlean

Oh, that's so sad, terrible.

Gina Snyder

Well, Susan, I have to tell you, it is sad. It was sad then. It's sad now. But I have to be honest and tell you that underneath it all, I'm still very proud of him. It's silly, but I take pride in the fact that he performed a service.

And I don't know how useful. Maybe he saved somebody. I just don't know. I don't know what.

Or maybe he was totally irresponsible and got killed that way. I don't know. But I am proud of him, just as I would have been if it had been a member of my family. His life was worth something.

Susan Orlean

Dogs for Defense disbanded in 1945, but that wasn't the end of dogs in the military. It's just that borrowing people's pets was much more complicated than anyone had imagined. All those letters from anxious owners, all that petting and cuddling required to get the dogs reprogrammed as civilians. The Army decided it would be easier to buy dogs outright or accept donated dogs only if the owners agreed to give them away for good.

From that point forward, the dogs in the Army became property of the Army. And they were then treated like property, just like a gun or a hand grenade that had been purchased from a military supplier. There were thousands of dogs used in Korea and Vietnam. And almost none of them came back.

It wasn't till the year 2000, when Congress passed a law making it possible, that the dogs' handlers, or police departments, or just dog lovers were allowed to adopt them after the war. Before that, when the war ended, the dogs were left behind. Or in many cases, over the protests of their handlers, they were euthanized.

Without knowing what the war was for, the dogs had done what they'd been asked to do. Because that's the nature of the bond we have with dogs. We take care of them and ask them to trust us, and they do.

Ira Glass

Susan Orlean-- she's a staff writer at The New Yorker. An account of the World War II Dogs for Defense program is part of her book Rin Tin Tin, the Life and the Legend, which is out in paperback. Incredible photos of dogs in World War II from the National Archives, including dogs in suicide vests, are at our website, thisamericanlife.org. Coming up, Hop Along Catastrophe. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Two. Run Rabbit. No, Really, Run!

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, animal sacrifice, stories about what other creatures give up for us. We've arrived at Act Two of our show. Act Two, Rabbit, Run. No, Really, Run! This is a true story, this story, of crime and murder, from Camas Davis.

Camas Davis

Sometime between 1:30 and 8:00 AM on January 8, 2012, five adults, including a nursing mother and 13 juveniles, vanished from their cages in a Portland backyard. 10 one-day-old babies were left behind and subsequently died. We're talking rabbits here, compact, cute, furry, doe-eyed, white, brown, and black little hopping animals that were being bred and raised for meat, meat that would feed the rabbits' owners and a few of their friends.

These are the facts. I'm a journalist by trade, but to feign impartiality in this story from this point on will be nearly impossible, because I also own and operate a company that teaches people how to slaughter and butcher whole animals for personal consumption. As it so happens, on the morning of January 8, I was scheduled to co-teach a class on how to raise and slaughter rabbits for meat. The 11 rabbits we used for that class also came from the backyard of the vanished rabbits. However, they'd been transported to the location of the class the night before.

These 11 rabbits did not vanish in the same way their brethren did. They did, however, die. Here's how they died.

Within the span of one second, we broke their necks. Within the span of another second, their eyes closed, their nervous systems shut down, their brains went dark. That was it. They were alive one minute, gone the next, vanished.

Some people call this slaughter. Some people call it dispatching. Some people call it killing. Some call it murder.

Some call it torture. Some call it vulgar. Some call it food.

Here is how the 10 day-old baby rabbits without the warmth or sustenance of their nursing mothers died. They suffered from hypothermia, they slowly starved to death, or they did both. Some held on for a while with the help of a man-made nest of blankets and attempts to bottle-feed. Some didn't.

By the end of the day of January 8, within the span of 6 to 12 hours, all 10 of them had died, vanished. Some people call this slaughter. Some call it killing. Some call it suffering.

Some call it justice. Some call it saving sentient beings from the evil hands of a murderer. It all depends, of course, on who you ask.

My co-instructor for the class on January 8 was also the co-owner of the vanished rabbits. His name is Levi. Together with his friend Chris, Levi breeds and raises a small number of rabbits to feed their friends and families. During their lives, the bunnies live in cages that are larger than the Humane Society says they need to be, with plenty of room to move around and hop.

On the morning of January 8, when Chris discovered 10 day-old babies struggling to stay alive, he tended to the most important detail-- keeping those babies alive and trying to ease their suffering. He knew of a local rabbit advocacy group that usually had nursing mothers. In the course of talking to them, Chris and the advocates realized that his stolen bunnies had been anonymously donated to the organization. The organization had immediately fostered the rabbits out to various homes.

