Of Dogs and Humans

We all know there is no better animal friend to the human than a dog. All their unconditional love, the unlimited friendship and total submission to the will of human has made the dog part of the human homestead since over 10,000 years ago. We all well know it the dog is the direct descendant of the wolf, an ancestor that still roars over stretches of wild land, often coming into proximity to human settlements, as the cattle constitute an easy prey for them. The physical resemblance is striking, but the actual behaviour is quite different. Wild wolves, despite socially aggregating in packs that ensure a better organization, are not friendly to people. Dogs, instead, are the friendliest an animal can be, and they seem to have an addiction to the human presence, plus a total reliance on being fed by humans.

Most likely, food brought the wolves closer to our race. As ancient hunter-gatherers, humans had feasts of game meat. They also had plenty of scrapes to share, bones, unpleasant parts of a killed animal and so on, scrapes on which the wolves fed very well, conserving a lot of the energy they needed to hunt for their own food. Some of them have probably become quickly addicted to the human trashed food, and with a little tail wagging, they founded an unbreakable relationship which lasted to our days. How some wolves remained with people and some of them remained wild it is an unknown to me. But the difference between the wild and tamed wolves stands stark. While the wolves are living in their own territories, following their own rules and avoiding the man as a foe, the dogs are doing the opposite and they submit unconditionally to the human will and live an apparently tranquil life, being well fed and cared. I would say that the digestive track of both wolves and dogs must have the same constitution, as they both have an insatiable appetite. Most of the wolves, despite being masters of the trophic chain in their environments, showing extraordinary hunting skills, usually struggle to survive and hunger causes the most casualties in the wolf’s world. I wonder what kept the wolves in the wilderness while their close relatives are enjoying the pleasure of being companions to the great masters of the animal world, the humans, which undeniably are ruling the world from the very top of the trophic chain.

When I was a young pupil studying all kinds of matters while hating the school as much as I could, among other great useless disciplines, I was studying Latin, and there I had the pleasure to read an old fable, written by Aesop, in the language spoken by the few literates back there in the then capital of the world, the then almighty Rome. The literary Latin had a musicality that was pleasant to the ear, and the rhythms and rhymes created by the ancient writers gave birth to plenty of masterpieces. However, that little piece of text meant almost nothing to me until I read its Romanian translation. Losing its originality, it seemed to be just a naïve story but the meaning of it stroke me since then. Decades later, reading the amazing work of Barry Lopez, “Of Wolves and Men”, title that inspired the name of this essay, I rediscovered the same story, this time in English, and in a different context, the book being an extraordinary description of wolf behaviour, their relationship with humans, and the way they were and are perceived by people. The story reads like this:

THE DOG AND THE WOLF

Discouraged after an unsuccessful day of hunting, a hungry Wolf came on a well-fed Mastiff. He could see that the Dog was having a better time of it than he was and inquired what the Dog had to do to stay well-fed. “Very little” said the Dog. “Just drive away beggars, guard the house, show fondness to the master, be submissive to the rest of the family and you are well fed and warmly lodged.”

The Wolf thought this over carefully. He risked his own life almost daily, had to stay in the worst weather, and was never assured of his meals. He thought he would try another way of living.

As they were going along together the Wolf saw a place around the Dog’s neck where the hair had worn thin. He asked what this was and the Dog said it was nothing, “just the place where my collar and chain rub.” The Wolf stopped short. “Chain?” he asked. “You mean you are not free to go where you choose?” “No,” said the Dog, “but what does that mean?” “Much”, answered the Wolf as he trotted off. “Much.”

This fable was definitively meant to make people aware of the dangers of losing their freedom, and the animal characters had just a symbolic presence in the text. However, the text has somehow followed me for all the years to come.

Let’s think right now just about dogs and forget about the wolves, which we should leave alone to howl, hunt and run in their remote wilderness.

Dogs became the first animal to be domesticated, therefore incorporated into the human communities. They thrived and adapted to diverse climates and environments. As part of the human groups, they became part of the homesteads, keeping up with the continued evolution of human settlements. Dogs were at the beginning of their incorporation, inhabiting somewhere on the outskirts, but soon they moved closer, to become fully integrated into the human living place. Hard to say, when we have invited the dog to the actual shelter and how much time they spent outside at the door. What is certain is that the dog gave up his wild freedom for the domesticated imprisonment of the human homestead.

Whenever I have encountered animal carcasses, abandoned by the wolves’ packs in the wild, I noticed they ate all the meat and they left the bones untouched, mastering the art of ripping off the smallest piece of meat from the skeleton. I know I promised to leave the wolves alone and write about dogs, but they came back in my thoughts as they are haunting my ideas, the pack carefully closing the quarters to surround my intellectual efforts and not give them any chance to run away. If the meat is what they want, how comes they submitted to the man for just a bare bone?! I only assume that the cooking of meat, secret process invented by the human and owned exclusively by the human so that they can use and digest almost every living thing on the planet, was what attracted them. Maybe the smell of the meat frying and molted fat dripping over fire had somehow went into the wolves’ smell and acted as hallucinogenic substances that made them lose their soberness.

Now let’s go back to our dogs, which they constitute my case study, the very subject of this almost absurd essay. They easily befriended the human and swallowed the loss of their freedom and some of their instincts. The relationship thus created lasted to our days and presently, dogs and men are equal partners, sharing the benefits and comforts of modern society. Dogs live in people’s houses, they are subject to human attention; they receive care and they are treated as fair recipients of civil rights.

