I Love Dogs
I have always loved dogs. My first dog was a wire-haired fox terrier called Scotty, whose irritating habit it was to snap up the daily paper as soon as it was delivered and run under the house with it every afternoon. Guess who had to crawl after him every day after school to retrieve the family’s news?
My next dog was a beautiful pedigree rough-coated collie called Stornoway Dandy, given to me by two elderly ladies in Grace Road when they could no longer look after him, and after I got to know him when delivering their copy of the Bay of Plenty Times.
Since then, I have lost none of my love of dogs and, fortunately, my wife shares my enthusiasm. Dogs have been part of our family throughout our marriage; for the last 40 years our dogs have been West Highland White Terriers, sometimes one at a time and sometimes in pairs.
The pleasure our dogs have brought us has often led me to wonder what it is that brings humans and dogs together in a relationship that is so rewarding to both parties. In return for the pleasure they give us, they of course, if they are lucky in their human masters, receive the care and sustenance that they would otherwise be unable to find.
Dogs, in their relationship with us, have of course been much more than pets. They have been faithful servants, often – as in opening up the South Island high country, or in crucial rescue efforts, or helping the police or armed forces – bringing great benefit to humankind.
And today, dogs are taking on new roles – as comforts to those who are terminally ill, or as companions and guides to those, like the blind, who need help, or even as detectors of particular kinds of illness.
But, our relationship with them goes well beyond the utilitarian. Even as workers, dogs have shown a remarkable ability to enter into our lives, sharing them with us, seeming to see the world through our eyes, and teaching us some of life’s most important lessons.
More than any other creature with which we inter-relate, dogs are able to align themselves with us, to play their part in our world – indeed, they seem to imagine themselves to be one of us. As pack animals, they live happily in a pack including us and – no doubt more than we deserve – are ready to recognise us as pack leaders.
The special relationship depends on the way that each species recognises the particular qualities of the other. Dogs, more than any other animal, seem to have the same emotional range that we do, and display those emotions without inhibition and in ways we can recognise.
And they have, it seems, a level of intelligence – both emotional and intellectual – that allows their human partners to see in them many human characteristics. No other species displays such understanding and empathy in human terms – sometimes at a level beyond our own comprehension.
But there is one further – and very important – reason for the affinity that many humans feel with dogs. We see in dogs many of the qualities that we most admire and appreciate. But when we meet them in humans, those qualities often come with baggage attached – as part, if you like, of a bargain where a quid pro quo must be offered.
With dogs, though, the loyalty, the sensitivity to our needs, the commitment, the pleasure they show when we appear after absence, the affection – yes, the love – are offered unconditionally. And they are offered to any one of us, not because we are wealthy or famous or successful, but because we and dogs treat each other as loyal and valued friends and then live that friendship on terms that suit us both.
They help us learn the rewards of showing love and kindness to, and the pleasure of thinking of and showing consideration for, another creature – lessons of huge benefit to children as they grow up. Human society would be better and more harmonious if we learned more from dogs.
Yes, as you will gather, I am quite keen on dogs, and on my own little Westie, Lachie, in particular. Our lives are the better for having him with us.
23 February 2017