Tales About Tails

What mama said last year still gives me nightmares. Her tale was not meant for me. She was sharing the gory details with papa, but you know mama – she often speaks as if we are deaf. In any case, this was a good lesson for me never to eavesdrop or listen to adult stories again. I am a clever dog, as you may already have discovered. If Master thinks I need treats to learn something, then who am I to disagree? Yummy treats are the reason why I learn every lesson slowly. More repetition means more rewards. My siblings said I was sly – they confuse clever with cunning. I am clever to use my intelligence for a positive outcome, i.e. more treats. Cunning is using our intelligence to manipulate or harm others. I could never harm my master. But, just so you know, there are many lessons in life we can learn from experience or from observing what others do or not do. In my household, it is more often to not do what they do or do what they don’t do. For instance, adults should not tell grotesque and macabre tales in front of little children and pups. I was still a sweet and adorable puppy last year. Mama had no business telling horror stories about her dad cutting off every of their dogs’ tails when I was within hearing range. She told her tale on a cold and dark wintry night. I remember the timid moon refused to re-appear after a short but futile burst through the angry and violent clouds which quickly engulfed it with vengeful intent. The storm that arrived cast scary images of a maniacal witch whose long matted hair wildly blew and eventually latched on to a pitiful puppy that succumbed to a terrible death by asphyxiation. The old witch looked many centuries old with her time-decayed face and cold anguine eyes still haunting me on nights when the mad gully winds recklessly toss papa’s garden tools and plastic buckets in the air like misfiring missiles.

Recently, I upset mama when she was busy in her kitchen. She tripped on me as I rushed across the room to see what she was cooking. Her piping hot coffee splashed all over her jade green floor tiles reminiscent of a recent failed attempt at copying a Jackson Pollock painting. She yelled at me “Murray, do you want your tail cut off?!” This family has a fervour for cutting off dogs’ tails, it quickly dawned on me. Her dad cut off every single tail in their household. Of course, that was a long time ago. In Australia, tail docking was finally made illegal in 2004, exceptions are allowed for therapeutic reasons only. “Why did your dad cut off their tails?” I heard papa ask. I suspected it might have been to make herbal soup but mama said her mum thought they looked cute with stumpy wrigglers on their backsides and were also less prone to bring dirt and dead leaves into their house. It is true that I often have spiny leaves and spindly weeds cling on to my tail whenever I retrieve and re-bury my doggy bone in the yard. It is also true that these pesky spiny leaves and spindly weeds won’t let go off my paws too. Would they think to chop off my paws? I think tail docking is cruel.

Mama’s mum was a super-clean woman. Their dogs did not have the privilege of entering their all-timber house which sat on stilts three feet above the ground, so papa doubted they could have brought any dirt into their house. Mama’s parents were both Hakkas, i.e. when they talked about dog food, they did not mean food for the dog. Mama said that was quite forgivable as meat was scarce during the war. She told papa she was not allowed to witness the killings – that reinforces my message kids and puppies should not know about these bad things urghhlings do. In Miri, a small town in Sarawak, every farm had a pond to drain the excess rainwater from the land or their crops would risk flooding during the rainy season. “Did little kids swim in the pond?” papa asked without looking away from his newspaper. “No!” mama answered loudly. The ponds were muddy and filthy due to much frolicking by ducks and geese reared for their eggs and meat. The pond was also where her dad drowned his dogs. When a pet dog was sufficiently fattened, it would be shoved into a gunny sack and thrown into the pond. When the struggling stopped, the gunny sack would be pulled ashore by the loose end of the rope that tied up the dog’s escape route from the sack.

She did not tell me that some nationalities love dog meat. In many countries, it is still legal to eat dog meat. Papa taught me to avoid countries such as China, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Switzerland during my geography lessons. Dog meat is considered haram by Muslims, maybe we dogs should migrate to Islamic countries such as Indonesia, Iran and Iraq. “Did you ever see your dad do it?” Papa asked mama if she ever saw a dog butchered. Mama deliberately misunderstood his question and assumed he was asking about tail docking. She said her parents worked as a team. Her mum would hold the “few days-old pup” and her dad would simply use a cleaver and chop off its tail. “Quick and painless”, her mum used to say. What do they know, these humans? Our nervous system is fully developed at birth. A puppy’s tail has bones, muscles, cartilage, highly sensitive nerves and tendons. Let me tell you, tail docking without anaesthesia or analgesia (pain relief) is awful and extremely painful. If you don’t believe me, try biting off your own finger – any one of them will do. Besides, we suffer from phantom pain too, long after the tail is gone.

