Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Love Letter to Dogs

Dear Dogs,

In my oldest and happiest dreams, there is a small house swallowed by a gluttonous porch on top of a hill carved like bundt cake.  And I'm with a dog

Those are the consistent elements.  Sometimes I'm reading or writing or napping, sometimes I'm laughing.  Sometimes there is a man, sometimes we're in love, sometimes there are children, sometimes there's a pony. But there is always a house on a hill with a porch and a dog.

Sometimes the dog is a swarthy, enormous beast, like a lethal, cuddly tank with a bright pink tongue.  It would be suitably named Samsquamch (or something) and together we would gallivant throughout the countryside or lazily laze about the porch. What does the name "Samsquamch" say about me, as a person?  Is Samsquamch magic?  I don't think it matters anymore, that conversation is so 2013.

Sometimes it's small and whiskered.  Not too small.  Maybe more...medium?  Knee-high, or a bit taller.  A proper mongrel, not a barking rabbit masquerading as a "Pomeranian" or a "Pekingese."  Those little monsters are cute and everything, and I will hug them and giggle and say embarrassing things like "why are you the cutest little cuddles?  Yes you are.  Yes you are! What's that squeaky noise?  WHUSSA BUBBA DUBBA SKWEEKY NOSE? Bestest widdow skweeky sounds. You. Yeah, you do That's right."  And then I'll turn to the dog's owner and say,  "Oh my stars, your dog is fucking adorable."

And I would mean it.  But not the dog for me.

If I have a dog, it's going to be a tangley mess of everything, probably with too much fur or scruff, probably with spots or stripes or patches, and probably way too smart for its own good.  Most likely this dog will not be the biggest looker, although I'm sure I'll think it's gorgeous.  Not like...the kind of smart where people say, "omg, my dog/child/boyfriend/wife is soooo smart" but they're using that word because they have never met a dog or a child or a person who actually IS smart.  I'm talking enigmatically brilliant, loyal, and wonderful.

We attribute human emotions to dogs as if they are human, but we really have no way of knowing how similar the emotions actually are - relief, despair, joy, agitation.  I don't even pretend that my best friends, or my family can feel the way I'm feeling sometimes since emotions aren't cut and dry, but when I'm with my dog (more accurately my parents' dog) it's as if he hurts when I hurt, that he's happy when I'm happy. 

Maybe not a mongrel, but Rusty is rad.
Of course that's on me.  When the dog is hurt, I hurt.  When the dog is happy, I am I just kind of assume he's the same.  How brilliant is that?  That we have furry mammalian emotional barometers that can not only gauge but influence our emotions?  We form intimate bonds with them, we feed them, exercise them, pick up their shit with our hands.  We choose our dogs to reflect the things we value in ourselves:  aggression, agility, playfulness, intelligence, gentleness, loyalty.  Adorableness.  They are our household gods. 

God created man in his image.  Or is it the other way around?  Humans created gods in their image. Sometimes with too many arms (or do we have too few?) and sometimes with animal characterizations, because humans tend to associate certain behaviors and virtues with different species.  Athena has an owl for wisdom. Ganesha has an elephant head for strength and fertility (and because Shiva cut it the other one off). Ravens are vocal and opportunistic little bastards, so Odin has two for Thought and Memory.  Bast is symbolized by a cat as a protector of the weak, for motherhood and grace.

Dogs, however, are guardians or helpers, but rarely (and as far as I know off the top of my head, never) the manifestations or companions of a specific god.  Wolves and jackals, coyotes...those are gods.  But not the dog.

In Zoroastrianism, dogs are not gods, but sacred in their own right.  A dog's gaze purifies the soul.  Murdering a dog is a crime punished by eternal damnation.  Dogs are granted funeral rites and puppies are precious.

The point is this: we didn't create dogs, but we assign them our image, like gods.  Dog = god backwards, duh.  It's a non-but-way-awesomer-and-better-than-usual palindrome. Dogs are anthropomorph-ized (is that a legit derivation? yes.) the world over.  Some people beat them and some people eat them, and some people force them to fight to the death for sport, but societies across the world have partnered with dogs for as long  

But they are still dogs.  They're coworkers and friends.  They're our counterpart.  We assume they feel a range of emotions comparable to humans because we want them to.  We study and write books on the language of dogs, we train them to value what we value, we breed them to value what we value.  We genetically control their behavior and physical traits, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the tragically worst

At the same time, the idioms associated with "dog" are rude and terrible.  Sick as a dog.  Underdog.  Dog-eat-dog.  Go to the dogs. Work like a dog.  Dogs of war.  Put your woman on a leash. Get that kid a muzzle.  Bitch. 

I don't like any of that.  We should stop that.  As humans we deserve better.  Dogs deserve better.

I'm no expert, and I might have gotten some of this wrong.  I'm just writing what I know.  Maybe this isn't a proper love letter to dogs, or about dogs, because I'm not describing all of the wonderful things about them.  I don't really NEED to do that.  That's what Buzzfeed is for.

I guess what I'm saying is: hey, dogs!  I love you because no matter what we belong to each other. You are the best.  You do everything like you mean it, and like you mean it just a little bit more than your human counterparts.  You're us.  Cubed.  Dogs are love. 




daisyfae said...

As i stumbled my way through the last years of my marriage, we rescued this year old chocolate lab... mostly as a companion for our primary dog. That was 12 years ago, and now i'm pretty sure that damn dog rescued me. If he hadn't been along for the ride, i'd have needed therapy and anti-depressants. We are a pack of two. i anthropomorphize the shit out of my dog. mostly because now that he's gone grey, he has really expressive eyebrows.

jon said...

If you were up for making a video, I would love to see you print out this letter on bacon paper (probably a thing) and present it to a dog.