Unlike some dogs, Max is not afraid of or mad at the vacuum cleaner. But he does have his own unique way of not liking it.
He doesn’t bark, he doesn’t run away, but he also clearly doesn’t like it. Instead, he just lays down, usually in the room I am trying to vacuum. I like to think it is his form of non-violent protest.
While I don’t completely know what to make of his action, I have some theories. It seems clear that at the heart of his protest is a recognition that a vast majority of what the vacuum cleaner is picking up is his own fur.
Throughout the week, Max rolls around on all the floors in the house, making sure his fur gets all in the carpet. But he doesn’t really have to do much to cover the house with his fur. It seems that while just walking around, tufts of it spring out and get blown all over. (Yes, there is something to say about needing to brush him more often in that – I confess my shortcoming there).
That means, at the end of the week, pretty much all of the floor looks and smells like Max. Whether intentional or not, he has marked his territory – and it is all the territory.
So, when he lays in the room I am vacuuming, unsuccessfully preventing me from removing his fur, it seems that he is protesting or at least lamenting the change in sights and smells of the house.
And this is where I am actually not sure what lesson he is teaching me.
On one hand, I see in that action something very selfish – Max wants what is “his” (the hairy floor) to stay “his” even though it is not. In having to deal with that, it makes me more aware of when I act similarly – feeling and acting entitled that something should be mine, when it is not at all actually mine.
Max has taught me to be more aware of any tendency to claim space, to become territorial, to encroach on what truly belongs to others or what others do not have enough of. As a white man, this is a lesson I am slow to learn, especially with the terrible history I inherit living on and claiming land that was never mine nor my ancestors’ to begin with, and encroaching on space and thought that is unequally shared.
Max’s flurry of entitled space claiming provides an uncomfortable, but necessary mirror.
And maybe there is another lesson in Max’s protest to complement that one.
I also see in Max a kind of stolid resiliency that defies fear or anger in order to stand up for himself. Max doesn’t really have any space of his own (outside of his dog bed and as much of the backyard as he wants), because I treat the whole house as human space that he is lucky to be able to share. Looking at the situation from another angle, it seems that Max is asserting his right to be here and have a space in which he is comfortable.
Max has taught me to be more aware of those who do not have space where they are comfortable. He has taught me that sometimes my idea of sharing is unjust to those who cannot speak up for themselves. He has taught me that acting in my self-interest doesn’t always mean doing what is truly good, because it undermines others.
On top of that, Max has taught me the real value of not giving over to fear. If he feared the vacuum, he would just run away and the protest and lessons would be lost. His protest is an act of bravery that forces me to think more deeply past my biases. Fear has an uncanny way of maintaining the status quo, and even if Max’s protests do not stop me from vacuuming, they are interrupting the status quo and causing me to see the world in a different way.
I am still going to vacuum, but Max has made me think a little deeper about how actions that I think are right can negatively impact others. He has made me think about how better to work toward not seeking to possess what is best shared compassionately. By staring down the vacuum, Max has taught me more about the power imbalances in our house and world.
Or maybe Max is just lazy…but perhaps that is for another week.
So thank you Max for not freaking out about the vacuum – that makes my life much more peaceful. But also thank you for a fearless protest that shakes up how I see things and teaches me more about power imbalances. I don’t often wield a vacuum, but I will keep your lessons in mind in whatever space I enter with whatever power I hold.