The spate of dog mind-focused books raises the question: After at least 14,000 years of living with dogs, why are we only now getting around to considering what goes on inside their heads? There are many possible explanations, but one is that in the last two decades science has discovered more about dog cognition than in the previous two centuries combined.”
— Vanessa Woods and Brian Hare. Hey folks, ever heard of a guy named Jack London? And of course, London didn’t invent the idea of a story told from a dog’s point of view. Heck, there’s a moment told from a dog’s point of view in the Odyssey.
This is what happens when you are formed, as these scholars apparently were formed, in a radically presentist soocial order: you make the most ridiculous assumptions about everyone born more than a few decades ago. The idea that people could have lived with dogs for “at least 14,000 years” without ever growing curious about what dogs think doesn’t bear a moment’s scrutiny. But then, Woods and Hare don’t give the idea a moment’s scrutiny. They unreflectively assume that all generations preceding Us were just plain stoopid.
C. S. Lewis, from “Membership”:
The very word membership is of Christian origin, but it has been taken over by the world and emptied of all meaning. In any book on logic you may see the expression “members of a class.” It must be most emphatically stated that the items of particulars included in a homogeneous class are almost the reverse of what St. Paul meant by members. By members he meant what we should call organs, things essentially different from, and complementary to, one another, things differing not only in structure and function but also in dignity. Thus, in a club, the committee as a whole and the servants as a whole may both properly be regarded as “members”; what we should call the members of the club are merely units. A row of identically dressed and identically trained soldiers set side by side, or a number of citizens listed as voters in a constituency are not members of anything in the Pauline sense. I am afraid that when we describe a man as “a member of the Church” we usually mean nothing Pauline; we mean only that he is a unit – that he is one more specimen of some kind of things as X and Y and Z. How true membership in a body differs from inclusion in a collective may be seen in the structure of a family. The grandfather, the parents, the grown-up son, the child, the dog, and the cat are true members (in the organic sense), precisely because they are not members or units of a homogeneous class. They are not interchangeable. Each person is almost a species in himself. The mother is not simply a different person from the daughter; she is a different kind of person. The grown-up brother is not simply one unit in the class children; he is a separate estate of the realm. The father and grandfather are almost as different as the cat and the dog. If you subtract any one member, you have not simply reduced the family in number; you have inflicted an injury on its structure. Its unity is a unity of unlikes, almost of incomensurables.
It’s worth bearing in mind that dog ownership — when done right — gets you out of the house. Dog ownership is also very often a social lubricant. When I lived in Adams Morgan one of the most small-d democratic and civic-minded activities in my life involved going to the local dog park with Cosmo, the late, great, wonderdog and former It Dog of the American Right®. I made friends with people I might never have said a word to otherwise. We self-organized to clean up the park from time to time and we watched out for each other’s dogs. My generally shy father loved to take our basset hound, Norman, around the neighborhood in part because of all the attention Norman got (the ladies loved Norman). He was a walking conversation piece.
I agree with Clay that many people today — and in every generation — get dogs in part to deal with loneliness. But the malady is the loneliness; the dogs are a partial cure. There are better cures, but that’s not the dogs’ fault.
Exactly. Dogs are great. Period. I know so, so many people whose dogs have given them peace and comfort and entertainment and affection when those needs couldn’t be met in other ways. I think especially of my mother, whose dog Ansel was a life-saver for her when my father died. No one should ever say a bad word about (a) dogs and (b) the love people have for their dogs. That love doesn’t interfere with the love of other humans, but rather (as Jonah says) is often conducive to friendship and affection with people. One of the best events in the history of humanity occurred when dogs began seeking us out.