The Tale of the Dog in the Manger

A Clumsy Parable about Immigration and Freedom of Movement

Once upon a time, there were two towns called Catford and Dogcaster that were constantly at war.

No one knows why the first war started. But because the citizens of the two towns did not know each other, they did not understand each other. Both found the ways of the animals of the other town strange and improper. “It’s disgusting, the way those stuck-up Catfordians strut around in their ridiculous clothes!” the Dogcastrians would say. “And how lazy they are, not going for walks, and sleeping for half the day!” Meanwhile, the Catfordians complained: “What savages those Dogcastrians are, chasing their tails! And they don’t even cover up their poo!”

And so, at the slightest provocation, the towns fought each other. They fought over the hunting grounds to the east; they fought over the lake to the west — “It is ours to fish in!” cried the Catfordians. “It is ours to swim in!” insisted the Dogcastrians — and they fought over mountains hundreds of miles away that no Dog or Cat had ever visited.

Sometimes the Dogs would win; sometimes the Cats. But no victory was ever sweet. For generation after generation, the townsfolk on both sides lost homes, livelihoods, loved ones. Life brought them nothing but poverty, disease and misery.

To make matters worse, in the dark, dense forest between the two towns, there lived a huge, vicious bear. The bear liked to eat Dogs and Cats, and because the towns were always so weakened by the wars and the disease and the poverty, they could not fight back. So the bear wandered in and out of both towns freely, and gobbled up whichever Dog or Cat it fancied.

After one particularly bloody war, the towns’ leaders met in secret. “We cannot go on like this,” said President Garfield. “Something has to change,” agreed Prince Prince. And they struck upon an idea. The two towns would begin to trade.

Dogcastrians were excellent cooks, while Catfordian food was plain. The Cats were highly skilled at dressmaking, while Dog clothes were dowdy and grey. So President Garfield and Prince Prince ordered their finest merchants to begin selling their wares to the other town.

The Cats and Dogs were wary of each other at first, but after a few weeks of meeting, and bartering, and buying, each side discovered that the other was not so bad after all. Before long, stalls selling delicious Dogcastrian food sprang up in the streets of Catford, and elegant Catfordian fashions became all the rage in Dogcaster.

Slowly, they grew accustomed to each others’ differences. Some Cats noticed that Dogs, who slept far less, were happier and more productive, and they made an effort to stay awake a little longer each day. Meanwhile, some Dogs began, rather sheepishly, covering up their poo.

Soon the inhabitants were cooperating on projects that benefited both towns. They drew up a plan to share the lake and the hunting grounds fairly, and began working together on improvements: a park, a bridge, a dam, and eventually, something no Cat or Dog had ever thought they would see: a beautiful, straight road, linking the towns together.

With travel between the two towns so easy, more and more Dogs and Cats began to make the journey. Some of the merchants even moved in to the other town to save time travelling. And sometimes, their families and friends followed them.

And after a short time, Dogs began to fall in love with Cats, and Cats with Dogs. Some of the ordinary townsfolk were horrified at first, but soon grew to accept it, and little Dogcats were born.

So began an era of peace and prosperity. The citizens of both towns had twice as many jobs to choose from, and the businesses twice as many employees. They had twice as much space to play in, twice a many schools to learn in, and twice as many shops to shop in. Citizens who were unhappy or persecuted in one town now had somewhere safe to go.

One day, the vicious old bear wandered into Catford, expecting another easy meal. But the Catfordians called their Dogcastrian friends, and together, the townsfolk fought bravely, and gave the old bear a bloody nose, and it shambled back into the forest.

Life, for most Dogs and Cats, was good.

***

© Royalty-Free/Corbis

But there were some Dogs who did not like this new world. They had grown up hating the Cats, and still did not trust them. They had not personally benefited from the prosperity that others had. These bitter, usually old, uneducated Dogs, whom the other Dogcastrians nicknamed “Whiners”, wanted things to return to the way they used to be — even if that meant poverty, disease and war. They liked leaving their poo out in the street for all to see. They spoke rudely to the few Catfordians they met, refused point blank ever to travel to Catford, and frankly, didn’t see why anyone else should, either.

And the Whiners grumbled, and they plotted, and they whispered false rumours about the Cats, and they waited.

***

Then, one fateful night, in a Dogcastrian pub called the Manger, a loutish Cat called Stimpy got into a drunken fight with a Dog called Ren, and killed him. As soon as the news got out, the Whiners saw their chance. “We told you!” they screamed. “All Catfordians are killers!” And they began loudly sharing other stories, true and false, about Cats doing bad things.

The ordinary folk of both villages were appalled and called for calm, but many believed what the Whiners were saying. A Catfordian stall was vandalised and burned. Retaliatory attacks on Dogcastrian merchants followed.

Soon, trade between the two villages ceased.

And before long, Catford expelled all the Dogs, and Dogcaster cast out all the Cats. Mixed Cat/Dog families were cruelly separated. Finally, the furious citizens of Dogcaster, whipped into a frenzy by the Whiners, tore up the road between the two villages, and in its place built a wall. Once again, the two towns were in a state of war.

And from the forest above, the vicious old bear watched the Dogcastrian builders lay the final brick in the wall, and smiled.

Newsperson and scriptwriter. Blogs at http://rainbowsandlollipops.net/