Well, I suppose I ought to be better prepared, but in this case, I was not. Another one of those episodic social media boundary battles.
Yesterday, I wrote a little tone poem to Fate and her joy of the meadow, one of those innocuous things that I love to write and some people love to read, it could hardly, in m mind, have been less controversial. I worry sometimes that social media is turning many of us into outrage and anger addicts.
This, of course, is America now, and almost everything is controversial, especially when it involves writing openly on Facebook about a life with animals. Or, for that matter, a life with anything. This is what comes from a "left" and "right" world, and from technology that makes it almost a virtue to be intrusive and rude.
In the piece, called "Making A Joyful Noise," I mentioned that Fate was getting spayed next month. I didn't say a word about it, I didn't explain it or rationalize it. I believe people should make up their own minds about things, I believe spaying and neutering is a good thing in general for many reasons.
The noise was anything but joyful. Chris and about a dozen other people immediately posted messages suggesting that spaying was not healthy for females. It was wrong, should be delayed, or not done at all. Several have been on Facebook too long, they thought it yet another veterinary scheme to make money. Several considered it a kind of abuse, another reason dogs should not be owned by human.
I responded in my usual charming and gracious fashion to such advice by saying I was not interested in anyone's opinions about spaying Fate beyond my breeder, vet, wife and dog. It was not anyone's business, I would not discuss it with strangers on Facebook. Having written a dozen or so books about animals, I have read quite a bit about neutering and spaying, talked to many vets and biologists and academics and researchers and trainers and breeders – as many or more, I am sure, as the people messaging me – and I am quite at ease with having Fate spayed in a month or so.
I know some people who have chosen not to spay and neuter their dogs, they have facilities and knowledge to make it work. I would not dream of telling them to do anything else, or presuming to know better than they do what to do with their dogs.
I pointed out in my Facebook replies that it is easier to be a Navy Seal than a vet in America these days, and people who go to school for six years to study animal health and who know me and my dogs have a lot of sway with me. People sitting behind screens in their living rooms with no knowledge of me, my dog or my world but happy to tell me what to do, do not carry a lot of weight with me. It isn't that I don't take advice or want it, it's that I'm careful where I get it, I don't want it from strangers online, if that makes any sense (it does not to many people.)
My idea that such a decision was my business and that I didn't need to have it with strangers on social media touched off the usual outrage and fury: this is by now, an almost weekly ritual in my life. I am always surprised how angry some people get when I tell them I am not interested in their advice. I always do it straightforwardly, without insult or personal attack. It is rarely taken well.
Chris was one of the first posters on Facebook: "You can't have it both ways; if you put it on Facebook, a social network, it's an implicit invitation for comment. I didn't see any comments that rose to the caliber of your snarky rudeness, Mr Katz, only people who were offering information. If you didn't want the subject discussed, you shouldn't have mentioned it. You encourage others to care about Fate, then blow a gasket when they offer a mild suggestion for her betterment. Goodbye, Mr Katz. I've been reading you for 20 years and today were my first comments. I'll take your advice and get lost, very far away."
I don't know what "implicit invitation" means, I am not aware of any online or social media or Facebook policy that says writing about my life on a social network is a de-facto invitation for people to tell me what to do. That is not my policy, I relish being independent, I worship the Thoreau idea that I must make my own mistakes and learn from them. Thoreau would be standing right with me on this question, he would weep at the idea that a social connection meant the loss of his own right to his choices and decisions, to his privacy and reasoning. He shared his year on Walden Pond too, he did not turn the experience over to others.
I told Chris she didn't need to get lost far away, but she did need to get lost, it was better for both of us. And I quite sincerely wished her luck. Twenty years is a long time to listen to me, I hope she finds happiness elsewhere. Urging me to not to spay Fate is not a mild suggestion, it is a very big one, for her, for us.
I call this the you-asked-for-it -if-you-are-honest school of thought. If you mention something openly online, it means you give up any title to privacy, dignity, respect or independence, especially if you are a public person. In that case, you have no rights at all. Only the people intruding on your life have rights. This is the same reasoning that suggests that women who wear make-up or attractive dresses to parties are asking to be sexually assaulted.
We love to judge other people and tell them what to do, we hate being told we cannot. Nobody likes to give up power. And on Facebook, we rarely are told that we cannot be rude. The consequence of Chris's thinking is that people are learning not to be honest on social networks, not to share their lives, not to be authentic. In a curious way, this is why so many people like the creepy Donald Trump. He does speak his mind. And he is, in fact, asking for it, he loves catching Hell.
My Facebook Page is my home online, I expected to be treated there the same way I would be treated in my house, the people there are my guests, and in many cases, come to be my friends. Friends don't tell other friends what to do if their advice is not wanted.
I maintain that I have rights and readers have rights, and I can and do have it both ways. Chris aside, my Facebook comments are usually very civilized and interesting. Many people disagree with me every day, as you can see for yourself, they are quite welcome. I do not give away my life by sharing it, I share it as Harper Lee shared her words in "To Kill A Mockingbird," or any writer does in any book.
You get to keep the book, not to own the person who wrote it. The blog is my book. Four million people read it every year, it is working for me.
As usual, there is the ghost here of the deepening conflict between people who have pets and people who animals. If you live in the country, the idea of having a working dog who runs free, works outside, walks in the woods remain unspayed is one thing, having a pet in a house or a kennel remain intact is another. I have a friend who does not neuter or spay her border collies, I believe she is irresponsible, putting her poorly-trained dogs at great risk in a number of different ways, from attracting aggressive dogs to having unwanted offspring without any kind of responsible control or breeding. I don't believe her when she says she wants them to stay natural, I believe she can't bear to inflict any kind of discomfort on them or separate from them for even one night.
But still, it is her choice, no matter what she believes, it is not for me to tell her what to do.
If you live in the country, you know that all kinds of dogs come running around an unspayed female, and the female herself often loses control. I can just imagine the two Rottweiler-Shepherd mixes who live down the road when Fate goes into heat, they would come right through or through our fence, not to mention the farm dogs up the road. A lot of bad ass country dogs and coyotes around here, I think I will not take Chris's advice and subject Fate to that. Or me.
I got a great message on my Facebook Page from a kindred spirit named Liz Owen, I immediately offered to friend her, she has been there and walked the walk. She read the messages on my Facebook Page too, and she is welcome there.
"No one has a clue when it comes to an un-neutered dog in the country," she posted. "Talk about the enemy at the gate. Every male dog in the surrounding counties that has the ability to reproduce will make it to your door if she goes into heat. Don't ask me how I know. It wasn't fun."
No, it wouldn't be. Liz accepted my Friend request. We are friends. I hope she is with me for the next 20 years. It turned out to be a good deal.