Then, an unexpected turn. When the organization realized these rabbits were headed for the dinner table, they announced they did not want to give the rabbits back. They got their animal-rights lawyer involved. He told Levi and Chris that the foster parents of these rabbits had grown attached to their new pets.

The organization offered $1,500 in total for all of the fostered rabbits. That's $83 a rabbit. Levi and Chris typically charge between $15 and $20 for a live rabbit, which reimburses them for the cost of raising them.

Levi and Chris told them, these rabbits were stolen. We would like for you to return them. If you would then like to knock on our door and buy them from us at cost, we would be happy to see you.

Chris and Levi waited to hear back. The advocates waited for them to change their minds. It was a standoff. The lawyer acted as go-between.

In 2009, after 10 years of working as a magazine editor in New York and then Portland, I was laid off for the first time in my life. Like so many victims of the recession, I pouted for a while and then decided to completely reinvent myself, this time as a butcher. I asked chefs and butchers if they'd be willing to teach me. None had the time or the interest.

Through a friend of a friend, I found the Chapolards, a French family of four brothers who, with two of their wives, own and operate a farm in southwestern France where they handle every aspect of getting pork to dinner tables. I bought a plane ticket. I spoke no French. The Chapolards spoke little English. They handed me knives and pointed to pork legs and bellies and heads and shoulders and trusted I would find my way.

I returned to Oregon wanting to learn more. I told all those chefs and butchers who wouldn't teach me before that I'd find students to pay them to teach the art of butchery. The Portland Meat Collective was born. I had no idea that classes would sell out.

The basic idea behind the Portland Meat Collective was this. I wanted omnivores, carnivores, pescetarians, fruititarians, vegetarians, breathetarians, and vegans alike to have the chance to truly engage with their food, with one another, and then decide where they stood on the meat-no-meat spectrum. Some students simply want to learn to raise animals. Some want to preserve meat at home. Others show up to learn how to butcher whole animals. And a few show up to see if they can stomach killing an animal.

Media often question whether the Portland Meat Collective is just a bunch of privileged hipsters worshipping at the feet of the bacon gods. I usually tell them this. I am not obsessed with bacon.

I do not growl and flex my muscles after breaking down a whole pig. I do not have a tattoo of a pig head on my bicep, nor do I have a boning knife tattooed on my calf. I abhor the term "meat head." and for the most part, so do my students.

I tell them that after taking my classes, many report that they eat less meat. My students also tell me that they can't bring themselves to buy most of the meat they see in grocery stores anymore. I tell them that that's what happened to me, too. I tell them I was raised as a hunter and fisher, that my dad handed me a fish whacker when I was 7 and told me to hit the fish in the head with it after I hooked it and slowly reeled it into the boat, to ease its suffering, he said.

I tell them I turned vegetarian for 10 years, and then ate meat without thinking about why or from whence it came for another 10 years. The Portland Meat Collective is where I stand now, I say. It feels honest and blatant, respectful and messy. I tell them that there is something about all of this that makes some people really, really angry.

When the rabbits vanished, Levi, Chris, and I chose to publicize it, to try and get the rabbits back and in hopes of finding the person or people who took the rabbits. Stories appeared in local and national newspapers. Sometimes I woke up to emails like this. "Things you should do today. Number one, get cancer. Number two, rot slowly and painfully."

Others imagined my demise in more inventive ways. "You are chicken [BLEEP]. I'd love to see you in a lion's cage and see what you think of butchery then."

The meat-eaters were just as impassioned. Here's a comment from my website. "People enjoy eating meat. Animals are made of meat. Therefore, we must eat the animals. Small woodland creatures, such as rabbits, rats, mice, et cetera, are just the chicken nuggets of the animal world anyway. And yes, I'll eat near any animal, long as you cook his ass up right."

While I found myself in the thick of this online fight, conducting media interviews and fielding death threats by phone, Chris and Levi were enduring visits to their homes by rather angry vegan activists. Levi took to sleeping with a gun under his pillow. While all this was happening, the rabbit advocacy group eventually returned, via their lawyer, all but one rabbit to Levi and Chris. The one rabbit that was not returned was a male breeder rabbit named Roger.

