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The Story of Lennox: "The Handmaid's Tale" for a New Era

I kept going back to Margaret Atwood's dystopian classic about the oppression and subjugation of women -- and the parallels are chilling.

 |  Jul 17th 2012  |   9 Contributions


A long time ago, I was a college student. I took a double honors elective: Women's History and Women's Literature. In our Women's Literature class we read one of my favorite books, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. It had my head spinning on topics of the roles and subjugation of women in society. Next up was Women's History class, taught by the most inspiring educator I've ever known (I love you, Professor Wingate!), the lady who brought my Ancient Civ class onto the school grounds to throw javelins as part of learning about the ancient Greek Olympics. Unsurprisingly, the class was full of women.

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Lennox (R.I.P.), stuck in a concrete-floored room for two years while Belfast City Council debated whether to kill him. (They did.)

Professor Wingate asked us to close our eyes and imagine arriving and pulling out our textbooks, notebooks, and pens. As the instructor begins to teach, the door is kicked open. Masked men with machine guns enter the classroom, knocking books off desks, screaming an ultimatum: "You can go home, or you can die!"

Wait, was this a science fiction book? A newly published sequel to The Handmaid's Tale -- the story of Offred's daughter, perhaps? Nope. It was the real-life experience of many thousands of Afghan women when the Taliban decided women weren't to be educated. It was happening that day, at that moment, to someone else on the other side of the world. The profound feeling of gratitude I felt when I opened my eyes and looked back at my amazing professor and encouraging learning environment almost knocked the wind out of me. How much we take for granted!  Both stories, one fiction, one historic fact, told the stories of populations whose chance at family, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were taken away by their governments. 

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Some people have posted on my Facebook page recently asking why I've been so silent about the issue of Lennox's recent execution. I had no good excuse. I was literally speechless. So many thoughts went on in my head, the only option seemed to be to write a 75-page dissertation full of anger, hurt, fear, indignation, and, probably, poor circular reasoning related to all the aforementioned emotions. I couldn't stop thinking of my experience in Women's History class and The Handmaid's Tale, a book I'd reread recently for what might be the 50th time.

Allow me to play Professor Wingate for a moment. Close your eyes and imagine walking through a park with your dog. This might be your service dog, or maybe the best family pet you've ever had. It's a relaxing day with lots of sunshine and a cool, clean breeze. Your dog is happy, and your family is having a wonderful time.

Suddenly, a van pulls up next to you and a man jumps out, saying, "We'll need to confiscate your dog. It's illegal to own Pit Bulls here." He grabs your dog's leash and takes him to an unknown location. Despite the efforts of everyone you know and love -- and indeed, many millions of dog lovers around the world pleading your case -- your dog is euthanized. You aren't even allowed the option to say goodbye or "good boy" ever again. 

While Lennox's story is a bit different, this is the gist of the situation. Does it matter that Lennox wasn't even technically a Pit Bull? Not to the decision-makers, the Belfast City Council. Does it matter that he'd never hurt anyone or had no history of aggression? Nope.

I remembered looking at Mokie's rescue listing on Petfinder seven years ago. While she was listed as a Retriever mix, the pictures of her parents and littermates led me to believe that she was probably a Chow mix, a suspicion that has been reinforced as I learn more about her personality. I remember asking the rescue staff why they weren't listed as Chow mixes. "Because it's harder to adopt them out that way," they told me. "Some people can't take them then because of BSL [breed-specific legislation], homeowners insurance policy bans, and so on."

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Mokie is my training partner and the most wonderful companion I've ever had.

Every day I look at my Mokie and marvel. Without question, she is the best dog I've ever known, and I've known a lot of unbelievably amazing dogs. She is smart, funny, cute, snuggly, playful, polite, and a joy to take nearly any place. I know I can count on her. She has given confidence to lots of people and dogs who were afraid of dogs. She's my business partner, attending camps and seminars with me, helping me do orientations, demonstrations, and evaluations. She is well-trained and well-behaved. She is my sunshine girl, and sharing my pillow with her is the best part of waking up each morning. 

I tried to place myself in the position of Lennox's family. What would I do? Would I drop everything, leaving my home and business, to flee to a place of safety with my dog? Could I? Where would we go? If I didn't have any notice and she were taken from me, imagine TWO FULL YEARS of waking up and knowing that the small creature who brought me more joy than anything on the planet was emotionally wasting away, feeling unloved, on a concrete floor cared for only by people who wished her death? And then one day, after the fact, I'd receive a small portion of my dog's ashes in a box, not even having been previously told of her euthanasia date. The thought of her dying alone tears the breath from my lungs.  I can't imagine it. I am sitting here at my laptop, glancing at Mokie through tears, a big lump of helplessness clogging my throat.

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Lennox as a puppy. Photograph courtesy of the Barnes family.

I am very wary of any legislation that restricts the types of dogs people are allowed to have. I know many apartment buildings that ban dogs over 25 pounds, and I often wonder whether these landlords have seen what an adolescent, under-exercised, 10-pound Jack Russell -- or an eight-pound cat, for that matter -- can do to a 500-square-foot apartment. Some homeowners insurance companies would be unlikely to cover my wonderful, happy, well-behaved Chow mix if her paperwork were changed to reflect her more likely dominant breed heritage. Think you're safe because you have a Maltese or Pug? Think again -- they are also potential victims of breed bans, and breed-discriminatory policies and practices. I know of trainers who refuse to work with dogs of certain breeds. If you find a trainer like this, run fast in the other direction!

Breed bans and discriminatory policies come from a place of ignorance. They don't really serve to keep anyone safe, and while there are some dangerous dogs, you can't accurately identify or predict them solely based on breed. Ultimately, the dogs are the responsibility of their owners. What would you do if breed-specific legislation came to your area, and you found yourself in the same situation the Barnes family? 

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Lennox. Photograph courtesy of the Barnes family.

I want to give thanks to the universe for Lennox and send love to his family. Lennox has become a martyr for millions of dogs around the world who might face the same fate -- breed-specific legislation is the first step toward banning dog ownership (a goal of organizations such as PETA), and we cannot allow for legislation that allows that movement a toehold. Hug your dogs tight tonight, folks.

If the elimination of breed-specific legislation is important to you, remember that the election is coming up and you should start investigating your candidates' position on breed-specific legislation. If breed-specific legislation is already enforced in your area, don't stop fighting. Recently, Ohio repealed its Pit Bull ban (YAY, Ohio!), probably because of efforts of dedicated and outspoken advocates. The dogs are not the problem, the governmental policies are. BSL and breed bans don't protect people and are a wasted investment, taking the place of more appropriate dangerous dog policies which could actually be created to increase safety for dogs of all breeds and the communities in which they live.  Be a squeaky wheel for banned breeds!

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