Hergest, says the Owner, do not chase the Duck.
I skulk back to her side. The Duck Quacks sneerily and floats away. Quack, it says again, Gloating in a manner suggestive of Schadenfreude.
I do not see why I have to have Rules, I say. Hergest sit, I say. Hergest fetch, I say. Hergest do not Jump on the Yoga People, I say. Hergest do not Say Hello to the Montessori Children. Hergest do not Steal the Cheese because of the Ghastly Pong. I am being Oppressed.
They are Moral Rules, says the Owner, they have a Moral Purpose. You cannot be Oppressed by Moral Rules. You sit in order to demonstrate a certain Calmness and Serenity after your more Vigorously Enthusiastic moments. You fetch in order that your beloved ball, Mildred, is not left behind when we Go Home. You do not jump on the Yoga people because it Confabulates their Om. You do not say Hello to the Montessori Children because I cannot afford the Dry Cleaning.
That is all very easy for you to say, I say, it is your Moral Purpose that these Rules Obey. I do not get to choose either the Rules or the Moral Ambience in which the Norms are Set. Ancestral Dogs do not Lie in the park Chanting with our Feet behind our Ears. Ancestral Dogs do not need Dry Cleaning. Ancestral Dogs know the Calm and Serenity of the Successful Chase. Ancestral Dogs do not Subscribe to any of these Bleeding Heart Liberal Ideas about Not Chasing Ducks. Ancestral Dogs are…
So this is about wanting to Chase that Duck? Asks the Owner.
Absolutely Not, I say. The Moral Dog would not be so shallow as to question the very basis of Morality just because he wants to pursue one Particular Duck, I say, even one displaying Schadenfreude in such a Blatant and, Frankly, Pyrrhic Fashion.
How do you display Schadenfreude in a Pyrrhic Fashion? Asks the Owner.
Look at that Duck, I say, and you will know.
It does not look like Schadenfreude to me, says the Owner, I think its Beak is made like that. Besides, we cannot modify all of Morality for one Duck, says the Owner.
It is Pigeons and Geese and Squirrels as well, I say, although I draw the line at Swans. I do not wish to Chase Them.
I see, says the Owner, so the Moral Dog thinks he should be able to Oppress Only Other Animals who cannot Fight Back?
It is my Instinct, I say. Ancestral Dogs have a High Prey Drive, I say. We were born to live in Packs, Wild and Free, I say.
Have you been looking at the Facebook Page of the National Rifle Association again? Asks the Owner.
I might have been, I say. I was hoping to hunt a Moose, I say. Why should the Moral Dog not be allowed to hunt a Moose?
Because this is not the Wild West, says the Owner, it is Hampstead Heath, and you do not have a Pack.
I could recruit one, I say, you would not want Moose running around Willy Nilly.
Some People might say the same about Moral Dogs, says the Owner.
That is Exactly my Point, I say. It should not be up to Some People to determine the Morally Proper behaviour of the Moral Dog. We Dogs have our Own Morals, I say. The Moral Dog’s Morals are a part of what makes him a Dog, I say. They include Chewing Squirrels as a Species Moral Norm, whilst no Ancestral Dog worth his Salt would ever Tolerate the Muttered Insults of a Duck.
You are Quite Right, says the Owner. Humans have no right to impose their own Moral Norms on another Species. Sadly, however, the Moral Dog is a Pet, and is the Custody of his Owner, who is required to follow certain rules about the Moral Dog’s behaviour in Public Spaces. Not Chewing Squirrels is One of them. When the Moral Dog agreed to these Custody Arrangements there was a Quid Pro Quo.
Oh, I say. What was the Quid and what was the Quo?
I think you know the answer to that, says the Owner.
Does it involve Cheese? I ask.
The Moral Dog is quicker than a Squirrel up a Tree says the Owner.
In that case, I say, I am Breaking the Contract. Please accept this as Formal Notice of Resignation from my Position as Pet. I have Cast off the Bonds of Human Moral Oppression to return to the Perfectly Justifiable Zone of Ancestral Dog Morality. I am now going to live Wild and Free, forming a pack and Chewing Squirrels. And if we happen to run across a Moose in the process, we will Pursue that too. I am keeping both my Quid and my Quo and reclaiming my Ancestral Morality. The Pack will look after its Own.