Roger had been fostered to a woman who decided to hire her own lawyer. On January 12, 2012, just four days after the rabbit had gone missing, the lawyer sent a letter to us stating that the woman had grown attached to Roger and would like to offer $200, or the cost of replacing Roger, whichever was greater. In describing her client's feelings for Roger, which had developed over the course of four days, the lawyer also quoted Anatole France, a French poet, journalist, and novelist. "Until one has loved an animal, part of one's soul remains unawakened."

Levi and Chris responded in the same manner as before. Return the rabbit, please. Then come talk to us, and we'll sell him to you at cost.

The woman did return Roger eventually. The hand-off occurred in her lawyer's office. She did not show up for the event. It was just Levi, the lawyer, and Roger, sitting alone together in a conference room. "Well, this is awkward," Levi said to the lawyer.

A few weeks later, Chris and Levi decided to sell the juvenile rabbits back to the rabbit advocacy group. I don't know the details of the sale, but the plan was to donate any profits to a Haitian charity that Levi works with a few times a year. Levi then received another letter from the lawyer representing Roger Rabbit's foster mother. Instead of simply knocking on Levi's door and offering $20 for Roger, the client offered to donate $1,000 to Levi's charity.

Levi accepted the offer. Roger was returned to his foster mother. Everyone was happy, especially the Haitians, who will benefit from a new program seeded by the $1,000 donation that teaches them how to raise rabbits-- for food.

After all of this, it's my hunch that few if any minds were changed. People on all sides of the fight continued to do whatever it is they do. People who didn't eat meat continued to not eat it. People with bacon fetishes continued to wax poetic over pork belly. People who hate killing spiders continued to not kill spiders.

Factory farms continued to cram thousands of cattle into confined spaces. Those who think of me as a sociopath continue to think of me that way. My classes continue to sell out.

And yet I can't help but pay attention to the fact that all of us-- Levi, Chris, the people who stole the rabbits, the people who took them into their homes, and I-- all have something in common. All of us held the rabbits in our hands at some point, felt their pulse, contemplated their life, their deaths. Each of us tried to find meaning and make a stand within our very different acts. All of us thought we were doing the right thing.

For those of us who choose to raise and kill animals for food, it's anything but a simple choice. In fact, it's hard and complicated every time. I look the animal in the eye as we breathe the same air. The same tree shades us. The world slows just long enough for us to see our shared place within it. And just before that moment that so few of us want to admit we're capable of-- that moment in which one animal chooses to kill another for food-- we're not only forced to realize what it means to be human, we're forced to realize what it means to be animal, too.

Ira Glass

Camas Davis in Portland, Oregon. A version of her essay first appeared in Oregon Humanities magazine.

[MUSIC - "DEAD RABBIT" BY ROSE POLENZANI]

Act Three. Human Sacrifice.

Ira Glass

Act Three, Human Sacrifice. OK, this is a story that has been seven years in the making, though I did not realize that until very, very recently. In this story, it is not really the animal that is making the sacrifice, though you can be the judge of that. Here is Nancy Updike.

Nancy Updike

There's a file in my brain labeled "Piney," P-I-N-E-Y, Piney. It's a slender file compared to lots of others. For instance, the one labeled "Ill-Considered Actions, 1987 Through Present." But the Piney file is intriguing exactly because it's so thin.

Nancy Updike

What do you know about Piney?

Man 1

I don't know a lot about Piney.

Nancy Updike

What do you know about Piney?

Woman 1

Piney's sort of this mysterious figure in our life.

Man 1

I mean, my first impression was just Piney is misunderstood.

Woman 2

I would love to meet Piney's doctors. I've heard he has a team of doctors.

Nancy Updike

These people are all on staff at This American Life, and Piney is Ira's dog. The name comes from Ira's wife, Anaheed. She had a dream about having a dog named Piney. What else do people know?

Man 2

I know that Piney has to eat really specialized food.

Man 1

We get boxes in the office, and those boxes are--

Woman 2

Kangaroo?

Woman 1

Kangaroo, dry-ice-packed kangaroo meat. I know there've been others. I know there's been rabbits. Maybe there was bison, but I'm not sure.

Nancy Updike

Yeah, there was bison.

Woman 1

OK. I would like just a full list.

Ira Glass

I don't see it as extraordinary.

Nancy Updike

I don't understand how you don't see it as extraordinary. You're getting kangaroo meat delivered to our office in a radio studio.

Ira Glass

All right, I agree at the point.

Nancy Updike

Ira was the only person in the office who didn't see anything noteworthy about all this. I've known Ira for 17 years, and nothing he's ever done has raised more questions than Piney. It's not that he talks about Piney a lot. We're not a pet-crazed office. We don't have "bring your dog to work day."

