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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dog:God

A hundred thousand years ago or so, humans and certain wolves began working in partnership.  Since wolves, being wolves, are not entirely suited to cooperating with two-legged, vulnerable, and highly-edible partners, humans selected the most docile among them: wolves that frankly weren't up to snuff qua wolves but were acceptable hunting buddies and wouldn't be tempted to eat junior when he was taking his afternoon nap.

Time marched on, as time has a tendency to do, and the canine descendants became less and less like their wolfish forbears.  Unlike other animals, that could be tamed and learn to tolerate humans, dogs actually came to prefer them.  Dogs like us.  Dogs love us.

The same, I'm afraid, can't be said of cats.  Cats like balls of string, they like being scratched behind the ears, they like walking under your hand and arching their back, but they don't especially care about you.  A cat does not play with a ball of string because it amuses you, but because it amuses her.  A dog chasing a stick, however - and I cannot prove this, but I have the deepest sense that it is so - does so partly because she imagines you want that stick chased.  At the very least, the dog is playing with you.  At most, a cat plays by herself with you as the toy of the moment.

Studies have shown that humans share a stronger link of communication with dogs than with even our closest relative on the planet, chimpanzees.  If an owner points to the location of a treat, a dog will look in that spot. A chimpanzee for all its brainpower will not.  Chimpanzees don't get it: "The finger, chimp, the finger - follow the finger!"  Other studies have proven that dogs instinctively look towards the right side of the human face, the more expressive side, and that they read our emotions, in many cases with greater accuracy than our own family members, certainly a lot better than that creep in the check-out line who attempts to engage us in conversation.

This is where the palindrome of the title comes in, Dog:God.  It is not the dog who is god, but - this part is kind of disturbing - we.  Just like God of the Old Testament, we have taken something and made it in our own image.  We have made it to love and serve us.  And, by golly, it does.

If you have a dog in the room with you right now, and if she isn't asleep, chances are, she's looking at you with deep, brown, yearning eyes.  Those quiet eyes say, "You are the focus of my life, the mysterious, unknowable but utterly loved Other whence all pleasure and purpose flows."

It's really a terrible burden in some ways, but one we have foisted on ourselves.  We fashioned this creature from the mud of wolf-stock to be just this way.

I would never want to be the real God.

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