The latest flurry of outrage/shock/delight on Twitter, Facebook, and their less-popular social media cousins is centered around a photograph of a woman breast feeding a puppy. The picture itself, posted by the woman doing the feeding, is strikingly unremarkable. It looks like a big blob of black against pink flesh. If I didn’t know what it was, I’d think it was a Tribble sitting on someone’s bare leg. Yet a lot of people are outraged.
“What is the world coming to? I read this and it literally made me sick,” wrote one commenter.
The puppy, Tubbs, was the runt of his litter, a bunch of Labrador mixes who had been orphaned. The woman took them in and was caring for them. Tubbs wasn’t doing well: He wouldn’t take the bottle, and he wouldn’t eat formula, and was weakening quickly.
“I just felt like he just had an hour left. That’s how weak he was, he wasn’t moving, and I just did it,” she told KRDO, a Colorado television station. “He just wasn’t taking it. I didn’t know what else to do, I was desperate and I just couldn’t bear sitting there watching it die. Literally what clicked in my head was like, put him on you, just pray to God he will take something and not die.”
Maybe it’s because my average morning is spent combing through stories about Russian campaigns to exterminate stray dogs and idiots who beat dogs to death with baseball bats or leave them to freeze out in the winter, but I feel neither outraged nor shocked at this one.
When the story showed up on my radar, the first thing that I thought of was Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Near the end, the Joad family comes across a man and his son sheltering in a barn. The father has given all the food to the boy, and is himself on the edge of death. The Joad daughter, Rose of Sharon, has recently lost her infant, and still has milk in her breasts. The final scene of the novel is of Rose of Sharon and the man alone in the barn as she nurses him, her milk being the very last food that the family can give.
The second thing that came to mind was Tori Amos’ 1996 album Boys for Pele. The liner notes included an image of the singer reclining in a rocking chair, gazing peacefully out the window of a farmhouse as she suckles a piglet at her breast. Even back then, it didn’t seem like a shocking image; it had a serene, even sweet, feeling to it.
And if you know anything about the history of agricultural societies, the Tori Amos image and the image of the puppy seem even less shocking. There’s a long history of women on farms breastfeeding animals whose mother has died or rejected the baby for some reason. It’s not a weird sexual thing, but a solution that arises out of necessity. Even now, I could find a couple of dozen pictures from around the world of women in agricultural communities feeding lambs and calves with their own breasts.
I’m not saying that breastfeeding Tubbs was the best solution. KRDO consulted veterinarian Dr. Amber Williams, who was less concerned about the taboo than possible medical problems: “I’m more concerned about zoonotic diseases because there are things that can be passed from puppies to babies.” In this situation, that’s not a problem, because the woman’s 15-month-old child has already been weaned off milk.
I do think it was naïve of the woman to post the image to the Internet. The fact is, people in our society have enough trouble with the notion of mothers breastfeeding human children. As a culture, we’re so obsessed with breasts as part of sex that their most basic function — feeding babies — is seen as kind of gross. I could write a veritable tome about friends who have been chastised for trying to breastfeed in a public or even semi-public place. When you bring a puppy into the equation, the current social media storm was entirely predictable.
Tubbs is fine now, and he and his siblings are living with another family while they wait for adoption. The woman remains certain that she did the right thing: “I can’t let their criticism bring me down when I did something right and I’ve seen the results. That dog is alive because I took that initiative.”
What do you think? Did she do the right thing to save Tubbs? Or did she cross a line? Let us know in the comments below.
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