Dogs and I have not had a happy history. Years ago (okay,
decades) I developed a phobia of them. I've tried for years
to overcome it. I've even figured out that the phobia itself was
most likely created as the only way I could express my terror
at something else entirely: the Child Sexual Abuse of which
I was a victim at the time.
Knowing this is only on an intellectual level, though, and does
nothing to stop the primal terror that surges up within me when
I have to face a dog, even a puppy. I manage to overcome it only
under certain circumstances. Stray dogs are less scary, especially
if I pass by them every day. And for some mysterious reason,
golden retrievers don't scare me at all.
All other dogs: scared. Top of the list are black dogs, and
pet dogs. (So to all you friends who live in doggie houses -
I'm telling you this just once: no matter how nicely (or
how often) I assure you that I'll visit, I never will.
And tying/locking up your dog won't help, because that just
makes the dog miserable, which makes me feel miserably
guilty - and no less afraid.)
What we fear, we tend to hate, don't we? I've never really
"hated" dogs - in fact, there are a few I've been very fond of
in the past (none at the time of writing). But I also love cats,
and so I suppose I picked sides.
I saw cats as clean, regal, independent creatures, with high
self-esteem. So naturally I saw dogs as dirty, dumb, slavish
and menial. And then I came across something about dogs
in a book on Native American spirituality, on the symbolism
behind various animals. Dogs, the book said, were symbols
I've mulled that over in my head a couple of times, and
sort of got the gist of it. Then this morning, I drove past
a mangy white stray dog, sitting on the pavement sniffing
at a bit of bread someone had dropped. It turned its head
to glance at me with its lovely eyes (all dogs have lovely
eyes, even Cujo did) and then turned back, but didn't eat
the bread, just looked ahead serenely.
I don't really know what about this struck me, but in that moment
I thought of Buddha, and suddenly I knew what doggy compassion
meant. It's not about putting up with human cruelty or ill-treatment
because they are the slaves and we are the masters, it's not that
at all. These are creatures descended from wolves. If cats are royalty,
dogs are soldiers, warriors. With their heightened senses they can
smell fear, they can hunt down another animal, they can do this
alone or in packs.
They can rip out our throats if they want to. But they don't.
By that last sentence, I don't mean, "they don't rip out our throats".
I mean, "they don't want to." They can, but they don't want to.
And considering how very stupidly and/or cruelly we humans
treat each other, let alone other species, this is no small thing.
So now I understand what the Native Americans meant. I have
seen the light in those doggy eyes and shall henceforth look
into them with a new respect*, and a new understanding of
what it is that we have to learn from them.
I, cat-loving, dog-fearing human, hereby apologise to the dogs.
*From a respectable distance, of course - and no, this doesn't
mean I'll be visiting the doggie houses any time soon.