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Love and Commitment and Chimpanzees

Updated on April 28, 2012

Every Valentine's Day for the past few years, my daughter and I buy a little potted bush of miniature roses. Sometimes they are red, sometimes pink. Red is my favorite color. Pink is Sword's. At first there are delicate buds and then fragrant blooms, and then after a while everything wilts and if I'm not careful, I either overwater or forget to water at all, and the whole tiny, little bush seems to die, becoming brittle sticks in dry dirt. But by then, it's spring outside, and so I take what is left of the little rosebush, and I plant it outside in our messy, untended front garden. And whether I remember to water it or not, it rains quite a lot in the spring, and lo and behold, the little bush comes back to life and continues to bloom all summer and into the fall. What's more, just as I am ready to plant a new forgotten Valentine's bush each year, all the old ones come back to life. So though my commitment to plants is minimal, and my garden is full of weeds, there are always the miniature roses.

People talk a lot about commitment and how important it is in a relationship. They talk about commitment in the very same breath in which they mention compromise and companionship. These concepts have never formed any part of my idea of romantic love.

Everything that I know about commitment first hand, I learned from dogs, and children and chimpanzees.

Love and Commitment and Canines

We have a new dog. He found us one evening outside my daughter's gymnastics class. It was cold and dark and there he was, needy and lonely and just begging us to take him. He was there when we went in to the class, and he was still there when, an hour and a half later, we went back out. My daughter wanted him, We already have a dog. We didn't really need another one, and this one was very big.

"I'll just go in and ask if anyone knows him," I told Sword.

The gymanstics teacher said he was probably a stray. The others who were still lingering also knew nothing about him. "The family that lived in that trailer left two cats when they moved. Maybe it was theirs."

"Take him if you want to," I was told.

I went back outside, but could not see the dog. "Can we have him?" Sword asked.

"Nobody knows him," I said. "But where is he?"

"He's sitting right over there," she said.

I saw him then. "Do you want to come home with us?" I asked the dog. "If you do, come on," I said, gesturing to a place beside my daughter in the back seat and smacking the spot with my hand for emphasis. He jumped in.

When Bow first saw Brownie, his hair stood out, and he was agitated. Later he told me that the dog was not supposed to be here.

"We have to find out if he belongs to anybody," I told him. "If his owner claims him, then he will go. If nobody claims him, he will stay."

I took him to the veterinary clinic which is just across the road from where we found him. They notified the animal shelter, in case his owner might be looking for him, and they also announced his description on a lost pet segment on a local radio show. After a week, when no one claimed him, he became ours.

All this time Sword had been hoping that no one would claim him, while Bow kept asking why his owner had not come for him yet.

Sword and Brownie

The perfect dog for Sword
The perfect dog for Sword

Brownie is a chocolate lab. Sword named him. He's the kind of dog she always wanted. He's very affectionate, loves to be petted, will catch a ball if you throw it, plays fetch and generally lets you know that you're appreciated.

We've had our other dog, Teyman, since my daughter Sword was two years old, but Sword and Teyman can't play together. Teyman is a mixed breed, very small and highly aggressive. Teyman hunts. Before we had our yard fenced in, she would hunt rabbits in the pasture and eat them. One day she even brought home the leg of a calf. I don't know how she managed that! Teyman is not much bigger than a chihuahua, but she is a mighty hunter.

Sword wanted a dog she could play house with. Once, when she was trying to dance with Teyman, she got bitten. Since then their relationship has been more distant. Sword leaves Teyman alone, and Teyman leaves Sword alone.

But Brownie is a dog Sword can play with.

"Why did the man want Brownie to die?" Bow asked me one day.


"Brownie's man."

"Oh." For some reason, Bow had decided Brownie's owner must have been a man. "Well. I don't think he wanted him to die."

"But he didn't give food," Bow persisted.