But for years, we've been getting these snippets about Piney, sometimes double-take inducing. Piney takes Valium. Piney's eating ostrich now. Piney used to eat $90 worth of rabbits per week. Piney can't walk near men on the street, because if a man-- any man-- looks him in the eye, he'll attack him.

The last time I saw Anaheed in the office, she was with Piney. And I went to give her a hug, and she said, "No, no, don't come over. Don't look at Piney." So we stood there chatting 10 feet apart.

Until now, it's never quite felt OK to stop and say to Ira, can we talk about Piney?

Nancy Updike

Almost every person on staff I talked to about this, in almost every conversation, there was a moment when the person's voice dropped to a whisper, and they said, "Can I ask this? Is this OK?"

Ira Glass

Really?

Nancy Updike

Yeah.

Ira Glass

I'm surprised it didn't feel OK to ask.

Nancy Updike

To ask someone why are you-- I don't--

Ira Glass

Why are you throwing away your life?

Nancy Updike

That's Ira's question. I wouldn't put it like that. Ira's pretty far from throwing his life away. But with his permission, I'm opening the Piney file.

Piney's a smallish, sweet-faced pit bull. Think Little Rascals, not Michael Vick. He's a rescue, a very pretty dog, white with these big light-brown patches. He's timid. He can get scared of puppies and other animals much weaker than he is. But when he gets anxious, he sometimes attacks people.

He has to wear a muzzle whenever he goes anywhere outside Ira's apartment, including the office. Ira and his wife never have friends over, because Piney would go after them. Piney is fearful and anxiety prone. And he has to take Valium to keep from being even more aggressive.

Ira Glass

It's almost like somebody who's fearful who is also a pit bull. If you imagine--

Nancy Updike

It's exactly that.

Ira Glass

It is exactly that, yeah.

Nancy Updike

It's not even like it. That is what is it.

Ira Glass

That is what it is. He was a normal dog until a wedding that Anaheed took him to. Anaheed drove up ahead of me, and the dog was there with her and was a puppy. And all these people were hanging around.

And there was a moment where he bit the host's daughter, Hope, who was 9 or 10 at the time. He just got up off the floor, saw her come into the room, walked over, and bit her. And then he bit a friend of ours, Vicky, her son.

Nancy Updike

At the wedding, he bit two children?

Ira Glass

He bit two children.

Nancy Updike

Oh my god.

Ira Glass

So we took him home. And that's what put us on notice of, oh, right.

Nancy Updike

Piney had already been trained at that point to obey commands, to sit, to pee outside. But he hadn't gotten training especially for aggressive dogs, because they hadn't known he was aggressive. So that's what came next. Mixed results.

Ira Glass

One, two, three, four, five.

Nancy Updike

What are you counting?

Ira Glass

One, two, three, four, five, six--

Nancy Updike

You're counting people the dog has bitten. I can see where you're counting on your list.

Ira Glass

Yeah, it's six plus Anaheed.

Nancy Updike

He's bitten Anaheed?

Ira Glass

A couple times. It might be more than twice, actually.

Nancy Updike

More than twice.

Ira Glass

Yeah, a bunch of times. He nips each time. Each time it's a nip, but it does draw blood.

Nancy Updike

I don't know if you're allowed to call it a nip if it draws blood.

Ira Glass

No, nip includes drawing blood.

Nancy Updike

No, bite includes drawing blood. Nip is not breaking the skin.

Ira Glass

What if we call it a bloody nip?

Nancy Updike

Then we'd have to be in England. We would have to be in a London pub.

Ira Glass

He gave her a bloody nip.

Nancy Updike

Ira told me I should think of Piney like the Incredible Hulk-- fundamentally good, just high-strung. But my understanding of the Hulk is that he only blew up for a very important reasons that were worth building a movie or TV series or comic book around. Piney goes Hulk during ordinary life circumstances. For instance, he feels he has to protect Anaheed from Ira in situations like she's asleep and Ira's awake.

Ira Glass

That's a daily occurrence.

Nancy Updike

And what does he do to protect her?

Ira Glass

He'll lunge at me as if to attack me. Including this morning, like many mornings, he woke me up at 5:30 in the morning to go out and pee. So I get up, and I put on clothes. And it's cold.

And I put on his leash and his muzzle, and find some plastic bags, and find my keys, and put on shoes, and go down five flights, and take him out. And he pees. And then I know as soon as we walk back into the apartment, because she's asleep, he'll then turn and try to kill me, or make a show of aggression. And I always feel like, dude, remember who's your friend.

