Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- I have always disliked dogs. All animals, really -- but especially dogs.

Perhaps this has roots in the traumas of childhood, when a German shepherd seemed as fearsome as a grizzly. I still jump when a dog barks. I did my best to avoid Barney and Miss Beazley, who created a hostile work environment in the Oval Office. All my life I have been suspicious of living things with teeth and instincts but without conscience. Even the smallest dogs, it seemed to me, might take vengeance on their human oppressors if their tiny paws allowed.

And then came a Havanese puppy named Latte, who melted the prejudices of 45 years on a summer afternoon.

For those who know me, this sudden case of animal affection is cause for shock, delight and mocking. To my children -- who have long suffered my intolerance for animals -- this transformation was as unlikely as me piercing my nose and joining an indie rock band.

But Latte is a dog of many virtues. To begin with, she is anti-communist -- or at least an exile from communism. Once popular in Cuba, the Havanese was associated with the ruling class overthrown by Fidel Castro. According to one source, these fluffy counterrevolutionaries may have been "actively or passively eliminated" in pursuit of socialist utopia. The Havanese would be extinct were it not for an American named Dorothy Goodale, who located 11 of the little dissidents in Florida and Costa Rica and began the breed anew.

Unlike Alexander Solzhenitsyn, to whom she might naturally be compared, Latte is known for her constant, mischievous cheerfulness. She is a scrambling, downy anti-depressant, showing completely unguarded warmth.

I had always assumed that the attribution of emotions and personalities to animals was merely anthropomorphic. But on closer acquaintance, this doesn't seem credible. Not long ago, I visited a gorilla hospital in Rwanda near the Congo border. Many of the animals had been wounded -- hands or feet cut off -- during encounters with human guerrillas. In a large, wooded enclosure, keepers sat with the recovering apes day and night, providing human contact and comfort. The gorillas had been psychologically traumatized. It makes sense that animals feeling emotional pain can also show emotional commitment.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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