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Sunday, April 17, 2011

My Ode to Joy

The snail, when feeling threatened, retreats into its shell. When I feel the world is too much for me to bear (which usually translates into its being not enough of what I so much wish it were, namely, peaceful and nurturing for all its inhabitants), that’s when I need to get out of my shell--out of my ruts, out of my head, and out of my house. A dog on the rug in front of the fire is a comforting sight, but there’s nothing like getting outdoors with a dog to sweep a personal blue mood away.

The famous American preacher Henry Ward Beecher called the dog “the god of frolic.” Gilda Radner, probably with Beecher’s happy canine in mind, said that a dog is a “role model for being alive,” while Czech novelist Milan Kundera saw in dogs a calmer spirituality:
Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring--it was peace.

Of course, anyone claiming to be “not a dog person” will dismiss these opinions. I see before my mind’s eye now this not-a-dog person. He or she recoils with a shuddering, fastidious and contemptuous expression at the very idea, let alone the presence, of a dog. “Your dog doesn’t love you,” one such person took great pains to explain to me, hoping to purge my thinking of ignorant delusions. “The dog is just using you.” Well, if we’re going to be that cynical, we might as well think the same thing about human beings--that the baby “loves” parents only for needed protection; that parents “love” children so they can think of themselves as existing past the grave; that brothers and sisters “love” one another because there is safety in numbers; and that romantic “love” is nothing but a guarantee of sexual availability and a hedge against existential dread. It’s so easy to be a cynic—why stop with dogs?

Not all not-a-dog people are cynics tout court, and I realize that many of them find joy in cats or birds or music or art or all of the foregoing. It’s just that, for some unfathomable reason, they draw the line at dogs. They begin sentences with, “The trouble with dogs is....” Well, you can find “trouble” anywhere, if that’s what you’re determined to find. I just don’t see why anyone would want to point out “trouble” in what is for me a source of joy. Cats are good, cats are beautiful, and I’m not out to find “the trouble with cats” or to heap scorn on tropical fish fanciers, either. If a pet snail can open up worlds, surely dogs are not the be-all and end-all of attachment to life. Oh, but my dog...!

She does so much more than getting me out of my head. She gets me outdoors, and she keeps pace with me in my rambles, however long we're out, no matter how far far we go, and that’s what I need to escape cynicism and depression and irony—not a retreat into my shell but a companion to take me out of it, physically and emotionally as well as mentally. Born to run, my dog is most alive outdoors, and seeing her happy is such a great pleasure to me that I can't help being happy, too. But whenever I change direction, she turns and follows swiftly, and if I lie down in the grass and close my eyes, a few moments later I will feel her breath on my face. We can, as Kundera notes, sit and do nothing for long stretches of happy time, or we can hike and hike and hike until we come home exhausted. She’s up for it either way.

As long as there are dogs in the world, the species with whom ours co-evolved, who can despair of life? Whenever those messages of despair begin coming in too thickly, that’s when I need to get outdoors with my dog, my personal ode to joy. We are both alive, right now, with health and mobility to make the most of life. This won't last forever, for either one of us, and that's all the more reason to celebrate it now.


BB-Idaho said...

My wife is one of those, she detests barking, the little yapper types, the
baleful scary pitbulls, snapping poodles, slobbering bulldogs and
shedding whatevers.
So, I was quite surprized when she returned from her walk the other evening and announced
"dog problems". I asked if she was bitten or chased, but no: As she was walking along she came across a big fellow who was dragging his large dog into his truck by lifting
his leash and choking the
critter...repeatedly. She stopped to watch and the owner stepped on the dog's head and cursed him out.
The Mrs., never strong on tact, shouted "Hey, you bully, lay off on the dog, pick on somebody your own size!" The big guy was startled and apologized,
"Sorry maam, he was jumping in the truck and I was teaching him a lesson."
So tis odd that not-a-dog-people sometimes stick up for our canine friends!
Odder yet, Mrs. not-a-dog
is a great admirer of wolves (and her one-eyed
kitty cat)...

Gerry said...

Well, I can begin many sentences with "The trouble with dogs . . . " but of course they all end with all the good reasons for keeping them anyway. I am very fond of my troublesome Duo. I have to say, though, that they can be quite jealous, shoving each other out of the way when pats are being distributed for example. Not a problem right now of course because the Cowboy has been sent to the dog room without supper for running off instead of coming when called, and Miss Sadie has the space under the desk to herself. We did have a fine walk right up to the time the miscreant absconded. In fact, I was thinking for the leventy-third time that they make me a healthier, happier person because they make me get up and out. Maybe the Cowboy could have just a small supper.

Dawn said...

I know. Sometimes when Katie is being her usual barky self I wonder about our relationship...but then when we're tramping out in the woods I know we're a team and we're lucky to have each other right here right now.

P. J. Grath said...

BB, good for your wife, calling out that mean man! Her heart is definitely in the right place. Don't you wonder what lesson that man thought his poor dog was learning?

Gerry, do you know that the health benefits we derive from dogs, they also derive from their relationship with us? Isn't that wonderful? I love, love, love co-evolution!

Dawn, I'll admit this right out: Other than her cuteness, what first attracted me to Sarah at the animal shelter was the same thing that attracted me to my previous dog at a different animal shelter--only dog in the place not barking! With dogs as with spouses and friends, what's tolerable varies from one individual to another. Barking for a reason seems like a good idea, but a dog yapping nonstop in a car, for instance, would drive me batty. For other people, it's shedding they can't stand.

Sarah never leaves the cap off the toothpaste and does not try to argue politics with me. If she knew that we are scheduled to have a wonderful adventure with friends this morning, she would be dancing with glee, but she suspects nothing and simply watches me intently, ready for whatever I suggest.

P. J. Grath said...

I have put a cat post on my other blog:

ali g said...

The trouble with our dogs...

1. They romp in the mud at our dams and then somehow manage to get to & traipse through the house within a 60 second time frame.

2. They love digging through the cat's outdoor toilets looking for and eating prized 'cat chocolates'.

3. They don't know about brown snakes and get themselves killed when they go in for the attack..
We've lost 2 dogs to snakes..Teddy [German Spitz] and Clyde [a Newfoundland]

Apart from that Couldn't live without them and the cats love them too.

Wonderful blog Pamela and really loved your cat one too!

g >^..^<

P. J. Grath said...

Thank you, Grahame. And I'm glad we don't have those deadly Australian snakes in Michigan.