"Yes, well, maybe he didn't have enough money to buy Brownie food, so he just sent him away so that somebody else would feed him."

"Yes," Bow agreed.

Actually, I have no idea why people abandon dogs. Brownie is housebroken, well-behaved, everything you could hope for in a chocolate lab. Why would someone choose to have such a dog, and then suddenly abandon him?

I don't really know the answer.You would think that making a commitment to a dog would be pretty straightforward.

Bow's feelings about Brownie continue to fluctuate. At times, he seems to identify with Brownie, and at other times he seems to feel a serious rivalry.

One minute he will marvel at how patient Brownie is with Sword, and he'll spell: "Brownie is good."

But if I shower too much affection on the new dog, he will write: "Mommy, don't love Brownie."

Compromise and Commitment

I have an uncompromising nature. I like to think of it as integrity, but I've heard it called stubbornness or inflexibility, too. I hate compromise.

The other night I was helping Sword prepare for a social studies exam. I was holding some study notes that Sword's teacher had compiled. "Tell me about the Missouri Compromise," I prompted. "When did it take place?"


"Right. And what exactly was it?"

When she hesitated, I asked: "Do you know what a compromise is?"

"It's an agreement."

"It's when there are two sides and they each want something different, and then they finally agree that instead of doing what one side wanted or what the other side wanted, they'll do something else, that isn't exactly what anybody wanted." Sword nodded, so I asked: "What was the Missouri Compromise?"

Sword said: "Some people wanted slavery and some people wanted freedom, so they agreed to have a little bit of slavery and a little bit of freedom."

This was on the right track, but it seemed a bit vague. "Okay, so when Missouri entered the union, what kind of state was it?"

"A slave state." She made a face, to show she didn't like this part.

"And what other state entered the union at the same time?"


"And what kind of state was Maine?"

"A free state."

"At the time, how many states were there?"

"There were twelve free states and twelve slave states," Sword answered

"And the compromise was?"

"That there would always be an equal number of slave states and free states."

"Right. And what were the two groups in Congress that reached this compromise?"

"There was one group that wanted slavery and one group that wanted freedom."

I laughed. It sounded as if there was a group of people who wanted to be slaves and another group who wanted to be free, when in fact there was one group who wanted other people to be slaves and another group that wanted other people not to be slaves. Nobody asked the opinion of those who were in fact enslaved what they wanted.

'Why don't we just say that one side was in favor of slavery and the other side was against slavery," I suggested.

Sword seemed to be thinking about this, and suddenly she asked: "So then later more people started to want freedom, and eventually more and more states became free until it was all free states?"

"No, Actually, they had a civil war."

"Oh." This surprised her.

I always expect every compromise to end like the Missouri Compromise, in out-and-out war. How can any two people who each want diametrically opposed outcomes ever reach a workable compromise? They can't. Not if they are equals. There are only two choices: to walk away peacefully, agreeing to disagree (secede from the union, get a divorce) or fight one hell of a bloody fight until one side ends up victorious, while the other is humiliated and crushed into surrender (civil war or its marital equivalent).

But there is a different kind of compromise that can work, and it's one that I  discovered only after I became a mother. This is not so much a compromise that you make with someone else, but a compromise that you make with yourself, for the sake of someone else.

Bow watches Sword play on computer

Bow and keys

Learning to Stretch

Before I had my children, I had all sorts of ideas of what rights I would grant them right from the start and what freedoms would be theirs. But when a child isn't yet developmentally at the point when he can take responsibility for himself, then rights and freedoms have to be allocated on the basis of realistic expectations. It was not a question of bargaining with the child over the boundaries. It was a question of setting the boundaries to suit the current needs of the child.

With another adult, you can spell out the rules you are willing to live by and walk away if he doesn't abide by them. With a child, the rules have to be reformulated every so often to fit the abilities of the child. The option of walking away isn't there.