Very well, says the Owner. I shall be sorry not to see the Moral Dog again, but clearly the Call of the Wild is Primeval and impossible to Ignore.
You will see me, I say, when I feel like visiting, I say. The Ancestral Dog may Sleep under the Stars with the Pack as he chews on the remains of his latest Duck and listens to the Call of the Wild. But he may also Pop into his Old Place of Custody to share Memories of Old Times and a little Hospitality.
That is Excellent, says the Owner. I am proud to have raised so Independent a Moral Dog.
Thank you, I say, and then I race across the Heath with my new Found Freedom. The Snide Duck is not Quacking now. Pigeons Scatter. Squirrels Flee. Parrots screech and Burst out of the Treetops. That Swan puts itself Safely in the Middle of the Pond. I am an Ancestral Dog. I make my Own Moral Rules. I am an Apex Predator! I am the Monarch of All I Survey! I am the leader of the Pack, albeit that it is a Somewhat Metaphorical Pack as yet. I have found my True Ancestral Self!
And it is then that I notice them. Menacing me. Crows. In Plural. I chase one but the Others Gather. They make a Crawing Sound which the Moral Dog’s Ancestral Instincts regard as, Frankly, Unfriendly. They hiss.
What is wrong with the Ancestral Dog? Asks the Owner. I thought he had gone to be Wild and Free.
The Crows are watching me, I say. Freakily, I say. They do not look very Moral to me, I say.
That is because they are also Wild and Free, says the Owner, and possibly Hungry. You cannot Impose Dog Morality on Crows. They may have a High Prey Drive and they seem to have Formed a Pack.
Why do they not go home for Supper? I say. I feel somewhat uncomfortable being Regarded as potential Lunch by a Bird, I say.
Ancestral Creatures do not have homes with supper in them, says the Owner, they are Wild and Free. They live off the things they can Scavenge.
So what do they eat? I ask.
Normally, says the Owner, Small Animals that have been Run Over by a Bus. However the reduction in Traffic during the Covid crisis has massively reduced the road-kill available to Scavenging Species. So they are wondering what else they might eat. Possibly Larger Animals are on their radar.
Would they Eat a Moral Dog? I ask.
Possibly, says the Owner, if you were Fading Away from Starvation owing to having eaten Insufficient Ducks. Or, if you were Asleep without the Pack. I do not think that Crow Moral Norms would Forbid it.
Oh, I say. I see, I say. I suppose I could hide under my Cushion, I say.
Your Cushion? says the Owner. Are you not planning to be Wild and Free?
Of course I am, I say, but when I make my Den on the Heath tonight I will obviously need a Cushion. How else will I sleep comfortably?
Perhaps the Pack will Provide, says the Owner. Do they have an Amazon account, do you think?
I do not yet have a Pack, I say, I was hoping they would join me after I have Howled at the Full Moon.
The next Full Moon is not until May 7th, says the Owner.
Ah, I say. I think I may temporarily reapply for the position of Moral Dog, I say. It would be a shame to be Eaten by Crows in the night whilst waiting for the Pack to Arrive.
Well, says the Owner, I suppose I do still have a Vacancy for a Moral Dog. I was about to Advertise, but you could return Temporarily. It is not that the Moral Dog can ever truly be Replaced, but I do have a Spare Cushion and Spare Cheese and was Hoping to put them to Good Use.
That is Excellent, I say, let me just have a word with That Duck and then I will fill out the Application.
Although, says the Owner, I must point out that for Moral Reasons I am unable to Accept applications from Moral Dogs who do not entirely meet the Person Specification. A History of Duck Worrying would almost certainly Rule someone Out.
Oh, I say. Well, I say, do your Contraindications say Anything about Squirrels? I ask.
Odd that you should ask, says the Owner, but Yes.
I suppose I could always postpone until I have Formed my Pack, I say.
You could, says the Owner, even if it takes some time.
It would be a Temporary Compromise, I say.
Of course, says the Owner.
It is an Excellent Solution. We leave the Murderous Crows and return home past the Floating Duck. Could I just…? I ask the Owner.
Just this Once, says the Owner.
I eye the Floating Duck. The Duck eyes me Warily. It knows an Ancestral Dog when it sees one. I’ll be Back, I say.
To the Victor, the Spoils.
Hergest the Hound
I am a dog of many thoughts.