Earth Dog, Justice Warrior

On February 5 the world rings in the Chinese Lunar New Year of Earth Pig and says goodbye to that of Earth Dog. The Spinner of the Years stops toiling for no one, but I must admit I will miss the reign of Earth Dog.

I will miss Earth Dog because of the prediction that came with her: “corruption is rooted out, tyranny and oppression overturned, and justice prevails.”

Who could argue with justice prevailing? We know the familiar Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “Let us realize [that] the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The words are nice, but is there such a thing as a “moral universe”? (If the universe was moral, why wouldn’t justice be pre-installed?) I’m afraid Dr. King was letting us down easy. No one wants to hear that the people who go without or take the hits to build an endowment are often not the ones reaping its dividends.


This past year was another dicey one for democracy, but it seemed to me that, in subtle ways, Earth Dog was working some levers behind the curtains. I first thought of Earth Dog as Justice Warrior on May 5, 2018, when Justify won the Kentucky Derby. As I watched footage of the race’s aftermath, when the wet horses were led to slog through the mud at Churchill Downs, I thought of that familiar quote from Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

I took Justify’s winning of the Triple Crown as a sign from Earth Dog, just as I did a Washington Post piece about another horse—not a thoroughbred but an eight-year-old American quarter horse who used to be called Shadow but now goes by Justice:

At a veterinarian’s exam last year, he was 300 pounds underweight, his black coat lice-ridden, his skin scabbed and his genitals so frostbitten that they might still require amputation. The horse had been left outside and underfed by his previous owner, who last summer pleaded guilty to criminal neglect. And now Justice, who today resides with other rescued equines on a quiet wooded farm within view of Oregon’s Cascade mountains, is suing his former owner for negligence. In a lawsuit filed in his new name in a county court, the horse seeks at least $100,000 for veterinary care, as well as damages “for pain and suffering,” to fund a trust that would stay with him no matter who is his caretaker.

The plight of Justice stuck with me last summer because I’d recently seen the film Sorry to Bother You and wondered why director Boots Riley chose horses as the anthropomorphized symbol of everything wrong with America in 2018—from corporate capitalism to Silicon Valley’s insouciance about destroying paid labor as we know it.

Horses aside, Earth Dog succeeded in getting me to think long and hard about of justice. A lot of Americans did during the September 2018 Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, who famously shed tears for a Peter Pan version of justice that has historically absolved elite prep school alumni of any crimes committed on the Island of Lost (and Beer-Loving) Boys. Although Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony could not stop Kavanaugh’s seating on the court, she lit a fire with women voters—and we’re seeing the effects as Trump’s disapproval ratings have hit 65% among college-educated women and continue to climb.

A month before that televised debacle, the world saw a reckoning a long time coming—against the Vatican and Catholic Church and on behalf of the women and children of Ireland. After weeks of horrifying revelations about the Church’s long history of enabling criminal priests and the abuses at the country’s so-called mother and baby homes, to which unwed pregnant women were banished, Pope Francis decided to visit Ireland to ask for forgiveness.

This pathetically latent atonement made me think of Sinead O’Connor, whose calling out of Church abuses back in the day was forever ridiculed in popular culture. A week after she tore apart a photo of John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992, Lorne Michaels had Joe Pesci tell an SNL audience that he would give her “such a smack” if it were his show. Then he held up a photo of the pope taped back together. Sinead O’Connor has had her share of emotional struggles over the years, but 2018 forced anyone who was an adult 26 years ago to acknowledge that she was brave when the rest of the world didn’t care.

It seems appropriate that 2018—a year when the devastating consequences of climate change finally seemed to sink into the dense skulls of Americans—belonged to Earth Dog. The earth is always talking to us, but Earth Dog helped us hear.

Americans needed to hear because in his two years as president, Donald Trump has been waging war on the earth, first and foremost by pulling the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.

You could already divine Trump’s antipathy to our nation’s wildlife from footage of an August 18, 2015, Time Magazine photo shoot. As he tries to look presidential, this father of two large adult sons who like to dress up as big-game hunters is visibly frightened by “Uncle Sam,” the 27-year-old bald eagle that lashes out at the owner of this gilded tower.

Anyone following Trump’s oceans of tweets could also divine his antipathy to dogs. He has described the many humans who’ve become the focus of his scorn and derision as doing something “like a dog.” The fact that he was born during a Fire Dog year (1946) shows the degree to which his hatred of the world begins with himself.

MAGA fans will be glad to know that 45 eventually got his revenge on Uncle Sam, the eagle that tried to bite him. In the summer of 2018 he announced plans to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act, which, along with the EPA’s ban on DDT, had rescued the bald eagle from the brink of extinction back in the 1970s. Trump is also cracking the whip on wildlife with his proposed wall (or slats) project, which environmentalists say will further imperil at least 81 already endangered and threatened species with ranges near or crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

But if Trump sought to take away our eagle, Earth Dog has cunningly given it back with the landing of Robert Mueller (who incidentally looks an awfully lot like Sam the Eagle in Muppets Most Wanted). Mueller was appointed in 2017, but he hit his stride in the Russia investigation during the reign of Earth Dog, especially in a fusillade of actions during late November and early December.

Probably Earth Dog’s greatest gift to Americans was the voter impetus for the midterm elections that essentially saved our government. I think all those freshman female faces had some help from Earth Dog. Even before the Democratic House was seated, Wired magazine compiled a list of at least 17 distinct court cases stemming from at least seven different sets of prosecutors and investigators (federal, state, and local) that Trump faces. Adam Schiff and his fellow committee heads are just getting rolling. I’m sure in the coming two years the president will be comparing many more people to dogs.

And on the subject of horses: A Washington County Circuit Court judge dismissed Justice’s lawsuit in September 2018. But on January 22 the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an appeal to establish that animals have a legal right to sue their abusers in court.

If you remember the old Underdog cartoons, you’ll remember that his alter ego, Shoeshine Boy, was valued as “humble and lovable.” Unlike Underdog, Earth Dog came to us to do a job, not to make friends. She has shown herself to have a long memory, casting her unblinking eye back to the abuses of power that gave us the world we were stuck with on February 16, 2018, when she started her work to help bend Dr. King’s arc in the right direction. §