Most of the time I look down at my dog sitting there with her big wet proboscis nudging my arm to receive attention, and think she hasn’t got a clue. I want her to be able to talk. “Use your words,” we used to urge our children when they were learning to speak instead of whine or grab. But she just looks up with those big glassy brown eyes.
In mellower moments, when we are sitting on the patio in the shade, the sun painting patterns of light on the grass through the leafy branches of the oak, I think she probably understands me far better than I understand her. After all, she can smell human emotions and knows how I feel well before I can see how she feels. And she hears so much better than me, registering changes in my breathing pattern or a shift of my posture. Oh yes, she understands me far better than I understand her. She better, her very existence depends upon it.
To me, beloved as she might be, she is an appendage. But to her, I am meal ticket and shelter. People who study such things, say that dogs have mastered us that way. As one of the first domesticated animals they learned to live at the edge of our encampments stealing scraps and pilfering from our supplies. They learned to read our moods and motions, even as we learned to capture and breed them. We may think their barking is to guard and protect us, but in fact, they are just making sure nothing bad happens to their meal ticket.
Cats, so long as they aren’t declawed, could live by their own wits if they had to. Dogs, not so much. Sure, they might catch a distracted squirrel here or there, but most domestic dogs lost in the wilderness die of starvation or end up a meal to a better predator. Dogs are still pack animals and without a pack, they are pretty vulnerable. We are their pack, more is the pity for the them.
Still, I wonder what she thinks, long suffering friend that she is. Does she wonder about the constant metal folder on my lap, why I finger this MacBook Air all the time, a loveless silver machine with no scent of life? What does she think about that smart phone, evil twin of the computer that steals attention away from her? When our grandson visited for the first time, did she know immediately her position in the pack had just shifted? Why has she not learned to accept the postal carrier when the same one comes every day at nearly the same time, and we are happy to hear the brass cover snap closed as we chastise her for barking? And really, why can’t she accept that I am working right now instead of nuzzling my arm for more attention?
Alright, alright, come here, I’ll pat you.