Letter From thenLower Rightnby John Shelton ReednMan’s Best Friend andnOther BrutesnHighbrows like Chronicles readers maynnot know a television program callednAmericas Funniest Home Videos, butnit’s just exactly what it sounds like. Anstory in Newsweek last year reportednthat the program’s staff were surprisednto discover regional differences in thentapes that viewers send in. Accordingnto a man who screens submissions, thenMidwest’s FHVs are usually episodesnfrom family life, and California’s tendnto involve “far-out stunts,” but Southerners,nhe said, produce endless footagenof “bizarre guys sitting aroundndrinking beer while trying to produce anvideo.” This man singled out onenSouthern tape for special mention: itnshowed “a small, stick-wielding childnfruitlessly pursuing a frog around anyard as an off-camera voice kept shouting,n’Git it! Git it!'”nWell, I hate to say it, but that soundsnabout right.nSoutherners do seem more likelynthan other Americans to believe thatnfrogs and other critters have been putnhere to amuse or otherwise to serve us.nI guess I’m a case in point. Not longnago a letter-writer charged me with anpattern of insensitivity to animal rights,nand I’m guilty. I have often writtennwith indifference and even with approvalnabout blood sports, the eating of rednmeat, and other activities detrimentalnto the welfare of individual beasts.nMoreover, I have made fun of animalrightsnzealots — partly because they’renzealots, but there’s more to it than that.nI’m afraid I’m being typical.n”Egg-suckin’ dog,” Johnny Gashnsings, “I’m gonna stomp your head innthe ground.” In what other region doesncasual violence against animals figurenin popular music? No doubt you’ven44/CHRONICLESnCORRESPONDENCEnseen the bumper stickers that say “In[heart] NEW YORK,” or “GHAPELnHILL,” or “[picture of a golden retriever].”nMaybe you’ve also seen thenones that say “I [spade] MY GAT.”nBut only in the South have I seen “In[club] BABY SEALS.” There are partsnof the country where it wouldn’t bensafe to make that joke.nThe entry on “pets” in the Encyclopedianof Southern Culture states itnsimply as a fact that Southerners aren”less likely [than other Americans] tonexpress concern about the right ornwrong treatment of animals or tonstrongly oppose exploitation or crueltyntoward animals.”nThat entry was written by MargaretnYoung, a sociologist who studies interactionnbetween humans and animals.nDr. Young teaches in a veterinarynschool, and she’s also a professionalndog trainer. She does a good deal ofnoutside work these days as an expertnwitness in court cases where peoplenhave lost hands or children to killerndogs. She says that Southerners are lessnlikely to get in this sort of trouble,nbecause we’re less likely to forget thatndogs are dogs and don’t think like us.nThat is, we’re less likely to confusenthem with human beings.nYou could say we have more respectnfor their doghood; we believe that dogsnshould and will do doggy things, thatnthey have their own part to play in thisnworld, and maybe the next — a partndifferent from ours, complementary,nand, yes, subordinate. Dr. Young saysnSoutherners are “more likely to expressnconcern for the practical and materialnvalue of animals or their habitat” —nthat is, for their use to us.nI’m not a hunter (although I’venhunted), but some of my friends andnrelations are mighty huntsmen, especiallynof doves and deer, which I’mnhappy to help them eat. It’s importantnto them to eat what they kill, becausen— this is significant — it’s a form ofnrespect for the animal. These fellowsndon’t get theological about it, but somenof them could. The most propheticnnnSouthern voice of our time, that ofnWendell Berry, has had some finenthings to say about the biblical themenof stewardship, which licenses the usenof God’s property, but insists that wencare for it, too.nIf you don’t understand the hunter’snethic, and don’t have someone aroundnto explain it to you, watch for a bookncoming out soon from Princeton UniversitynPress by Stuart Marks, an anthropologistnand hunter who spentnyears in Scotland Gounty, North Garolina,nstudying hunters of deer, duck,ncoon, quail, and so forth. Each groupnturns out to be almost a separate tribe,nwith its own folkways and initiationnrites, and it’s weird and wonderful tonsee them treated by someone whosenprevious book was about African lionhunters.nBut getting back to my friends: ifnyou tell one of these guys that a deernhas rights, he’ll laugh at you. Ask himnhow he’d feel if he were a deer andnhe’ll explain patiently that he’s not.nTell him that he and the deer are onenand he might get angry. But suggestnthat habitat preservation or a lower bagnlimit this year means better huntingnnext year, and he’ll listen intently.nThere is a mutual dependence here,nalthough it’s not based on identity orneven equality.nThe same is true for domestic animals.nMargaret Young observes thatnSoutherners are more likely than othernAmericans to expect household animalsnto work, to earn their keep. Theynare subordinate, but their work complementsnours and contributes to thencommon wealth. Horse and rider,nhunter and dog, mule and farmer:nthese symbiotic pairings are rootedndeep in the collective memory.nObviously, Southerners can like animals.nOld Blue is a legendary good oldndog. Old Shep even got himself sungnabout by Elvis. Another singer hasnmade a song of his daddy’s request tonhis mama to “wake me up early, bengood to my dogs, and teach my childrennto pray.”n