I was a teenager when Norm, our younger springer spaniel, attacked my dad. He had undiagnosed rage disorder and bit my dad on the face while they were snuggling in his chair. Dad threw Norm in the back yard and mom took dad to the hospital. I had to stay behind and listen to Norm, now returned to himself and confused about his banishment, cry to be let in.
He hadn't howled like this before. This was a wholly new sound, different from the sounds of pain and stress and alert that normally came out of him. Listening to it was almost unbearable.
I sat in the upstairs hall and wept. Our older springer Malley padded up close, sniffed me twice, and nudged me. I tried to shoo her away. She normally listened to that, but that night she stayed, and she nosed my hands away from my face again and again until I let them fall. She kissed me and she lay down next to me and did not leave my side until dad came home. We put Norm down the next day.
He used to try to talk. If you were sitting in a chair and reading or watching TV, he would come and sit right in front of you, face like a forlorn Stan Laurel, and wait for you to notice him. If you ignored him, he would scoot a half-step back, sit back down, and huff once. If you continued to ignore him, he'd try to talk.
This was not a bark or a whine. He would open his mouth and start modulating his voice in a constant up-and-down rurring sound that approximated the rise and fall and cadence of human speech. I've never heard a dog do that before or since.
That was one of the things I missed most when we put him down. He was one of us. He wanted to be near us, to share body warmth with us, to be comforted and told that he was good, that we saw him there, that we hadn't forgotten our boy. He was also weird as hell, and I identified with that.
The gist of this article is mostly reasonable. Which makes the clickbait nature of its headline and framing even more tiresome in contrast. Even Norm didn't clown that hard to get our attention. He just tried to talk to us.
That clowning drowns out some of the piece's more disturbing points, like that 40% of women dog owners get more emotional support from their dogs than from their husbands. That's a parasitism that's far more worthy of scrutiny than the question of whether my Mugsy understands selflessness and altruism.
Indeed, there's a case to be made that we're all emotional parasites. That we need affirmation, that we need security both physical and emotional, that we need to feel needed and valued. That others are mostly a means to those ends.
The question of whether dogs love us or merely need us only stops with their species if you don't understand the implications of what you're asking. Pointing out that they train us just like we do them opens us up to much broader and more interesting discussions about the nature of our thinking and feeling existence than a lazy and predictable "everything you know is BACKKERDS" hot take, if we’re listening.
It’s a perfect microcosm of everything I’ve come to hate about the internet I used to love. A big opportunity for meaningful discussion torpedoed by the symbiosis of market considerations, short attention spans, and the need for an outrage platform.
Right now the San Diego Union-Tribune is basking in a viral Twitter fight that raised their ad revenue for a minute. Right now Twitter is screaming DOG HATER about an article they didn't read. Both of them sacrificed something to get what they wanted.
The whole thing makes me tired all over. So tonight I will scoop my little bearded boy up in my arms and carry him up to bed (note: that fucker’s spoilt), and I will ponder for the 500th time as we plod past the stained glass window just what all this says about what it is to have feelings.