America’s Coprophagia

The eerie similarity between my dog’s coprophagia and American foreign policy. First performed at San Francisco’s Progressive Reading Series, on a bill with Jane Smiley and Jonathan Franzen. A more family-friendly version was later published in Bark magazine.I’m sitting in a café in the Yucatan, watching two American tourists sip beers in their stonewashed denim shorts. One sports a U.S. Marine Corps T-shirt decorated with an angry bald eagle. In big letters reads the slogan: “Mess with the Best, Die Like the Rest.”

What’s more astounding, is that in order for the Jarhead to be wearing this, he actually packed it in his luggage. At some point, he had a suitcase on the bed, and said to himself, “Going off to Mexico….. socks, swimsuit, underwear – okay, where’s my “Die Like the Rest” shirt? Oh, I’m wearing it!”

This scenario strikes me on many levels. First of all, Marines are just plain crazy. They are by far the most brainwashed of all the armed forces. I know this first-hand, because my father was a Marine for about five minutes at the end of World War II, and as the stories elongate over time, I have come to realize he was single-handedly responsible for D-Day, Guadacanal, and the career of Douglas MacArthur.

It also illustrates how Americans are proudly oblivious to our reputation in the rest of the world. We have no clue about how others perceive us, from you and me, on up to the White House. While traveling overseas on assignment, I have heard plenty of feedback. A Dutch man once told me that the only time Americans learn about another country is when we start a war. A guy in France accused me and my girlfriend of being obsessed with professional wrestling. A girl in Kiev once asked me if it’s true that in the United States, only poor people eat at McDonald’s.

Wherever I go, it’s always the same: We’re the big American bullies, bombing and torturing and filling up nations with junk food and junk culture. Hey, I’m from snotty San Francisco, don’t you think I know this? Every time I think of it, I feel helpless and pissed-off. The closest emotion I can compare it to, is the feeling l get whenever my dog eats his own feces.

At some point of every day, my dog Max returns from the backyard, smacking his lips and wiggling with pride, like he just toppled Baghdad. I know the look, I know exactly what has happened. If I need further evidence, it’s all over his breath.

As with spreading democracy, there are a handful of methods my dog employs to eat his own feces. Sometimes he nibbles daintily at the turd, like an old-money socialite with a new set of dentures. Occasionally he gulps down the whole thing, like the Japanese guy in the hot dog-eating contest. And most often, he stands over the supine loaf, chewing thoughtfully and contemplating its savory goodness. It is the most disturbing thing I have ever witnessed.

I have tried all the known remedies. I have picked up all his turds in the yard. Each morning — another fresh snack. I have caught him red-handed in the act, and scolded him. He’ll stop and smile, flattered at the attention, and then sneak back later for the surreptitious junkie fix. I have tried the pills they sell in pet stores, which contain pepper extract, but to him, it’s like adding salsa to an enchilada.

Our neighbors have even said to us, “Hey, did you know your dog eats his own shit?” Obviously they think their dog is superior to ours, and it’s all I can do, to not reply, “Oh yeah, well did you know your dog barks non-stop, like a fucking idiot?”

My girlfriend tells me, “Why do you let it get to you? Why does you take it so personally?”

Because like America’s foreign policy, the shit-fest taking place in my backyard is obviously not right. Anyone can see it’s not right. There are many more civilized directions to take, more unexplored avenues, better solutions. But it just keeps happening over and over again. I’m trapped on both counts. It’s either CNN describing what we did this time overseas, or the daily scat-munch.

To learn more, I googled the term ‘shit-eating.’ The medical term is Coprophagia. Which sounds like the name of a hip new San Francisco restaurant. “Have you been to Coprophagia yet? The food is so-so — it’s like you’ve had it all before, but their wine list is fan-TAS-tic.”

Apparently Coprophagia is not uncommon in the animal kingdom. Elephants, rabbits, insects, hamsters, gorillas all eat their own feces. And most dogs, if given the opportunity, will eat the feces of other animals. It’s no coincidence that among dog owners, a cat turd, covered in litter, is referred to as “almond roca.”

