Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Wish

Before we took over this business, someone we privately considered quite bonkers said to us: “Be careful. Every dog walker I know is totally mad”. Unsure whether this was the pot calling the kettle black or simply the pot assuming everyone was a kettle, we ploughed ahead. After six and a half years of walking dogs, I have to note that I am no more insane than I was teaching high school but I do consider dogs to be some of the best beings around. Further, and this is where it gets a little scary, if granted one wish (OK, and all the nice poor people and sick people were already healthy and rich), I would choose to spend a day as a dog.


When you spend so much time with a different being, a whole bunch of questions start nagging away. And assumptions of so called experts really start to get up your nose. There seems to be an understanding that dogs are somehow less than us, that they are roughly the equivalent of a two year old child and no more. Rubbish. Why can’t humans think that maybe there are different kinds of intelligences and capabilities that may far exceed our own.

Simple case in point: I could find a whole bunch of dogs who could run the 100 metres faster than that Bolt guy. Yet the Olympic champion is feted for not being able to run as fast as many a dog.

This is just one experience I’d love to have during my day as a dog. I’d run fast and play lots and jump many times my own height, just to know what that feels like. I’d also cleverly navigate the world without hands and wag my tail furiously.

Then I’d check out what my vision of the world would be if I was less than, say, 30 centimetres tall. Would I just see a less than stunning array of knees? And I’d get to know if my eyesight really is my least adequate sense and if I see in colour and what that spectrum is like. I’d get to know what I actually see and think as I watch my people incessantly for cues that I can figure out.

And here’s the real kicker, the thing I’d really love to know: if I don’t have words, how do I think? If I think: “ooh it’s about dinner time” and I don’t have the words, “ooh it’s about dinner time”, then what do I think?

Which brings me to the next fascination, how do I know what time it is and what day? Because dogs do know these things. Dogs we walk will wait at the door on Tuesdays and Thursdays if they’re the only days they come out with us. On the other days they don’t wait. How does that work?

How will I know when my person is five minutes away in the car? Is it my amazing sense of smell? And what is it like to have a sense of smell like that? When my person comes home and I sniff them all over, what am I smelling? Is it like a story of the day? Does the ground have a history of every dog that has been past and can I recognise whether or not I would like each dog just from this scent.

Here comes the difficult bit. Some humans who proclaim to know about these things say that when a dog sniffs the bum of another that they get all manner of information, ranging from age and sex to understanding of their position in the hierarchy. OK, so as a human I don’t ever want to sniff a dog’s, or any other creatures’, bum, but dogs don’t seem to mind and I would really like to understand how this information is conveyed. And again, how do they register it without words?

And then, when my day is over, I’d want to be sure to remember it all so I could retain a better understanding of these gorgeous creatures.

But then again, I imagine the experience of their purity of emotion, simplicity of existence, and enduring curiosity, may not so easily be left behind.

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