We raise children with the idea that they will eventually become self-reliant, but they come into the world completely helpless, and they make progress each at his own pace. You can't bargain with a child over the pace of development. You have to adapt to his pace.

In the outer world, each person is responsible for himself. In a family, the communist maxim of "from each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs" actually makes sense. The reason this works in a family, but not in a republic, is that in a family those with the greatest need and the least contribution do not get a vote on the allocation of resources,

Bow relaxes
Bow relaxes

With Sword, I learned to stretch. With Bow, I had to become elastic. I had always thought that I would treat Bow and Sword equally. If I treated them the same, then they would grow up to be the same. They turned out to be very different despite the shared environment. In the nature versus nurture debate, I had erred on the side of nurture. Apparently, nature plays a part, too.

Bow can be very gentle when interacting with another person, but he has no respect for the structural integrity of inanimate objects. It's as if he feels that everything was made in order to be torn apart. He does it to other people's things but he also does it to his own things. He goes into object frenzy and isn't satisfied until nothing is left.

The day came when I was faced with two choices: restrict Bow's freedom or lose him. There were well meaning people among my acquaintances who said: "He destroys things. He is destroying your life. You should send him to a zoo."

I had a commitment to Bow, so the only other choice was to restrict his freedom -- and mine, too. From having him riding on my back twelve hours a day we eventually moved to the pen system currently in use.

I now spend twelve hours of each day in the pens with Bow, unless I have an intern or caretaker helping that day, in which case I get a few hours off . Sword, Bow and I have our meals together in the pens. If Bow can't handle complete freedom, then we have to give up some of ours to be with him.

The pay-off of this compromise has been enormous. It was in the pens that Bow began to use words and then letters to communicate with us. 

Brownie and wrapping paper

Brownie likes to dig through trash
Brownie likes to dig through trash
Bow & Me
Bow & Me

Of Dogs and Zoos

"Brownie is not good," Bow tells me.

We have discovered the new dog's one character flaw. He likes trash. If you leave him unattended with an open trash can or waste paper basket, he will hunt through it and spread its contents on the floor. If you catch him in the act, or right after, he will lower his head and his tail will go between his legs and he cowers and looks very guilty, as if he expects you to beat him. He seems very penitent, but he has no self control and at the next available opportunity, he will do it again.

I've had to seriously rearrange my trash disposal practices, replacing open containers with those that have tight lids.

"Mommy, don't love Brownie," Bow writes, then entices me to a corner of the pen for intensive grooming. When I respond by affectionately grooming him back, he takes me back to the glass and writes: "Mommy, you really don't love, Brownie."

"Yes, she does!" Sword says.

"He destroys things," Bow writes. "Should send him to a zoo."

I'm confused. "Bow, zoos don't want dogs."

Then I look into his eyes, which are searching my face for clues. It registers.

"I'm not sending you to a zoo, either," I tell him.

He gives me a good, long hug, Then he writes: "Brownie is good."

In Case There's a Fox


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    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      4 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks, Sweetiepie. I will definitely look at the older pictures for possible inclusion in the calendar.

    • SweetiePie profile image


      4 years ago from Southern California, USA

      It was fun looking at the old pictures of Bow and Sword. Hopefully you will include some of the early pictures of Bow in your upcoming calendar.

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      4 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks, Mary. I know you are committed to Baby, too, from reading about her in your articles!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      4 years ago from Florida

      You are certainly committed to Bow and I admire you so much for that. I am devoted to my silly dog, Baby, too. She also loves shredding paper.

      Voted Up, etc. and will share.

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Hi, Samina. Thanks so much for your comment. Hope you are doing well!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hi Dr Katz

      Enjoyed your hub but more fascinating and enjoying for me was watching Sword and Bow growing and developing into wonderful beings, it took me down the memory lane during my internship with Project Bow and how attached I got with you, Sword, Bow and Teyman. Glad to see Brownie. Thumbs Up !

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Dottie, thanks so much! It's always nice to get positive feedback.