My tail is also a good tool of communication – you won’t trust my smiles when my canines are visible and threatening. But, if you see my tail wagging, you know I am playful and friendly, right? Those who are pro-tail docking say it is good hygiene but I say it is cruel to mutilate dogs. I have heard humans circumcise their babies for hygienic, cultural or religious reasons. Show me any video of a child’s circumcision and I will show you every child crying in pain when their foreskin or clitoris is sliced off. Male circumcision remains legal in every country and that has to be attributable to the two major religions that promote this ancient ritual. There is evidence to show that the Egyptians practised this as early as 4,200 years ago. Papa told me he feels lucky that his remains “intact”, the Chinese do not have this requirement to slice away their tip. Adherents of Judaism and Islam are still encouraged to follow this old ritual. Why has Christianity done away with it though? They did not believe a physical scar on the tip of their penis is necessary evidence to prove their faith in the Almighty. In the Old Testament (Genesis 17:10–13), the ritual to remove the male foreskin on the 8th day of birth is a commandment from God. The miracle of Isaac’s birth is a constant reminder of how their entire existence began with a miraculous act of God (a barren woman becomes impregnated only by a circumcised penis). If only the Jews were aware of the existence of the Chinese during those early years before Christ, then maybe they would have reconsidered that their survival did not necessitate the sacrifice of their foreskin.

“Papa, did they not ask why God gave men a foreskin only to insist they snip it off so soon after birth?” I asked whilst eyeing his genitals as he was peeing in the toilet. Papa is an old man. A slow and weak stream is a good indicator of a man’s advancing years. Nowadays, papa takes almost an eternity to finish his pee. He allows me plenty of time to sniff his pants and check on his general health whilst he tries to shake off the persistent droplets. His output is minuscule and weak – the tiny drip, drip, drip reminds me of the leaking tap in the garden. I hope I won’t be like him when I grow older. It would sadden me to stand with my hind leg suspended in the air against the bushes like a stone statue. Papa had a befuddled look before he pretended to know the answer. “God gave men a foreskin so that they have something to sacrifice”, papa exclaimed professorially. “God made things but humans changed these things to make them better”, papa added. “For example, God made animals but humans turned them into food. God made the earth rich with minerals but humans made cars and aeroplanes from them.” I couldn’t resist and quizzed papa, “So, a penis without its foreskin is a better penis?” After papa had zipped up his trousers, he washed his hands with soap and water. This was a new habit of his after the pandemic. He used to think water was enough as a good cleaning agent, since soap costs money. Now, he is often checking his stock of soap to ensure he has an unbroken supply.

What papa could not explain to me is why God would want men to sacrifice their foreskin when He was against animal sacrifices. In the big scheme of things, I suppose the foreskin is a small thing to give to God if that was what he really wanted. A friend of Papa’s in a WhatsApp chat told him that there were actually two human sacrifices mentioned in the Bible. The one we all know about was of course that of Jesus’. But, as the Holy Trinity, it was no big issue for Jesus, since He was able to quickly resurrect Himself on the third day. The other human sacrifice was that of a virgin girl, daughter of Jephthah. His pledge to God to kill the first thing that greeted his victorious homecoming after the conquest of the Ammonites had to be kept even though it was his own daughter. Who else would greet you at your door, if not your own flesh and blood? How foolish to promise God you will kill the one who welcomes you home. Did Jephthah expect it to be a lamb or a dog? It is terrible that her sacrifice did not even earn a respectful mention of her name in the Bible.

Why do men need such a covenant with God? To remove their foreskin is have the glans of their penises exposed all the time. Is it to make men perpetually aware of their sexual organ? Uncircumcised men only feel the full extent of pleasure when their glans are exposed during sexual arousal. Papa restrained himself from his sarcasm mid-way when he didn’t finish his next sentence. “Maybe God needed men to mark themselves to differentiate the pious from….” It will be unthinkable today to say that keeping their foreskin was a mark of their disobedience to God. Papa told me the tale about David, who in wanting to marry King Saul’s daughter to become king, delivered 200 Philistine foreskins to the old king. The Philistines were believers of other gods. Papa also told me the tale about the stubborn Zipporah who sacrificed her son’s foreskin in order to save Moses, her husband, whose life God had threatened to take. Had papa asked for my opinion, I would have said it was all about water. The lack of water in the Middle East meant a hooded penis was less clean and therefore, it was more hygienic to simply cut off the hood.

Talking about hoods, what about the hood of the clitoris? Female circumcision is banned in most countries – there is no support from the major religions to make it legal. Unfortunately, many African nations still allow it; every year, some 3 million girls are subjected to genital mutilation. I am just a puppy, and no matter how papa explained it, I cannot understand why they don’t call it that for male circumcision also. Why is male circumcision not called male genital mutilation? Do they think the male genital looks prettier naked? Papa told me a long while ago that we should do unto others as you have them do unto you. Do you think he means to those who allow tail docking, we should bite off their little appendage that wag like our tail when they are excited?

I have my tail intact! Who is tailing who here?