My girlfriend and I try to laugh it off, and call our beagle “Shit Monkey” and “Turd Burglar,” just to add some levity to this foul habit. And I know in some ways, he can’t help it. For the first five years of his life, he was a laboratory test animal. Beagles are popular for testing because of their high threshold for pain.

In this environment, coprophagia is pretty common. When you’re being burned with blowtorches, and cosmetics and pesticides are dropped into your eyes and injected into your veins, there is some comfort in going back into your cage and eating a warm turd the precise moment it comes out of your ass. It’s like a nice cup of tea at the end of the night.

The day we got him, he was doped up, freshly castrated, and wrapped in a blanket. An accompanying sheet of paper contained a phrase straight from Mengele’s diary: “This animal is no longer of any educational use, and is therefore declared surplus.” He didn’t do anything for hours, just sat in a chair readjusting to a totally foreign situation, staring at nothing in a narcotic haze. A part of me thought, uh oh, we got a lemon here. But then I remembered — except for the castration, I felt the same way at an Aerosmith concert in 1979.

That night we happened to be watching the blaxploitation film Foxy Brown on cable. To our amazement, the beagle sat up and started watching it along with us. The movie is intensely violent – a lesbian bar brawl, shotguns and throat-slashing, Pam Grier getting raped by white supremacists, sweaty villains calling her a “big-jugged jigaboo.”

This was our dog’s first introduction to life outside of a cage. He had zero interest in us, his rescuers and caregivers. Instead, he locked into the TV screen, focusing intently on the action. We speculated on the appeal. Maybe it was the pimp-fashion plaids and stripes that caught his eye. The piercing screams, or the funky soundtrack. My girlfriend suggested he was a Soul Beagle, sympathetic to the plight of oppressed black women in 1970s urban America. He finally dozed off and didn’t wake up for two days.

We knew that in adopting a lab dog, he would be damaged. He wasn’t house-trained, he had a USDA number tattooed in his ear. He turned in circles constantly, like a con man pacing a jail cell. He had endured unimaginable horrors, just so some teenage girl could have the hot new mascara.

The next morning we went for his first walk in the park, and  being that beagles are scent hounds, this exposure to nature amounted to nothing less than a kaleidoscopic sensory overload. No more Auschwitz, every single moment another taste of freedom. This plant, that rock, the tree over there, this patch of grass, all unfamiliar smells which needed to be located, verified, and then peed upon.

I soon realized I had joined an alternative Dog World of doggy-lovers, all wearing pajamas covered in pet hair, stumbling along the dewey path for that first poop stroll of the day. Dog World is very different than conventional reality. Unlike most urban dwellers, a Dog World person is quite chatty, a relentless lawn sprinkler of over-shared information, shooting out details about their pet – the age, the breed, its favorite toys and games and treats and clothes. It’s so much, sometimes I want to ask, gee, does he lick peanut butter off your balls, too?

The more self-righteous members of Dog World will hand you a flyer about some dog injustice, or boast about their rare Uzbekistanian wolfhound, and how he was bred to not drool, and is used primarily for herding camels in the high desert, and sweats only through his tail.

Although my dog is a committed coprophage and turns in circles, in Dog World he is a trump card. A freak show survivor, the living embodiment of hateful animal testing. As soon as other dog owners learn he’s a lab dog, the conversation always turns to Max. My girlfriend and I have developed the standard response: “He was a laboratory animal for five years he lived in a cage we rescued him a year ago we think it was a lab in Palo Alto their policy is not to reveal where he’s from he walks in a circle he has a tattoo in his ear see?” It makes me sick to hear my voice repeat it over and over again. Except it always puts the wolfhound owner in his place.

I don’t mention to people that my dog eats his own shit. And I don’t talk about America when I’m in another country. Yes, they both bother me. But don’t judge me by my flag, or my dog. Sometimes I wonder, it might be a better world if my dog was President, and the government ate its own shit.

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