    • Dottie1 profile image


      9 years ago from MA, USA

      What a lovely story and a lovely family. Your hub brought so much love to my heart. Thank you so much :)

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Jerilee, thanks!

      You may be right that taking things apart is a predominantly male compulsion, but I think that most human males are not quite as frenzied about it as Bow is. I admit that I have never raised a human little boy of my own, but the male children in my circle of family and friends do not display the need to pulverize everything.

      I would love to hear about your mother's experiences with labs. If she won't write the hub, maybe you can interview her and then write it yourself.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Excellent Aya! You always make me think of things that usually fly under my radar. I never considered the issues of compromise in the way you describe it and your thoughts make sense.

      Having raised a number of boys, I'm not so sure the need to take things apart is totally chimp. I believe it's a common compulsion in young boys and sometimes even grown men. There are a lot of males that want to take objects apart for no clear reason, and have no interest in them beyond that.

      Labs are exceptionally intelligent dogs. I'm hoping to convince my mother to write a few hubs about her success in training them to do far more than most humans think they can.

      The relationship between Sword, Brownie, and Bow are so precious to hear about. Very enjoyable hub!

    • justmesuzanne profile image


      9 years ago from Texas

      Excellent! :D

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Countrywomen, thanks!

      JustmeSuzanne, yes, and no. He got plenty of practice despoiling plastic potties, but I don't think he stopped because his curiosity had been quenched. The compulsion to destroy triggers a kind of euphoria, and it just seems to be a great joy for him to repeat the same destructive action over and over. Bow's ability to overcome the compulsion in the case of the potty was partially as a result of his attaining greater self-control and partially something we came to agree on, as a way to make life easier for both of us. Without the added self control, he could never have kept our agreement. But without understanding how this makes life easier, he wouldn't have had the motivation to battle the compulsion.

    • justmesuzanne profile image


      9 years ago from Texas

      Well, he probably already knows from (perhaps repeated) experience what a plastic potty can be broken down to! ;)

    • countrywomen profile image


      9 years ago from Washington, USA

      I guess it is similar to humans too when a younger child is born the older child feels that they are being neglected. I am sure both of them would be the best companions for your daughter. And your history lesson had psychology also mixed into it. Thumbs up for a great hub.

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      JustMeSuzanne, yes, I agree. It's a compulsion. He rewards himself with doing this, because doing this feels good. He may never stop wanting to do it, but in some ways we have already made progress. He now has a plastic potty in with him which he does not destroy. A year ago, that would not have been possible.

      Impulse control is definitely one of the issues that we address with Bow. He may always have the impulses, but they can be redirected, as you say.

    • justmesuzanne profile image


      9 years ago from Texas

      Yes, I'm not saying he's trying to make tools or that his curiousity is even scientific. I'm saying that the urge to render things to their smallest component could be motivated by a curiosity regarding "What's in there?" and "What's in there?" and "What's in there?" until there's no "in there" left to explore! And then on to the next adventure!

      With what you say about anti-materialism, I might alter that to read, "What can I do with this?" and "What can I do with this?" and "What can I do with this?" and "Well, that's used up! What next?"

      This kind of curiousity can lead to interesting ways to use things, but that is not necessarily the motivating force behind it. I've seen this in autistic children and children with high IQs coupled with impulse control issues. It is not destruction for the sake of destruction, like graffiti or arson or other acts of vandalism. It is a compelling fascination.

      It is not something that can be unlearned. It may be redirected (in children) to an acceptable behavior, like taking something apart and sorting it's parts. It can be utilized as a strength (in children) rather than treated as a weakness or a problem. It can also be used as a reward, if it is a particularly enjoyable pass-time for the child. That is - after finishing a particularly odious task, you can have this (whatever it is) to take apart. That can be very motivating!

      But you probably will never be able to get him to STOP doing it, no matter what you do!

