I received a letter the other day that began, "We seldom read your column because it is neither amusing nor informative."
This was followed by a letter that suggested mine was "a cold, distant, lonely world where qualities like compassion, empathy, kindness and respect for all life are non-existent."
A third letter demanded I be sacked, another that I be donated to a laboratory for painful experimentation and yet another that I be forced to live with dogs in "cramped and filthy kennels" for the remainder of my useless life.
Contained in the mail were descriptions of me as a mad dog, a puppy-killer and that part of a horse's anatomy that flies over the fence last, as my stepdaddy used to say. Animal metaphors abounded.
What prompted this outpouring of human emotion was a column dealing with the excesses of animal rightists, which is, to say, those solemn true believers who, for lack of a more compelling cause, march on behalf of dogs and other quadrupeds.
There is nothing wrong with that, I suppose, as long as they don't block traffic or disturb their neighbors. They are cause-oriented citizens and, if they weren't out there demanding equal rights for animals, they'd be licking postage stamps for the John Birch Society.
Given a choice, I'd prefer they marched for animals.
The letters, however, raise questions I feel ought to be answered as humorlessly and as vapidly as possible, and I will undertake to accomplish that here. Trot along as best you can.
Despite opinions to the contrary, I do not dwell in an ivory tower and I am probably as scruffy as those ascetics who run around hugging dogs for atonement, though I undoubtedly smell better.
I am, furthermore, not an animal-hater. I share my cold, distant and lonely world with, in addition to several humans, a dog, two cats, two rabbits and a goat named Lucy.
I am an animal neutralist, quite willing to let God's creatures live their lives in peace as long as they allow me similar tranquility.
The dog Hoover and I, for instance, have an unspoken arrangement: He doesn't urinate on my rug and I don't dig up his bone. It works fine.
The most serious question raised in the salvo of letters fired in my direction deals specifically with eating dogs, a practice prevalent in certain Asian cultures.
I only mentioned it in passing because I don't find the idea of a dog-kabob very appealing, and I seriously doubt that it will ever replace Cajun redfish as the next haute cuisine .
A reader, nonetheless, demanded I "picture a family in Vietnam taking a trusting, very much alive dog on a picnic, playing with it until lunchtime, hanging it from a tree to die, and burning its fur from its body with a torch in preparation for the barbecue pit."
I found that personally difficult to visualize, but I'm trying.
It would be, I suppose, the Western equivalent of taking your chicken on a picnic, feeding it grain, watching it peck about with the kids, then chopping off its head and eating it for lunch.
I'm a little uncertain whether the writer was opposed to the Vietnamese practice of eating dogs or to a tendency of Asian children to play with their food.
In either case, it's probably no worse than eating any kind of animal, though admittedly one is less likely to play with a cow before lunch than with a dog.
As a kid in East Oakland, I had a pet duck named, predictably, Donald. During an especially lean economic period, we were forced to eat what we could find and it was inevitable that Donald's turn would come.
My mother was not insensitive to my feelings and broke the news to me as gently as possible. There is no good way, I guess, of telling someone you are about to eat their duck.
She did it through parable, creating the story of a starving pig who was forced to eat the wolf at the door, but, in so doing, saved all the other pigs from being eaten because the nasty wolf was gone.
"You see," she said cheerfully, "we are killing two birds with one stone!"
At age 11, however, I wasn't big on parables and was still horrified at the idea of digging into Donald. But then she added in that piquant little way of hers: "I'm cooking him with bell peppers and onions!"
Mom knew that I would eat anything cooked with bell peppers and onions, so it was yummy-yum duck and goodby Donald.
Many of the letters I received were from women who had a good time demanding I be drawn and quartered and fed to the sharks.
One suggested I ought to emulate rabbits who do nothing but eat and fornicate and avoid a lot of trouble.
I appreciate all of their suggestions, though I suspect their interest is transitory.
Phil Donahue discussing vaginal itch and marital infidelity is ultimately far more appealing to women than Martinez running over puppy dogs, so I doubt I will hear from them again.
But that's the way it goes, I guess. Nobody ever wins in a cold and lonely dog-eat-dog world.