13: Blogathan for Secular Student Alliance!

Okay, here’s where I shock and dismay many of you. The part where you’ll say “I don’t agree! My experience is different! You’re just wrong!”

But I want you to think about this. It’s something that’s bothered me for years and years, something I think matters — a little detail of compassion that few of us ever think about, but that disturbs me greatly.

Big Dog vs. Little Dog

One of the main reasons I like my dogs big, and with a little bit of wild still in them — big brains, big healthy muttly bodies capable of galloping across a field or splashing into a creek, and still with their balls attached — is because …

Well, we live on this planet with all these other lifeforms. And yet it seems we do everything in our power to NOT live with them. Even the ones we invite into our lives and home.

Our entire lives are about humanness, human needs and human voices. Human sales pitches, human orders. We live the vast majority of our time in Man-Space, with human entertainments and safe little adventures engineered for us, aimed exclusively at us. We wrap ourselves in vehicles and travel from man-place to man-place, safely insulated not just from the outdoors but from the intervening terrain. Our cities are built to serve our needs with comfort, conveniences, safety mandates.

It seems to me that if you seek animal companionship at all, you’re already admitting you want something more than the Human in your life, something of the Beast.

You want to have a relationship you can conduct not simply in Man-Space, but in a shared space where Man and Beast both have something to contribute.

There’s the heart of it for me: When I relate to another living thing, I want more than a human monologue. I want to hear more than my own voice echoing off the walls.

I want a dialogue. I want to face that little bit of the danger that I will be changed, bettered, broadened, even hurt. So I learn something. So I feel something for my fellow creatures.

But here’s the thing: When you start with one of those tiny dogs already dramatically tweaked by the desires of human breeders, tweaked for reasons of fashion or convenience, cuteness, smallness or defenselessness, you’re starting with a human artifact. The relationship with that poor creature is once again nothing but human voices, human desires, projected back at you from the homo-centric echo chamber via the hapless dog genome.

Likewise, even if you have a big dog, if you never give him any opportunity to make a few choices of his own, or to express a desire — if you blithely carve his ears, his tail, his genitals, to suit your human whims and values — you might as well not have him. You don’t have a dog, you have a toy. A piece of furniture.

The most fulfilling relationship I ever had with an animal was with a 120-pound Malamute-Black Lab mutt named Tito the Mighty Hunter. Who every once in a while went out and had his own adventures. It was irritating as hell when he periodically turned up missing, but it was also tremendously endearing. That same facet of him, when we were on walks together, gave me more insight into dogness, more of a fellow-feeling for this being I was sharing my life with, and who was sharing his life with me, than a dozen happy little yappers ever could.

Our relationship was a dialogue, not a human monologue. Out for a walk, Tito sometimes said, in very clear terms, “No. I don’t want to go here again. I want someplace new today.” He became a lovable person to me, rather than a mobile entertainment device I could switch on and off at will.

That’s what I want. I want to BE affected by my dog, as much as I affect him.

Once you turn dogs into these little genetic slaves, dumbed down and crippled and smallified, you’ve destroyed most of the wonderful possibilities of Man-Beast interaction.

And who the hell does that to their best friend?

By the way … If we can’t recognize that our own closest friends have some need to be their own selves, what hope does the ecosystem around us have? We will smash and dig and alter it to suit ourselves, and never understand what became of it when we finally discover our lives depend on it.

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This is post 13 of 12 of Blue Collar Atheist’s Blogathon in support of the Secular Student Alliance. Donate by clicking the “Contribute” link in the SSA ad over in the right column. Or go to the Secular Student Alliance directly.

Or just click this button (It’s the exact color of Pepto-Bismol, isn’t it? Makes me think it’s a way of saying “I’m sick of how powerful religion is in our society, and I want young people to be offered this other choice.”) :

  • geocatherder

    Growing up, we always had biggish dogs with Personalities. It annoyed the heck out of my mother, since “lesser” beings were just supposed to Obey according to her rules for life. (That included children.) But they were good dogs, and mostly went with the program… unless the Neighbor Taffy Hated came over and she would take a dump on his shoe, or a jackrabbit went bouncing by the back yard and Bo just had to take off after it.

    We’ve had only cats since I married 32 years ago, and that’s mostly fine. Cats are very much their own persons, but most conversations with them start with the cat saying “I want.” Dogs, the ones that I grew up with at least, start conversations with “Lets have fun!”

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    I have enough trouble cleaning up after the humans in my care. No extra mammals allowed!

  • carolw

    I agree with you. I’m a cat person myself, but I have no patience for the little yappy dogs. I like the dogs my friends own that are big and goofy and doggy, not decorative.

  • machintelligence

    I ran across a wonderful quote the other day, and if it came from this blog, I apologize. “Sometimes you want companionship, but not conversation — there is an app for that: it’s called dog.”

    • Hank Fox

      From Short Stack #14:

      I’m in that uncomfortable zone where I desire the company of close companions but mostly wish they would keep their goddamn mouths shut.

      There’s an ap for that. It’s called “dog.”

      ———————–

      Come to think of it, your paraphrase is a much kinder take on the idea.

  • mkb

    Okay, I get your point. There is some real truth in it. On the other hand, if the choice were big dog or no dog, we would have no dog. I have some physical challenges that would make caring for a big dog impossible. And I don’t think your point is completely valid. My little dog and I are each other’s companions and I am always amazed at how the conversation does go both ways. So you enjoy your big dogs and later today my little boy and I will go out on the screened porch and I’ll read a book and he’ll read the wind and we’ll talk together (he’s not allowed a real walk until after a vet check tomorrow).

  • CT

    I don’t disagree exactly. My little dog has a big personality and is even now outside terrorizing chickens and squirrels but he admittedly does not like long walks in the woods with me like the big dog does. My big dog has way more stamina and a much larger range in the neighborhood for adventures whereas my little dog pretty much stays in our 4 acre space. If I take the little dog on a long walk, it’s likely I’ll end up carrying him. He’s a total mutty mutt so nothing special going on with breeding there, he just is small and it takes 10 steps for each of my one for him. He will try his damnedest to walk the whole way but at some point he will sit down and not move.

  • Crudely Wrott

    Sometimes dogs are more than companions. One example is ol’ Puddin, Border Collie and German Shepherd mix, he was.

    When I was an infant my parents would go down by the riverside to take their leisure. They would put me down on a blanket among the wild iris and leave the dog to watch me. If I rolled near the edge of the blanket, Puddin would roll me back to the middle.

    Anecdotal, I know. Still, both my mother and my father separately told me this story. To this day I’m down with dogs. Big or small, they all have a bit of humanity in them which teaches us a bit about ourselves. Ourselves as in humans and canines. We are in this together.

  • Steinar

    “We are in this together.” I like that sentiment.


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