Eat Sh*t and Die

Madison (left) and Titus (Right) playing in our back yard

Madison (left) and Titus (Right) playing in our back yard

This piece is in honor of Titus and Madison, who taught me about communicating personality without using words. Pets are capable of showing individuality and emotion like any human. My pets used many communication tactics found in University of Minnesota Library’s Communication in the Real World: An Introduction to Communication Studies. We hope everyone is having a good year of the dog.

Get a dog, they said. It’ll be your best friend, they said. That was not the case for Madison and Titus. Madison doesn’t consider me her friend. And Titus never believed I considered him my friend.

Madison came first. The one-year-old came from the Virginia German Shepherd Rescue, having failed her training to become a police dog. I assume she failed because of her attention span. Madison is not an aggressive dog, she’s a passive aggressive dog.

About a week later, we got Titus. He was also found by the Virginia German Shepherd Rescue, stuck on a fence in the middle of Rural Nowhere, USA. For years, Titus’s ears didn’t stick up. They were floppy. You might think that he was a mixed-breed, but no. Titus is the most insecure and self-doubting animal I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

The moment Titus came home with us, Madison had two reactions:

  • First, Madison loved Titus, and he loved her. The latter was legitimately surprising, as Titus had yet to form a positive connection with any other animal.
  • Second, Madison adopted an extreme, permanent case of first child syndrome despite the fact that she only preceded Titus by a week. She would bully Titus. Frequently, when we gave Titus a bone, she would take it out of his mouth, place it somewhere else in the house, and walk away. She didn’t want the bone—she just didn’t want him to have it. Any amount of attention given to Titus was met with her body barreling into yours, her lightly biting Titus’s face, and her head pushing under your arm. Madison was passive aggressive towards her best friend for his entire life.

Titus was not strong enough to stand up for himself. He learned everything from Madison. He peed squatting, like a girl dog, because it’s all he knew. He was afraid of everyone, and he never quite understood what it meant to play. In all honesty, neither of them did. Madison chases balls, but she refuses to this day to ever bring one back. Titus just followed her around the backyard. Eventually, he would retire to his favorite corner, sitting and staring at me with an expression that seemed like he thought I was making fun of him behind his back.

There’s a clear connection between UMS’s research on nonverbal communication and the personalities of these two dogs. Titus used gestures, facial expressions, head movements, posture, and eye contact to let us know just how sad and afraid he was at all times. Madison is more physical, using haptics and invading one's personal space and intimate space to get what she wants. Her goal is always to dominate any scenario.

Should it seem like we were playing with Titus, Madison would come and gently bite his face again. Put him back in his place. They had an unspoken agreement where Titus could hide in his plastic igloo and she would leave him alone, for a bit. He would go in there and she would let him stay, until she got bored and decided to take his ball.

You let Madison outside and it’s her time to start barking. That’s her barking time. She loves to bark, especially at that scary house at the corner. Sometimes she barks for no reason at all.

At some point, you grow tired of the barking, so you yell “Madison” from the back door for anywhere between 1 and 5 minutes. Now Madison is back inside, which means it’s her turn to yell. Not bark, yell. The sound is some indescribable combination of a whimper, a howl, and a fully-blown human scream. Day or night, she loves yelling inside. She loves to yell at sirens. Sometimes she yells for no reason at all.

Titus quickly picked up the habit after seeing just how enjoyable yelling constantly can be. I wonder if he ever knew why he yelled. It seems more likely he yelled to feel like he belonged.

Madison eats her own shit. “Eat” doesn’t even do it justice. She picks up shits, puts them in the back of her throat whole, and chews them aggressively like it’s her first meal in months. Like it’s her favorite meal.

Titus quickly picked up the habit after seeing just how enjoyable eating your own shit can be. I wonder if they made the distinction between each other’s shits, if they shared their shits, or if they thought about it at all.

I always knew Titus would die first. Why? That’s the only story that makes sense. Madison always loved Titus, but she also always resented him. She never got enough attention from us because of him, so she was petty and acted out. She was communicating to us, as well as Titus, that she was the boss around here. If she had died before Titus, her last thought would have been, I can’t believe Titus is going to get all the attention. She would have died angry.

And Titus would have been absolutely lost without her. Titus? Alone? It took him two months to learn how to walk up the stairs. Before then they were too frightening. The world was a scary place and Madison, no matter how mean she may have been, was his anchor.

Now he rests easy knowing Madison is here, screaming in the middle of the night, eating as much shit as she can every time we turn our backs, and, most importantly, getting all the attention.

To say the least, both of these dogs, despite their identical upbringing, lived very different lives from each other. They knew each other well, but had opposite personalities. I know those dogs like I know my friends and my family. Without ever saying a word, these dogs were able to communicate exactly who they are.

Yoshi Yui