Nancy Updike

We were just peeing together.

Ira Glass

We were just peeing. Remember? You needed some help. I helped you out. Remember, we're buddies? And he really can't help it.

And then I was just like, generally, all I have to do is say, hey, Piney, where's your toy? And he thinks, oh, a toy.

Nancy Updike

Meaning, let me stop attacking Ira right now and play with this ball.

Ira Glass

Exactly. So if I just have something that he can tug on with if he's acting aggressively, he'll just take it out on the tugging. When I look in his eyes, in those moments, his eyes are not the "I want to kill you" sort of eyes of a creature that's trying to hurt you. His eyes are in the kind of "I can't control myself, please, I feel trapped inside this situation."

It's funny. I've never thought about how it sounds to you guys, that it sounds like, oh. It sounds dangerous, is what you're saying.

Nancy Updike

Yeah. You can't have people come to your apartment. No one, no friend, nobody you work with, no one has ever seen the inside of your apartment, right?

Ira Glass

Correct. Yeah, because he would attack anybody who came in. And then we tried to train it out of him. We had trainers come over to the apartment to do exercises to train that out of him. But those were not successful.

Nancy Updike

And how big a deal is that?

Ira Glass

To me, that's a huge big deal. Because for me, I feel like, well, let's just put him in daycare overnight and have a dinner party. But Anaheed's not so into that. So for me, that's huge. I'd like to live an adult life where we could have people over.

There definitely have been points where we both had a lot of despair about were we going to be able to get him to a point where it was livable comfortably. Yeah, we definitely had moments where we both felt like, oh, this feels sort of hopeless.

Nancy Updike

Piney shapes Ira's life. Ira has less free time than anyone I know. And for the last seven years, he's been spending most of it on Piney. I'm sure that's true for Anaheed, too. Piney's behavioral problems, the time and expense of training and medicine, avoiding situations that could set him off-- all of that is only part of it.

Piney also developed, as a young dog, severe allergies and an autoimmune disease that almost killed him twice. He's got four doctors. And one of them said to put him on a simple diet-- one starch, one protein, the same starch and protein every day. So Ira and Anaheed started cooking for Piney.

Nancy Updike

Is this more time than you're spending on cooking for yourselves, just as a comparison?

Ira Glass

Yes, completely. Yeah, totally. Yeah, most of the cooking in our house is cooking for the dog.

Nancy Updike

The cooking plan has worked. Piney's pretty much OK when he eats this way. But then he always develops a new allergy to whatever he's been eating. And then he's got to switch, from all bison to all pork, to all rabbit, to all tuna, to venison, to ostrich.

Ira Glass

Kangaroo was hard, because you can't really buy kangaroo many places. And there was a butcher that we could go to, but it was like an hour's ride on the subway away. And so once every couple weeks, I would get on the subway and ride for an hour and go to this one butcher.

Nancy Updike

Sometimes the meat was delivered here. But you're saying sometimes you would go and get it. It wasn't flown in.

Ira Glass

There were two different kinds of kangaroo. One were these prepackaged veterinary-- there are veterinary services where they'll make up the meals for you. So since it's a starch and a meat, you can get them made kangaroo and then a starch. But in order to give him his pills, which he takes many of, and to give him treats, you would also need just pieces of kangaroo. And for that, I would go on the train ride to get the kangaroo.

Nancy Updike

On the hour-long train ride out to get the kangaroo, and the hour-long train ride back, do you remember that ever being an occasion for--

Ira Glass

Yes. Resentment? Yes.

Nancy Updike

Resentment, questioning-- what would you think about?

Ira Glass

If I was in a resentful kind of mood, resentment over that would snowball with all the other resentments that I'm feeling. It masses quickly.

Nancy Updike

Each week we have a theme, and all of our resentments will be a different kind of resentment on that theme.

Ira Glass

Exactly, yeah. And then sometimes I would be coming back from-- I would have a public-radio event in some other city. So I would leave early Saturday and go and do a speech and then come back at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning, fly home, and then on the way back from the airport, have them drop me off at the butcher, where I would pick up the kangaroo and then take my suitcase and the meat and get on the train and drive an hour.

And it's hard not to feel a little sorry for yourself in that situation, and a little mad about having a dog. And you don't feel good about the dog in those moments. Or I didn't feel good about having a dog, many, many times.

