(Jonathan Froese Photo)
(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, August 20, 2022)
From this corner, the only thing left to say about the dwindling dog days of summer is that the dog is somehow managing. The kids have been gone for large swaths of time. If I was a dog, or if you were, this would take something out of you. How could it not?
You know the greeting a dog gives when you arrive home? You won’t get that hello from a horse. Or a lion. Or a house cat. A cat – and God bless all the cats out there – doesn’t really wear its heart on its sleeve. And God knows why, but dogs always think the best of us. “Be the person that your dog thinks you are,” is what’s written on a plaque on our Grace’s doghouse. It’s something to chew on.
People and dogs are, simply put, gaga for each other. Sometimes they enjoy just looking at each other. Dogs, if given the choice of extended time with another dog or a human, usually choose the human. It’s been a long relationship. Archeologists have found remains of a dog and person buried together as long as 14,000 years ago.
Then the mysterious stories of dogs finding owners. One account – it’s verified by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – involves an Irish Terrier, Prince. In 1914, Private James Brown left his home in Staffordshire, England, for war and France. His dog somehow journeyed even across the English Channel to find Brown on the front. Later, Prince stayed for the war’s duration, often relaying messages for soldiers.
Our dog experiences are more modest. Can we get the dog to sit still for a family photo? Our sociable, 35-pound Sheepadoodle, has done this enough. Living in Uganda, our annual family photo included Zak, a striking, long-haired, black-and-tan German Shepherd. Zak, funny-enough, was born on my bride’s and my wedding anniversary. Even early photos of my own mother and father, beautiful studio black-and-whites, include their sizeable German Shepherd, Comet. Nobody would ever tell Comet that he’s not family.
Some people will try. They’ll tell you that dogs, that animals, live with just instinct. That they aren’t sentient. That they’re incapable of understanding something like family. Or love. That it’s more like a contract. You give food and exercise and toys, the dog returns affection. Tell that to my son who, recently returning home, fell onto the couch before he and you-know-who were all arms and paws and fur and faces crammed in mysterious connection.
Speaking of sitting still for pictures, about 100 dogs are now trained to sit unrestrained inside an MRI scanner. It’s to better understand the thinking and brainpower of your own Snoopy or Toto or Lassie. Research shows most dogs can understand like a typical two-year old child. About 20 per cent are closer to a three-year-old.
Grace, admittedly, is not as smart as Lassie. Border Collies are the Rhodes Scholars of the dog world. Even so, recently, while Grace was off-leash, a boy walked by and asked, “Hey, is that one of those smart dogs?” Sure. She’s smart enough to navigate family life. This is the mystery. Dogs, whether herding animals on some farm, or herding kibble on some floor, see themselves as family.
The MRI studies are led by physician and bioengineer Gregory Berns. He wrote “What It’s Like to Be a Dog.” You could also consider the ancient book of Job. “Ask the animals and they will teach you,” Job says to his finger-wagging friends, while making the point that the breath of every human being, and the life of every living thing, is in the Creator’s hands.
It’s a good weekend to ponder these things. World Dog Day, August 26, is soon here. Maybe this upcoming week is even a good time to rescue a dog. During the pandemic, dogs were like houses. Gone. Unaffordable. Now with more people returning to work commutes, rescues are available, needing new owners.
Then again, who rescues who?