Last week we had to put our last dog down. She was fourteen and her condition was deteriorating rapidly. She could have gone on a few weeks or months more, sniffing and pooping and wanting to be scratched, but on the whole she was no longer happy. It was an easy procedure, both for her and for me. I was a bit envious, wishing that when my own time comes it could be so simple. Unfortunately, I do not live in such a civilized place.
I’ve had one or more dogs continually for the past twenty years, but I’m done with it. I am now an ex-dog owner, much as I am an ex-smoker (I quit smoking 18 years ago after 22 years of tobacco addiction), and just as an ex-smoker perceives smokers differently than before, I am beginning to witness dog ownership (or call it companionship if you prefer) in a very different way. I see the people literally tied to their canines, their gait and rhythms constricted and restricted by the instincts and impulses of those creatures. They don’t go out for a walk so much as go out for a series of involuntary pauses. And as Demetri Martin put it, dog owners are people whose need for companionship outweighs their repulsion at picking up shit.
Every dog owner loves their dog (and there are so many different kinds of dog, so you can pick out precisely the particular variety they prefer to have this affection for) just as cat owners love their cats, and people in general love their family and/or friends. But there is no translation from the specific to the general, from the micro to the macro. We humans have these individual feelings for our own small set of other animals, but on the whole (you would have to admit, from the evidence) we as a species do not give a shit about life on this planet in general. Nor do we as humans act as if we give a crap about humanity in general. We love our family and/or friends, as I was saying, but then again, war and racism and violence and so on.
The individual is not the species – they operate on completely separate levels – just as a tree is not a forest or vice versa. As an ex-dog owner, I am somewhat stupefied by the persistence of those who insist on continuing to be dog owners. What are they thinking? I wonder. What do they see in these sniffing, pausing, wagging, marking, pooping, sniveling, warm and fuzzy and innocent beings? Over time we have manufactured these animals into the kind of things we want to have around us, but I’m done with that. I can go for a walk and keep walking. I can come home without having a set of duties to perform for an immediately demanding and insistent hairy mongrel. I suppose I will miss having a dog around, from time to time, just as I occasionally crave a cigarette, but I expect those moments to attentuate over time, until there comes a day when I can hardly believe I once spent all that time and money and attention on an admittedly adorable thing like that.