      So, that was my point in response to an earlier post... :)

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      JustmeSuzanne, I'm not sure what breed Teyman is -- she's a mix. Her bone structure is very fine, but she has a face that vaguely reminds one of a bulldog. You can see her in the opening sequences of the 2007 Project Bow DVD. Yes, hunting is what Teyman seems to have been born to do. She still manages to catch a squirrel in the yard, every so often, in the spring or fall.

      Bow's compulsion to destroy is not just about scientific curiosity or the urge to create tools. He will take things and reduce them into ever smaller parts until finally all that is left is shreds and dust. Some of my interns tried to convince me that he was creating new things -- say, a rope out of a swing, or a blanket out of a teddy bear, but this view of it doesn't stand up, because he never preserves the objects in their new form for very long. He really does seem to be trying to obliterate things and to revel in their destruction.

      Chimpanzees do use tools in the wild, but except in the case of stones, they do not preserve them for very long. It's a sort of anti-materialism, in a world where everything is biodegradable and all resources are in abundance.

    • justmesuzanne profile image


      9 years ago from Texas

      I'm sure that Bow's compulsion to destroy things is as ingrained as your little dog's compulsion to hunt. It sounds like your little dog is a terrier. He couldn't stop hunting, no matter how much you tried to teach him. It is bred into him, and it's his job! I'm sure Bow believes that it is his duty on earth to find out what is inside of everything! And, I'll bet ALL chimps feel the same way. It is the kind of curiousity that leads to use of tools and other adaptive behaviors. It's very valuable, but it's hard on the household belongings, I'm sure! It is greatly to your credit that you have come up with a system that works for him and you!

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      JustmeSuzanne, thanks! Yes, I agree. The issue of commitment surfaces more than once, as we go through different stages together.

      MelissaG, thanks for the compliment!

      Hot Dorkage, Violet is your music loving dog, isn't she? Brownie mostly naps while Sword practices on her keyboard. But maybe when the music becomes more challenging, he'll perk up and take notice.

      Bow is very intelligent, but one of the lessons that I've learned from him is that not everything that is important in life is just a matter of intelligence. Bow has a compulsion to destroy things and the issue is not so much understanding that he will have greater privileges if he restrains himself, as somehow finding that higher level of self control. Some of us are born not wanting to tear things apart. We aren't smarter in this; we're just not tempted.

      I have let Brownie and Bow spend a little time together, but only under strong supervision. I would not leave them alone together at this point.

      Bow is learning greater self control as time goes by, and I do expect that things will change. But what I've learned is that it has to come when he is ready, and I can't force the issue.

      Shalini Kagal, thanks for your comment. Yes, I think that they really can tell who is open and who is not. Rivalry, I'm afraid, is universal.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 

      9 years ago from India

      Aya - that was such a touching sweet glimpse into your wonderful life. It's amazing how animals sense who will love them. It's also so human to see the older one feeling jealous of the new addition! Here's to more wonderful Bow stories!

    • hot dorkage profile image

      hot dorkage 

      9 years ago from Oregon, USA

      My doggie Violet is half of a chocolate lab. They are totally awesome dogs, no? Brownie looks beautiful. I bet if you give it a chance he and Bow will become great friends and will end up ganging up on you. I bet you can show Bow how to throw things so the dog will retrieve them. And it seems to me Bow is intelligent enough to understand that if he stops wrecking things he doesn't need to be in pens all the time. My cousin had a chimp for a while. It was a long time ago. I just remember that it wore diapers like a baby. I guess when it started to get big and got stronger than them they got afraid they couldn't control it.

    • Melissa G profile image

      Melissa G 

      9 years ago from Tempe, AZ

      Aww, what a sweet story! Nicely done. :)

    • justmesuzanne profile image


      9 years ago from Texas

      Those of us who are committed to our critters are just not understood by many, but committment is a decision you make again, and again, and again! :) Good article! :)


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