It has never happened before, and I was thus unprepared. When I saw it, I was hit instantly by a nauseous feeling in my core; it was a dull thud rather than a sharp piercing, as if a large, round and smooth stone had collided forcefully with my diaphragm, the shock waves travelling all the way into the centre of my Being. However, in true autistic manner, it took weeks and weeks of rumination, literally chewing and gnashing over this, before I could formulate a cohesive set of worded expression to talk about it at all. I exist mostly in a sensorial realm, and despite the normative world thinking that I am clever with words, I really cannot react as spontaneously with the worded domain as when in my senses, and the meanings that exist inside the sensorial realm will not make sense to the worded world. So I appear to only be ‘reacting’ now and not immediately then, because nobody was there inside my senses but myself when it happened. I needed a lot of time to translate those sensations into words.
My profile photograph was cropped and cut up by an event organiser and published in their publicity materials. Lucy was sliced away, even though her face was touching mine. Nobody consulted or informed me beforehand.
Basic manners 101: When I send my profile photo to an event organiser, I entrust this image to them, to deal with respectfully. If it is deemed unsuitable for reasons like sizing, resolution or shape, the event organiser should get in touch with me and discuss this or ask for another one that fits their requirements. That is the standard reasoning, is it not? But I’m not a standard-issue human. To be honest, I’m generally not fussy about photographs of me because I don’t think I ever look great in them anyway. I am now an old lady with a too-fat face, bloated as a result of the medications I have to take, and wearing a buzz cut because I cannot be bothered with long hair anymore. It really isn’t an issue of vanity. So, why am I so upset now?
Ah… you see… It isn’t the act of cropping that offended me. It was who they cut away that threw me off kilter and sparked my ire. They removed Lucy.
I want to make it clear that this has nothing to do with anthropomorphism. I don’t want to pretend she is a human being. Yes, I know, many pet owners do this. That is one of the many human traits that I find quite bizarre, though I don’t tell them so, because I know they will be very hurt, and why would I wish to hurt anyone who loves their pets? In all seriousness, why should I want another human (with fur and four legs – how awful) in my life? I am not fond of humans. Lucy is a dog. I relate with her as a human would, with all my own speckled humanity, to a dog, canis lupus familiaris, in all her canid glory.
I use this profile photograph as my official one because, to me, Lucy is everything that I am, here and now. I would not even be alive today, were it not for Lucy, who actively intervened twice to save me, in a way no human ever could do. I owe her my life.
It is not a frivolous thing, I don’t say it for drama, it is just the simple truth. And there is more. Lucy was a crucial part of my PhD journey in such a way that no words could do justice to. I wrote about this phenomenon in my PhD dissertation, but no matter how beautiful my writing may have been at the time, human words as they are cannot describe the wealth of meaning that exists in our shared ecology of parallel embodiments within Clement Space. So, I do it with a visual image: this photograph of us both, taken in 2012, when Lucy first entered my life. It is a symbol of our joint existence. It speaks what words cannot.
When the event people cropped Lucy out, they not only stuck a visually awkward and aesthetically distorted photograph onto their publicity material – a too huge headshot and a cut up dog’s face, how visually pleasing can that be? – but more importantly, at a fundamental level, they violated Lucy.
Removed her image from beside me.
Forcefully separated us.
Disfigured my expression of Being, and dismembered the rich tapestry of my journey to where I am now.
“She’s just a dog.” I hear these words a lot. Humans either anthropomorphise their pets or they consider animals beneath them. Yes, I know. That is reality. I am not living in Disneyland. I do not expect these people to understand and say otherwise.
Oh, but, hey, wait: I am not a dog! I was the one who submitted this photograph, I placed it in their hands. So, even if they don’t like dogs, would they not at least treat my choice with the respect that a fellow human being ought to have in this human-centric world?
Discombobulation. I do not understand it. The fact that it has never happened before in the last 8 years at numerous events in different countries makes this even more mysterious. Is this a cultural quirk that I never knew existed in my own homeland? Or just one random scissor-happy, dog-hating human?
Irony? They – the event organiser – would not even have heard about me, nor invited me to their event, were it not for Lucy Like-a-Charm. A quiet, unassuming, undemanding Greyhound, rescued from a former life of torture and abuse at the hands of greedy, barbaric humans in the dog racing industry. She has lived with poise and grace, despite her past, surpassing most of the pet dogs I have ever met in her dignity, quiet confidence and forbearance. I have had pet dogs before. All my life, in fact. I loved them all. As pet dogs. But Lucy is not a pet dog. Nor is she only an assistance dog that can be replaced once she is past her usefulness. There is only one Lucy Like-a-Charm to whom I owe my presence in this world of the living, and my life’s greatest joys and achievements. There would have been no Dr. Dawn-joy Leong were it not for Lucy Like-a-Charm. I don’t say this with frivolity. It is humbling, yes, that a dog could do this, but this human has learned from this very unique dog what it means to humble my navel-gazing human-centricity and appreciate lessons from an entity that is not of my own specie.
So, if you are reading this as an event organiser, even if you do not quite understand all the above, even if it is just nonsensical drivel to you, just remember this one point then: if I ever hand you this photograph, please make sure you ask me before you defile Lucy’s image. And if you think a photograph of a dog is inappropriate to feature in your ‘serious’ event, then I want nothing to do with your event. I don’t need you. But I need Lucy and I wish to remain faithful to all she is to me.