Shepherding out antisemitism

I’m not surprised by the recent rise in celebrity slurs, like those spewed by John Galliano and Charlie Sheen, because I have noticed an upswing of such unfortunate behaviour in the dog park by my home.

There’s a German shepherd there that is completely antisemitic.

I’m not scared of German shepherds or other large dogs. If it were not for my husband’s sense of reason, I would have adopted a 200 pound rottweiler named Thor from the Humane Society. It’s no matter that we had no space for an animal that size or that Thor had documented behavioural issues with children.

I could understand a dog getting spooked by children- I’m scared of them, myself, sometimes. This particular German shepherd, however, has behavioural issues of an entirely different variety. He doesn’t like Jews. Kid Jews, adult Jews, or Jewish dogs.

Lucky for this raving antisemitic pooch, I guess, he lives in a very non-Jewish neighbourhood, here by the Danforth. But when my husband and I, both Members of the Tribe, walk down to the dog section of the park, the shepherd’s head jolts, his ears perk up and he starts sniffing in our general direction.

“Just act cool,” I say to my husband, standing slightly behind him. “Just act cool.”

We both stand straight stiff as the dog heads our way, circling around and checking us out. Sometimes he’ll stop half way and bark at us with a grunt that sounds dangerously close to “Juden.” Regardless, his approach makes it entirely clear that he would rather we played elsewhere.

The dog performs this ritual with such regularity that it can’t just be a coincidence. His owners seem lovely, so where do you suppose he’s picked this up? Could he be a Dior wearing, Two and a Half Men watching, indoctrinated canine?

Racial outbursts by famous folk always ignite the age old debate about whether, despite the proliferation of our human rights regime, anti-discrimination laws have only moved bigots to internalize their prejudice rather than expunge it. As Judith Timson asks in the Globe-“are more people than you think just two bottles of wine away from spewing the same old hatred?” []

So how do we do it? How do we make tolerance and acceptance organic behaviours and not simply learned ones? How do we teach antisemitic dogs to accept Jewish ones? I don’t really know, but I guess it starts with a large television network cancelling production of one of its most popular shows because of Sheen’s inappropriate remarks, and a fashion house firing its star designer because of “odious behaviour.”

And I guess it has to start with me kneeling down in the dog park, looking the shepherd in the eye and asking him nicely if he wants a cookie. Because no matter the celebrity, no matter the slur and no matter the headlines, I still believe that love begets love.  And cookies never hurt, either.