“Be prepared. A dog is adorable and noble. A dog is a true and loving friend. A dog is also a hedonist.”

-Mary Oliver



When I was in fourth grade there was a girl in my class named Jamie B.  She had a little brother who had a very hard time controlling his temper.  He would throw things at people, spit, bite, scream, and as we found out, hurt their dog.  He would get very frustrated with her and it became a habit of his to shut her in the front door.  One day, Jamie came to school crying and told our class that her family had made the decision to get rid of the dog.  And I, as a very emotionally supportive fourth grader, told her, “My family will take your dog!”.  This made her cry more, but eventually, we did adopt her dog.  There were some hard feelings.  She didn’t talk to me in school after that.  And, on the day we came to get the dog, Jamie fed her the majority of a rotisserie chicken, which she through up on the car ride home.  And so came Nellie.  She loves my dad and hates everyone else.  She is turning thirteen this year.



A few years after Nellie joined the household, we got a call from one of our family friends.  They had decided to adopt a dog from an Alabama shelter and she was on her way up.  However, due to an unforeseeable family emergency, they could no longer take her.  So, we said that we would and we drove two and a half hours to Vermont to get her.  She arrived in a Target parking lot on a huge truck full of other dogs who had also traveled from Alabama to meet their new people.  As soon as the truck stopped, all anyone could hear was the shrill, nonstop yip yip yipping of someone inside.  We all looked around at each other, and a man stepped out of the truck.  With an exhausted sigh he said, “Okay, so who belongs to Sunshine”.  Sunshine’s owner claimed her and we waited for Tasha to emerge.  When she stepped out, her fur was matted and clumped, her legs  were shaking so badly that she could barely stand up.  We brought her home and tried to get her to come into the house.  It quickly became clear that she had never been through a door in her life, five years old and she had never been inside.  It took three hours of persuading to get her into the house; it took her a couple of years to not flinch violently when you tried to pet her.  She is about twelve now and still timid, but happy and lazy too.



Rascal is a unique dog.  We got him from one of my mother’s coworkers.  They had had him for about a year when he started behaving aggressively towards the husband.  They loved him, but they didn’t think they could live with it anymore.  So, he came to us.  His previous owners had told us that he was a little strange and had some anxiety and behavioral issues.  We had absolutely no idea what we were getting into.  He really eased into the family.  He was a nervous little thing with an obsession with food, but beyond that he was fine–not aggressive, not loud, just a little weird.  I swear he didn’t bark for the first full year that we owned him; we didn’t even think that he could.  And so came Rascal.




Getting June was a mistake, it was unplanned.  She started out as a kind of a foster dog.  We were only supposed to have her for a few weeks, maybe two months.  Her people were in the process of moving and they needed somewhere for her to stay until they moved into their new home.  Like Rascal, we got June through a coworker of my mother’s.  A few weeks went by and she would check in and ask how June was.  However, as time went on, this woman began avoiding my mother at work.  She never checked in anymore and at least two months went by before the very awkward conversation came: “We can’t take her back”.  So, now we have June.



I grew up with a very specific way of looking at dogs.  My parents told us from a very young age that the day would never come when we went to pick out a dog.  They always said that our dogs would find their way to us.  I think that they had this idea that this would keep us from having too many pets, on the contrary, we always had more dogs than any of my friends growing up.  Once people know that you take in dogs, you tend to get a lot of requests to do just that.  My parents also raised us with an extreme aversion to pure breads.  They taught us how most pure bred dogs ended up with a wide a array of health issues and how their personalities had been formed over centuries of breeding.  They also taught us that there are so many mutts in the world that needed homes, that those who bought dogs of a specific bread were doing it for themselves, not for the dogs.  So, my brothers and I grew up loving mutts and hating the institution of dog breading.  This definitely shaped the way that I see human-canine relationships.

“You think those dogs will not be in heaven! I tell you they will be there long before any of us.” 
― Robert Louis Stevenson

The existence of dogs in today’s society is nothing new.  Domesticated wolves date back 27,000 years.  We have coexisted with canines for so long that the human-dog relationship is not only normalized, it is expected.  Dogs are an interesting subject for this kind of approach.  In these next few essays, I am thinking about the human relationship to everyday, normalized things.  Dogs are a great example of this.  We love them we laugh at them, we spend large quantities of time watching videos of them online.  However, if you really think about our relationship with these animals, it’s pretty weird.  Our love for dogs is unlike our relationship to any other animal.  I would say that cats are the closest runner up, but they cannot compete when it comes to emotional attachment.   We love dogs so much because they love us back ten times harder.  We love the fact that they wait by the door for us to come home, that when we come through that door, they jump and smile like nothing else in the world has ever mattered to them as much as this right now–you coming home to them.  It is a strange kind of obsession that we feel for them, and they feel for us.  But why dogs?  Why doesn’t everyone have a couple of goats waiting for them to get home?  It is because we have built them to feel this way.  We, as human beings, have created an entire array of dog breads for our own gain.  Whether you’re talking about a Beagle that has been bread to help you hunt, or a Collie that is been created to help you herd, a Labrador that was designed to catch the ducks you shoot down, a Pomeranian that is a living stuffed animal to pet, or a Bulldog that is just funny to look at, dogs have been created by us, for us.

“Some things are unchangeably wild, others are stolidly tame. The tiger is wild, and the coyote, and the owl. I am tame, you are tame. There are wild things that have been altered, but only into a semblance of tameness, it is no real change. But the dog lives in both worlds. Dog is docile, and then forgets. Dog promises then forgets. Voices call him. Wolf faces appear in dreams. He finds himself running over incredible lush or barren stretches of land, nothing any of us has ever seen. Deep in the dream, his paws twitch, his lip lifts. The dreaming dog leaps through the underbrush, enters the earth through a narrow tunnel, and is home. The dog wakes and the disturbance in his eyes when you say his name is a recognizable cloud. How glad he is to see you, and he sneezes a little to tell you so.”

Mary Oliver, Dog Songs

To be honest, dogs have always really freaked me out.  Not to say I don’t love them, which I do.  It’s just that their very existence is dependent on us.  You know when you’re watching a video or documentary of some animal that’s ability to exist in the wild has been compromised, so it must live in captivity, cared for by humans?  And as you’re watching you find out that Betsy the rhino has formed a bond with her caretaker, Joe, and by the end of the video, even though you know you shouldn’t be, you’re happy that Betsy can’t go back into the wild, because that would be the end of her relationship with Joe.  We love our dogs so much because of their dependency on us.  There is never the question of–would the ‘wild’ be a better place for them?  Is it wrong to keep them in captivity?  Never.  Because dogs, the way we know them today, could not live without us.  They are designed to live in our homes, be fed by us, be walked by us, and to be loved by us.  If I’m being honest, that really freaks me out.  I know that we mass produce livestock and there are many animals that serve a purpose to people, but dogs are everywhere.  If you don’t have one, you know someone who does.  They are so normalized, that most people consider them to be a part of the family.

Our emotional involvement with dogs is what keeps us from looking a32wq34ny deeper than our surface relationship with them.  It’s pretty sad to think that our dogs only love us because that is how they have been bred to survive–even if it is true.  We see our love for dogs and their love for us, not as a construct, but as a pure, natural feeling.  This allusion shrouds the reality that we domesticated them, and the continuously molded them to remain domesticated.  Dogs are nothing more than our play things–living, breathing stuffed animals that give us a sense of emotional fulfillment.


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