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Shelley swim 2 edit

Once a week I take my dog swimming in a special doggie swimming pool.

That’s right.

I pay good money for my dog, Shelley, to have the exclusive use of a 12,000 gallon body of clean, heated water, tucked away in a cozy, climate controlled environment.

I even strap a float coat on her because she’s too out of shape to swim for long without one! Okay, it’s a life jacket, but she’s a Labrador Retriever, so we call it a float coat in order to protect her dignity.

I devote this 30 minutes every week to making my dog happy.

At some point during those allotted 30 minutes of exclusive pool use, as I stand ankle deep in water, tossing a purple, squeak toy for her majesty to fetch, I allow myself to ponder the irony.

  • There are places in the world where dogs are nothing more than chattel or food
  • There are places in the world where people are dying for lack of access to clean water
  • In those places, people would probably be more likely to believe that crop circles are the result of alien visitation than that anybody would be crazy enough to set aside 12,000 gallons of perfectly good water just to let their precious-puppy-pie swim in comfort

It’s funny, even though it isn’t.

But it is consistent with how we humans are.

Take anything, anything at all – trees, cows, dogs, water, even people:

  • Somewhere on the planet, that thing is valued, treasured and protected
  • Somewhere else, that thing is merely fodder for another’s use

Yet, growing up, this possibility never occurred to me. Because I grew up knowing certain things to be universal truths. One of those things was that dog is man’s best friend.

Yes, I’d heard rumors that there were places, like Korea, where people ate dogs. But I didn’t believe them. After all, dogs were beloved family members, surely that was one of life’s many indisputable facts.

My bubble of denial burst 23 years ago, when I was stationed in Korea.

I was 19, young, naïve, and experiencing a truly foreign culture and country for the first time. One where, purportedly, people ate dogs. A fact I adamantly refused to accept.

And, as I ventured my way beyond the military base, I was gratified to notice that I saw many dogs. And the dogs that I saw were definitely pets. Not food.

Unfortunately, seeing cute, adorable pet dogs made me home sick.

So I came up with a brilliant idea – I decided that I was going to get a puppy.

Yes, it really did sound like a perfectly logical, rational, and oh-so brilliant plan at the time. Hush, I was 19, going on 10, and imbued with an innocent wonder and trust about life and the world. Give me a break!

Somehow, in the germination phase of this plan, I’d managed to convince myself that sneaking a puppy into the barracks without anyone in my chain of command discovering his existence, was not my primary challenge.

Instead, I determined that my greatest challenge would be to find a puppy to purchase.

Fortunately for me, I learned from a friend that puppies were often for sale at the market.

Even more fortunately for me, I spoke Korean. (Yes, I did, 23 years ago. Now, not so much.)

As far as I was concerned, I was one hot, sweaty bus ride away from cuddling my very own adorable puppy.

So, I took myself, and a pocketful of cash, to the market where, using my flawless Korean (hey, its’ my story) I asked an elderly lady where I could buy a puppy.

She gave me a funny look, and if I hadn’t been so determined, I might have seen that as a red flag. But I have, on rare occasions, been known to be a bit thick headed. So I ignored it.

I followed her directions.

I found the dogs.

And it became horribly and undeniably clear to me, that yes, in Korea, people do eat dogs.

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to read that I actually persisted in my search, until an elderly man finally convinced me that I was not lost, and that I really had found the only section of the market where I could buy a dog. Just not a living and breathing one.

It was no consolation to me that I’d been right – finding a puppy to purchase turned out to be an insurmountable obstacle. Even though in hindsight, that was probably a good thing.

That was my first dose of the harsh reality of life – the things that we value are not necessarily universally valued.

Even if the aliens (the ones who visited us and left behind their crop circles) didn’t ascertain almost immediately that we humans were completely bonkers, any attempts to understand us as a species would most certainly have driven them insane.

Either way, their logical conclusion would have been the same – perhaps, just maybe, Earth, and its crazy human species, should be avoided at all cost.

Hmm, we humans may well be the craziest species in the universe. But perhaps that isn’t a bad thing. Perhaps it is the very thing that keeps the aliens away :-).

But, all joking aside, it is a fact of life. The value placed on life is subjective. A facet of geography and culture.

I live in a place where we are so confident of our access to clean water that we can afford to set aside 12,000 gallons of it for my dog to play in.

Unlike many humans around the world, I live in a place where I have access to more than just water, I have access to food, shelter, and freedom. Unlike many humans, unlike many women, I am valued as more than chattel.

I am grateful for this. Every single day of my life.

But strangely, it is that once a week when I’m standing, ankle deep in warm water, throwing a purple squeak toy to my devoted canine companion, that I am most reminded of how very, very fortunate I am.

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