An antidote to violence

My desk is a mess of distractions. To one side a tub of Yoplait yoghurt, from a company which – so the label tells me – arrived in Australia in 1982, the year my first daughter was born.

Yoghurt was still a foreign substance then, before it became a dietary staple. My typical breakfast.

My eyes then settle on a newspaper article I cut out of The Age last week, a report that every day last year 238 women were killed across the globe. This number narrows down to six women every hour.

The article does not make comparisons with the number of men killed each day but observes that 58 per cent of those female deaths occurred at the hands of an intimate partner or relative.

I expect many of the men killed would be killed by others, not an intimate partner, but you never know.

I doubt any one has made a comparison. Why bother?

We all know about family violence, one of my preoccupations these days given a childhood under its shadow, though in my childhood we thought such murderous behaviour on the part of our menfolk was the norm.

When I was a young social worker starting out in the world of families and the troubles they encountered, the question ‘Is your father violent?’ was commonplace.

Violence is a marker of something more pressing. I suppose because too many people die at the pointy end of it.

Further away in the back of my mind I have half an ear cocked for the sounds of the puppy chewing on something unacceptable down the hallway.

I’m on puppy duty this morning, as I have been these past few weeks since the arrival into our household of Tilly, the labradoodle. I’d never have thought we’d come into possession of such a dog.

She’s belongs to our daughter who sees a value in the company of such animals that many of us lack.

Strangely these past several weeks I’ve found myself feeling soothed by the presence of this small fleece covered creature, who reminds me of my childhood dog, Peta.

Peta came home one day after she had followed one of my brothers after school to our back door, and she stayed.

It was hard convincing our dad this dog should stay, which legend has it was the reason we called her Peta. Peta with an ‘a’, to trick our father into thinking she was a boy.

Several litters of puppies later and my father knew the truth, but by then Peta was established as part of our family. At night, she slept in the woodshed.

A couple of women who lived up the road together in a tiny Victorian cottage, worried every time they saw our sleek Peta chase another car up or down Wentworth Avenue. They offered to take on Peta’s care and agreed to pay the cost of her de-sexing, so that my parents, most especially my mother, would be spared the agonies of what to do with yet another littler of unwanted pups.

My mother reckoned it was more humane to give Peta away and have her neutered. Too many babies could kill her.

This at a time when my mother secretly went to the parish priest and asked his permission to go onto the contraceptive bill. She had just given birth to her eleventh child, a still born daughter, at 43 years of age and was worried that if she fell pregnant yet again, it could kill her.

I don’t know whether the priest gave his permission, but through the fog of my memory, I can see a contraceptive pill packet on my mother’s dressing table and so I believe she decided her life was worth preserving.

I have no memory of what happened to Peta’s puppies only a sense they disappeared soon after birth. I did not understand the responsibility of a pet ownership back then. Not many did.

Dogs and cats roamed the neighbourhood and many travelled collar-free even though they clearly had homes.

Not like today, when you see a dog on the street without a lead and you know to stop and render assistance.

A dog on its own in the suburbs of Melbourne is a dog who has escaped its confines and needs rescuing. A dog who might otherwise be in trouble.

The traffic whizzes by on Riversdale Road and no dog has a hope unless it’s on a lead or has been trained to stay off roads.

Hopefully this puppy will learn to know the difference between a road and a footpath and soon.

I can feel my eyes dropping. It’s been three weeks of six o-clock starts almost every day and it takes its toll. I need a kip.

Like the puppy spread out on the cool bathroom tiles after a hot night, I’ll just go off to doze a while and then have energy enough for the rest of the day.

And energy enough to tidy my desk.

One thought on “An antidote to violence”

  1. I don’t understand violence. I get frustration and anger and the often irresistible desire—some would argue “need”—to vent but there’s a world of difference between punching a wall and a person. I’ve not been in many fights in my life and even when I have been my aim was always to stop my opponent injuring me. The thought of hitting him back never occurred to me. Why would I want to do that? I was a big, strong lad growing up and every time I got in a brawl it was invariably against a weaker opponent so it was never much of a contest. Christ! the first boy to ever claim me wore a leg brace—he’d had polio—and was a good head shorter than me. I mean, seriously, what was I supposed to do? I just let him wear himself out until some bigger boys decided enough was enough and pulled him off me.

    It was different when our home was invaded in December. This was the first time I’d faced someone who was significantly stronger than me. But my approach was still much the same, to limit the damage he was likely to do to me and, fortunately, as he went for stomach punches all of them hit my arm. I never once considered hitting him back. I’m not sure what might push me over that edge. Had he started on Carrie perhaps but even then I’d still be more likely to put myself in the way to protect her.

    Carrie and I watch a lot of crime shows and they invariably involve a murder or two. I can’t treat them seriously. I’ve never got that caught up in any drama that I forget these are actors pretending. Even news reports of actual killings are too far removed from my reality to really get to me. These are worlds outwith my ken. That’s the difference between knowledge and understanding. I know people hurt and kill each other but I don’t understand how they can.

    I don’t understand dogs either. A stray followed us home once when we were kids and Dad chased him away. We were a cat family, true, but my mother loved all kinds of animals and would feed anything that came into her garden so I didn’t see the problem. As an adult I do understand why my dad did what he did but the wee boy in me still hasn’t forgiven him and aches for that dog. I’m just a big softie. When Carrie phoned me at work to say she’d rescued a cockatiel from being attacked by a magpie on our windowsill there was never any question that we’d care of him for as long as necessary. I didn’t imagine twelve years later he’d still be here and it’s not impossible he’ll last another twelve but that’s pushing it; he’s about twenty-two now but none has survived past thirty-six.

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