Lessons from Dogsitting: The Necessary Collar

Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury) / Matti Östling / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
At age 10 a dog as big as I violently bit me for the apparent transgression of kicking a football in a park. A decade later I perceived losing a friend to their dog obsession. With these strikes against dog-ownership, I became convinced that pet-ownership was immoral. However last month I took on 10 days of dogsitting to overcome my anti-dog prejudices. While the coordinates of my reality were not shattered, I did uncover an illuminating shared philosophical dilemma with canine-kind.

Of all the core dog-care activities – feeding, petting, etc. – the most emotionally vital for the dog seemed to be “the walk”. The walk is where I noticed the dog become most excitable, and express its greatest range of actions: exercise, forensics, socialising. On the other hand, the involvement of the walker is very flat, simply strolling a few city blocks. What is the purpose of this ritual? What is the human, doing, if just listening to podcasts as the dog has an on-rails experience, that is apparently so vital to it’s psychic well-being? The answer is: being the master.

The meaning of the master can be seen when we view the dog in the master’s absence. Our dog in question had 24-hour access to a back yard where it could run free, and interact with other animals. It occurred to me that it could do much of its walk activities, on its own, without me. Yet, pulling back the curtain in the home office I saw an empty yard, or maybe at most a lazy bowel relief. Why is it then that these crucial actions, for the dogs self-fulfilment can only occur, when I collar, chain, dominate and choke it?

Now lets us view the condition of the master, myself, but from a different perspective. To the dog, I am the master, but to my boss I am an employee; the education system I am student; to technological ochlocracy I am a source of income; to the government I am a cog. Through the lens of certain books, I’ve come to see how much my conditioning has taught to work to please these authorities, and not much to please myself.

Much like the dog, I have many things which provide self enjoyment (if you’re curious you can look at my public to-do list). Additionally I have the yard, all the resources that I need – the internet, public library and friends with which to learn and work. And somehow in the evenings or weekends when I’m left to myself, like the dog in the yard, I feel it very hard to start working for my own actualization. The same is not true, when I am being watched by my boss, or feel the need to impress an institution.  This scenario of the dog’s of only being able to realise true fulfilment when leashed, is quite like the modern human condition.

There is one last vision with which I was left. It is the dog in the sunshine and grass, doing dog push-ups, inquisitively investigating an ant-hill, using a sticks and string to draw ellipses in the mud like an ancient Greek mathematician.

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