By Maria Browning
In spite of all my good intentions, I have rescued another dog. This makes my third, a young Lab/probably boxer mix. He was born to be a big, gorgeous guy, but now one of his back legs dangles uselessly, and he is so thin you can see every rib. A friend who owns a farm in Smith County found him abandoned by a hired hand who went AWOL. She said she has already adopted all the lost/discarded/screwed-up canines her husband will tolerate. Did I know anyone who would take him? As it turns out, yes.
As I made the four-hour round trip to get him and ponied up for the first of many vet bills, my saner self kept wondering why I do this. I’m not generally big on selfless acts of kindness. My track record as a do-gooder is dismal. Over the years, I’ve volunteered for everything from crisis line counselor to hospice aid, and bailed out every time. Nor am I the laid-back, Earth Mother type who really doesn’t mind having her furniture chewed to bits, or waking up to discover that a 50-pound animal has had a nighttime bout of diarrhea all over her kitchen floor. I find that I do mind, quite a bit.
And yet, deep inside my otherwise lucid brain, there’s a crazy woman who is thrilled to take in another slobbering beast. I would never give up any of my foundlings. I get a charge from being around these mutts that has nothing to do with the goodness of my heart, or the “unconditional love” they’re supposed to be giving me. (Note to would-be dog owners: dogs love us because we feed and entertain them. There’s nothing unconditional about it. Doggy affection is like cellulite cream—it promises a lot more than it delivers. Don’t believe the hype.)
The lure of dogs, I suspect, lies not in how much they adore us, but how well they understand us. Forget all that hooey about the worshipful canine gaze and really lock eyes with your dog sometime. There’s no mistaking it: that momentary flutter between you, that thrill of mutual recognition as two grasping, greedy, jealous, cruel, power-hungry pack predators meet. Cooing puppy lovers may recoil, but think about it for a minute. Is it an accident that this is the critter we love best and live with most closely? This efficient collaborative killer, who maintains an authoritarian social order that any devoted fascist would envy? (Before all the cat lovers out there start feeling superior, I’d just like to point out that cats are even crueler killers than dogs, and heartlessly libertarian in their politics.)
I’m not saying dogs are bad or evil. I’m just saying they are what they are: ruthless. Another reason my friend needed someone to take the Lab mix was that she feared her Great Pyrenees guard dogs, sensing his weakness, would be inspired to kill him. Even my two cosseted females felt no need to welcome a refugee and were quick to put him in his place. Dogs don’t exactly embrace moderation, either. Canine greed is boundless and without shame. Whether it’s food, or toys, or love on offer, the credo of all dogdom is GIVE ME MORE. Dogs are always ready to rumble or let the good times roll. Otherwise they like to sit around and feel smug about how good they’ve got it, and how much everyone admires them—kind of like the country club set at a Fourth of July cookout.
And that, I think, explains why dogs and people have always been simpatico. We share a common character. (Check out the Ten Commandments. Find anything there about the sin of self-denial, or the spiritual peril of people who love too much? Apparently, Yahweh didn’t see the need.) And it’s no wonder that dogs are so wildly popular these days in the U.S.A. What better totem animal for this gas-guzzling, gun-toting, morbidly obese nation? A dog, whatever else he may be, is no rebuke to the baser aspects of this culture. Dogs are us. They mirror our excesses, so we’ve taken to forcing on them our guilty remedies, from diet food to anti-anxiety drugs. It’s just a matter of time before the salvation issue comes up and the megachurches start offering fellowship services for the four-legged. You wouldn’t want Fido getting left behind after the Rapture.
When my pack greets me as one of its own, barking and slobbering and nibbling my feet, I know it’s not a case of mistaken identity. I’m just another greedy, selfish, rapacious creature, bound to my own appetites. The only difference between me and them is that I can aspire to be something more. That’s all to the good, of course, but it’s also a blessing to have a few friends around who never let you forget who you are. Dogs keep you honest. Plus, I kind of like that foot-nibbling thing.