Over the years, domesticated animals have borne our insufferable burdens. And not just the loads we’ve piled on their backs.
In Medieval Christendom, the black cat - once venerated by Nefertiti and Cleopatra as a symbol of grace and dignity - was feared and reviled as the witch’s cohort. Many were slaughtered at will.
Black dogs haven’t fared much better. In 17th century British lore, the black dog became the harbinger of death who coveted the keys to the underworld. Even today, some believe that Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles is real.
Black dogs and cats are among the hardest to adopt out because of the malevolence we have assigned to them.
Superstition and dubious ritual have even extended to our pastoral animal friends.
Every Yom Kippur the people of my tribe symbolically heap our yearly load of sins upon the scapegoat then drive him out of town. Thanks to Pan, Greek mythology’s satyr known for his insatiable carnal appetite, the goat has been linked to the devil.
“Goats” abound in politics; embarrass party leadership and you take the fall. Sports fans are notorious for slapping the “goat” label on a player who “cost” their home city the title.
During the 1945 World Series, Billy Goat Tavern Owner, Billy Sianis, and his pet goat, Murphy, were denied admission to Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field; Cubs owner P. K. Wrigley told Sianis that his goat “stinks.” Slighted by the incident, Sianis allegedly huffed, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more!” Following the Cubs’ loss to the Detroit Tigers that year, Sianis wrote a note to Wrigley rhetorically asking, “Who stinks now?”
The “Curse of the Billy Goat” was on.
During a crucial game with the New York Mets in the waning days of the 1969 season, a black cat crossed Cubs’ team captain Ron Santo’s path before he came to bat. The Mets won that game and the two that followed, overtaking the Cubs for the division title. In the 1984 National League Championship Series (NLCS), Leon “Bull” Durham’s glove was accidentally soaked with Gatorade and he flubbed a routine ground ball handing the pennant to the San Diego Padres. Fan interference with a catchable foul ball during the 2003 NLCS with the Florida Marlins dashed the Cubs’ hope of returning to the Fall Classic. After a remarkable 2015 season, the Cubs were swept by the New York Mets in the NLCS - largely due to the batting heroics of one Daniel MURPHY who hit a home run in all four games.
Several attempts were made to “break the curse” by tavern owner Sianis and his nephew, Sam. The Cubs took division titles, but no baseball crown.
Poor Murphy the goat. He didn’t know he wielded enough power to bring America’s second largest city to its knees!
Actually, goats are quite powerful - and resilient. They scramble over rocks, brave whipping winds while foraging and weave along paths narrower than a balance beam to reach the mountain top.
The Cubs channelled the grit of the goat during their team meeting after they’d blown a three-run lead and game seven of the 2016 World Series was delayed by rain. In the 10th inning, the Cubs’ skill and will won out over witchcraft. Because of a positive, collective change of mindset, the 71-year “curse” that never was had lifted.
Hopefully, this baseball metaphor frees the animal world of our desperation and ignorance so we can see that the best in animals is what we want in ourselves.