This is a significant achievement of the dogs’ race, and the humans, despite being the absolute masters of the animal and vegetable world, showing little to no mercy to their servants, have given the dogs a very special place in the entire structure. They are humanized; they are treated as humans; they are donning clothes specially tailored for them; they receive the warmest corner of the house, the best food available, the cleanest water and the love of their masters. Oh, but the last word of the previous sentence fell like a strike: masters.

We are living the days of great integration, assimilation, respect for others and the greatest political correctness the history of humankind have had ever experienced, with the small deviations seen here and there. The civilization acknowledged all the mistakes made in centuries and leaped toward greater democratization of all components of society. Everybody is recognized as an equal partner, sharing equal rights and responsibilities. The constituents of modern society are vastly human, but with one exception: their pets. Almost all of them are members of the animal world, adopted and tamed so that to serve the man’s interest. Some of them, like the dogs, have joined this association earlier, some of them picked up with the time and the moralities of certain eras. Once again, there is a word in the last sentence that falls heavily, like a big rock detached from a wall hitting the ground with great noise but not disintegrating: serve.

The pets, no matter what their species is, are servant to the mighty man. I am sure they see us as gods. There is little chance they can escape our will and power. The dogs are no exception to this, so let’s dig deeper into the matter.

Judging by all circumstances, we can say the dogs enjoy the best from our company. The details are visible all over around us. They are accepted in mostly all human places, and they are treated as humanly as possible. This might be a win-win association, for this the dogs contributed, since the beginning, their part to the symbiosis. At first they guarded the house of human, the animals feeding the human, the offspring of human and the humans themselves. Then they took part in hunting parties and served the man perfectly. They accepted the harnesses and pulled sledges to help the human get faster from place to place. In time, the human developed modern mechanized means of transportation and gathered animals in fenced and walled enclosures to kill them for food, therefore saving energy for other activities and giving up on some ancient chores. The dog did not lose his position and offered something of greater importance to their master: emotional support.

All above-mentioned facts help to better understand the intimate connections that made the human-dog partnership function. The problem I still have is the sudden apparition of the words master and servant, which came naturally, but I had difficulties replacing with synonyms or similar terms. The issue had stirred my days a bit and sparkled the flame that lead to writing this unnecessary essay.

When I thought I reached an end and was about to draw a magnificent conclusion, a concerned has raised from the depth of my conscience and I had to continue typing. The concern is about the dogs, of course. Is their total servitude to the mighty human really their free choice? Is this entire relationship really a matter of freely agreed consent? Isn’t this, by any chance, just a trap the old wolf fell in for the weaknesses of his viscera, the easiness of his appetites? I am not in the position, nor I have enough knowledge to find the answer to these questions, but the concern is still there, will go nowhere.

I always loved and still love dogs for their ultimate love and dedication. A few dogs served me, almost all of them adopted, poor creatures punished for erratic behaviours and abandoned to the mercy of faith. I enjoyed their presence, respected and cared for them as for a child and I always had the best of love in return. Never did they disappoint me in any way. Their passing away was just as dramatic as the death of a human. That is why I understand so well the presence of dogs in human life, and enjoy their appearance, walking with their masters while on leash, hanging on their masters’ shoulders, carefully tucked in bags and bag packs, buckled up in the passenger seat and thousand of other places and, from a wolf point of view, awkward positions. But the image of the wolf, his stature and posture, his clever eyes staring, his senses always stretched at the finest keeps haunting me.They are running in the wild, together with the members of their pack, ruling the territories, preying and feeding themselves, caring for their pups, caring for their group. Free creatures adding to the magnificent beauty of the nature. Wild, raw creatures of the world, occupying the land with their strength and moving away with their fears. How come they are close relatives of dogs? Dogs have so many breeds, all so diverse, very different appearance and behaviour. I wonder, did the wolf that approached the human to eat the bare bone thrown away in disgust realize what will be the price to be paid, did they really want to give away their freedom? Back to the fable of Aesop. The Mastiff, a descendant of wolf, accepted the collar and the chain unconditionally. The wolf, instead, ran away, forgetting of his hunger and tiredness. Probably only a few of the wolves preferred the bone for the raw meat of the prey and from them, the human master bred races of dogs that fitted their own particular interests and needs. We acknowledge the dog chose freely the bone, but do we know if they, after some time, realized the trap they fell in?

The progress of human civilization has created the conditions that groups of people freed themselves from slavery of all forms, the human, being a magnificent creature, with a conscience of himself and a profound understanding of the world. In time, they bettered their existence and perfected aspects of common existence.

The dog did not reach that stage of illumination, and biology and animal sciences do not give us any hope that will happen soon or if it will ever happen. They don’t have enough process of thought to develop means of proper communication, neither can they socially aggregate to give birth to a common voice, a common voice that will be able to explain to the human what is their point of view or what are their concerns and how do they see the servitude they submit to the humans. They can’t really tell us their side of the story, and how do they really feel wearing the collar and chain, nor can they say how much enjoyment living in walled enclosures they have. There is so no way for them to tell us if they long for the wide open spaces where they were, once upon a time, running free.

In the today’s contexts, aren’t we humans supposed to address the mistakes of the past, correct them by using our full compassion and attention to the needs and desires of others that are different but part of the commonplace in which we all assemble to form the society? Shouldn’t we find out the root cause of the inequities of our present civilization to raise the walls of a more perfect future we all aim for? Where are dogs in this equation, aren’t they an active component of the entire structure? About other pets, we will talk on another occasion, because right now we did not solve the dog problem.

What is to be done here, folks?

Until now, in the intrinsic relation between dogs and humans, only the last one has spoken.

Woof!

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