And I understand if people roll their eyes at everything that we're doing. If I were to hear of somebody doing what we're doing, I would be the first to roll my eyes. If I hear about people cooking for their dog-- oh my god, what could be more repulsive? People cooking for their dog. That's ridiculous.

Nancy Updike

And how does that coexist in your brain with cooking for your dog every day?

Ira Glass

Well, I don't have a problem thinking that something I do is laughable or ridiculous. You don't want to be that person, but then you are that person.

I was on Reddit answering questions. And somebody asked about the dog and about what is the dog eating. And I listed all the different foods. And then I said, the logical end of this is that eventually, the only thing left would be human flesh, and Anaheed and I would have to feed ourselves to the dog. That's the obvious place where the whole thing goes.

Nancy Updike

Do you ever feel like that's already happening?

Ira Glass

[LAUGHS]

Nancy Updike

Just in terms of--

Ira Glass

Yes, I do.

Nancy Updike

Time, and effort, and--

Ira Glass

I absolutely do. Yeah, of course. Yeah.

Nancy Updike

Have you discussed what a limit would be?

Ira Glass

No. I have fantasies about him not existing.

Nancy Updike

Like what?

Ira Glass

Just that our lives would be so much easier and nicer.

Nancy Updike

Does he bring something to your life? Is there a good part? Is there pleasure?

Ira Glass

Yeah, of course. It's not as much pleasure as the amount of work it is. All the pleasures are really corny ones. Like it's really sweet to have this animal that trusts no one and is alone in this world except for us. And he trusts us.

And he's a nervous dog. And to get him out of his head, and he's just running after a ball, and he's bringing it back. And you throw it again, over and over, and he's super happy, like a normal dog-- it's really sweet to see. It really feels like a triumph.

And he's sweet, as a dog. I love him. And I love my wife. And it would kill her if we could've kept him alive longer and we didn't do it. And that was true so early on that any other premise was unthinkable.

That's why it's not a question. That's why you can say all this stuff. And I feel like if you picture a little scale with a balance, it's not even weighing anything on that side of it.

Nancy Updike

Well, because it's not about the dog. The thing on the other side of the scale is Anaheed, not the dog. I think that's what's hard to understand from the outside is that it seems like, ah, it's about this dog. But it's about your relationship with your wife.

Ira Glass

But the thing is if Anaheed were to just vanish off the face of the earth, I would still take care of the dog. Years ago, she made me promise that if she were to suddenly die, I would keep the dog alive. And at that point, it was kind of like a 50/50 choice, and I said I would as a promise to her. But now it doesn't matter that I promised her. I would just do it.

Nancy Updike

And what changed?

Ira Glass

It's a hard thing to spend so much energy trying to protect a helpless creature, or a helpless person, or anything that's helpless. It's a hard thing to turn that off. Once you've been protecting it, your mind is used to protecting it. And the thought that you wouldn't protect it just becomes offensive to who you are. You can't flip off that part of yourself like it's a light switch.

Nancy Updike

It's interesting that you consider him helpless, though, since he lunges at you every day. And you see helplessness behind I think what other people see as aggression.

Ira Glass

Now I see that. Right, but fundamentally in this world, he's 1 foot tall. He weighs 60 pounds. He can't earn any money. He doesn't speak the English language.

I'm in charge. You know what I mean? Like I could have him killed any day.

Nancy Updike is one of the producers of our program, doing the easiest slash most delicate interview she's ever done for the show.

Nancy Updike

What are you thinking as you're making that face? What is that face?

Ira Glass

I'm alarmed that you seem to be, just after all this talk, that you don't seem at all convinced that what we're doing doesn't seem nuts. Do you know what I mean? I could understand how it would seem that way before you heard me explain it. But now that I've explained it, I feel like you should come over to my side. And I can't believe that you haven't.

Nancy Updike

You're saying you did everything right, so how could I be doing this so wrong.

Ira Glass

[LAUGHS] Yeah.

Nancy Updike

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Yeah.

[MUSIC - "NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP" BY JERRY BUTLER]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, today's program was produced by Robyn Semien, with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Sarah Koenig, Jonathan Menjivar, Lisa Pollak, Brian Reed, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer's Julie Snyder. Production help from [? Tyra Kluda ?]. Seth Lind is our operations director. Emily Condon's our production manager. Elise Bergerson's our administrative assistant. Music help from Damien Graef and Rob Geddis.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia, who just got the results from his annual psych evaluation.

Camas Davis

Those who think of me as a sociopath continue to think of me that way.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.