Let’s get that out in the open from the start. I’m not one of those people who think that animals have equal standing with people, and CERTAINLY NOT among the ones who consider animals more worthy of life than human beings.
Nor did I go around showing pictures of my furry white “baby” to people I know, let alone strangers. The dog was not my daughter, nor was she my son’s sister. I think we all understand the genetics of it, but I’m also not confused about it on an emotional bonding level. If our ship was going down, and I could only save either my son or the dog, there is NO DOUBT in my mind that I would be saying goodbye to my four-legged friend.
People say that their pets are family members. I understand the thought (heck, with some you can even see the resemblance), but there is still a distance there that no amount of willful personification is going to bridge. A dog is not your next of kin – it’s an animal.
Last week I had to decide whether it was time for our dog to stop living (there’s another difference – Jack Kavorkian notwithstanding, I would not make the decision to put my family members “to sleep.”) Katy had spent all but 6 weeks of her sixteen-plus years with us, and she was deaf, blind, hobbled, sick and confused, and it was time for her to stop.
What is it about dogs? I’ve heard it said that we get along better with them and think more fondly of them than people because DOGS DON’T TALK BACK. That may be true with some dogs, but Katy talked back plenty (don’t ask me what she was saying – I’m not THAT far gone.) She was cantankerous. Disagreeable. Disobedient.
Most of the time she acted on her own initiative – went places we didn’t want her to, ate things she shouldn’t. Annoying things. Just like the people in your life. Like having a toddler for 16 years, getting into mischief and needing to be taken care of. But a toddler is a person, and Katy was JUST a dog.
The fact is, as much as I can go on about dogs NOT being people, Katy somehow managed to fool us. There were so many times (when she was younger and more mobile) that Katy would seem to understand that someone in the family was hurting, and she’d quiet herself down from making a ruckus, stop chasing my son around the house, and lay down next to the hurting person, as if to say “It’s okay – I’m here.”
I will never know what she was really thinking, sitting there, staring at us with those black, unfathomable eyes, but I do know she picked up on things about us that we didn’t even notice ourselves.
I think dogs do empathy and unconditional love better than people do. Maybe it’s because they don’t really understand our words we use to express (or cover up) our feelings – they just get the tone. And they pick up on things that we aren’t aware of at all. What does fear smell like? Sorrow? Pain? Joy?
I will miss her and her rambunctiousness, and the change of pace she brought to our lives. She was just a dog, but she was so woven into our lives, that it’s still like losing a family member, and her absence leaves a hole that will never be filled or replaced.
William Mangieri’s writing (including his latest collection - Even More Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND) can be found in many places, including:
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