Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Power of the Dog

Lately I've been marginally aware that there is some kind of news story involving Ellen Degeneres and a puppy.

Don't bother filling me in, I could care less and don't have the foggiest notion why this is even news. Well, at least not where it concerns Miss Degeneres. Perhaps it's news because it concerns Man's Best Friend.

Folks, we did good when we made dogs.

I said that once to a young lady who replied indignantly, "Steve, God made dogs!"

Nope, God (or evolution or Blind Chance or whatever floats your boat) made wolves. We modified them by selective breeding into the various breeds of dogs. They are mankind's first genetically modified animal species. (Cat's aren't really, they're a feral species that moved in with us and allowed us to stay - on condition of good behavior and keeping the chow coming.)

And what modification! We took wolves and changed them to protect our flocks and herds from the predation of other wolves. We taught them to hunt and retreive and not wolf down the prey before we take our share. We even made them into companions and bodyguards for our children!

But did you ever lie down next to a dog and look in its mouth when it yawned? At that moment, when you look at those teeth, you realize "Oh my, this really is a carnivore."

We are so used to our symbiosis with dogs that we don't even think about it most of the time. I only noticed it when a Chinese couple who had had no contact with dogs in their lives marveled at this.

Sometimes I wonder if mankind learned loyalty from dogs.

Case in point:

I knew a Norwegian woman who had a small dog, not even one of the bigger, more intelligent breeds such as the German Shepard (generally acknowledged to be the smartest.)

One day she was walking her dog down a country road and was hit by a drunk driver, who promptly drove off. She was literally knocked through the air into the wood where she couldn't be seen from the road.

She awoke two weeks later in the hospital, and was told how she came to be there.

Her dog it seems, had planted himself in the middle of the road right in the path of the next car to pass. The driver stopped and couldn't get around the dog. Ultimately he had to get out and try to shoo the dog away from the road. Her dog then bit down on his pant leg and tugged him over to where he could see the unconscious woman.

Of course, this saved her life. (And by the way, the drunken hit-and-run driver was caught. I love a happy ending.)

Case in point 2:

Friends of mine in Oklahoma City had two Dobermans, a big male named Fritz and a much smaller female.

One night when Mike was out of the house, there was a fire. His wife Donna had to jump out of a second floor window to get out, suffered some fairly serious burns and two broken legs.

After seeing to his wife in the hospital, Mike went back to the house, which the firemen had blocked off while making sure the fire was completely out.

Mike pleaded with the senior fireman on site, "Listen, I know my dogs are dead. Please let me in so I can take them out and bury them."

At that point a fireman came out and said, "I may be crazy, but I just saw something moving in there."

Turned out the female was found under the kitchen sink with her nose pressed against a crack in the wall that let her breathe outside air. Fritz had covered her with his body and not moved. Fritz was dead, the female was alive and didn't have a mark on her.

I visited them before going off on a year-long camping trip to Mexico and parts West, but I told them that when I got back I'd recite Rudyard Kipling's "The Power of the Dog" to them and they'd cry.

So when I got back, I did and they did.

There is sorrow enough in the natural way

From men and women to fill our day;

And when we are certain of sorrow in store,

Why do we always arrange for more?

Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware

Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy

Love unflinching that cannot lie-

Perfect passion and worship fed

By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.

Nevertheless it is hardly fair

To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits

Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,

And the vet's unspoken prescription runs

To lethal chambers and loaded guns

Then you will find - it's your own affair-

But... you've given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,

With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!).

When the spirit that answered your every mood

Is gone - wherever it goes - for good,

You will discover how much you care,

And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We've sorrow enough in the natural way,

When it comes to burying Christian clay.

Our loves are not given, but only lent,

At compound interest of cent per cent.

Though it is not always the case, I believe,

That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve.

For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,

A short-time loan is as bad as a long -

So why in - Heaven (before we are there)

Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?


  • At 5:37 PM, Blogger Elizabeth Saenz said…


    I love German shepherds, but for the record, poodles and border collies can think rings around them.

  • At 7:31 AM, Blogger Eduardo said…

    I think that we can take less credit for wolf domestication than that. Domestication (at least as far as the fossil record is concerned) is younger than the depth of genetic stratification between the wolf and dog suggests.

    My own theory, as if you asked, is that wolves probably separated rather naturally into two groups. Those that wanted to be apart from men and the danger they posed, and those that were content to follow them to scavenge from cast offs.

    The impatient and aggressive wolves were driven off or likely killed and eaten and skinned for blankets. Those who had the "sense" to lay back and wait for the humans to leave something tasty laying around were selected naturally for survival.

    The wolf pups accompany their parents to the humans camp and begin to lose their will or ability to hunting with any real skill. Soon, despite the fact that some of them are routinely killed and eaten, they are "loyal" about coming back time and again. The promise of food is too great to ignore. Humans always seem to have it and always seem to leave bits of it laying about.

    Just one litter of pups would be enough to convince man that he was right to tolerate at least some of the scavengers. One, pups are fun to watch. Two, pups are the only ones who bark and they do it often when strangers are about. Alarm systems mean less time spent looking over your shoulders for the Joneses, those neighboring hunters, rapists, and theives from the tribe across the way.

    My two cents, anyway.

  • At 7:15 AM, Blogger Galt-In-Da-Box said…

    NOT a big fan of pets, since most pet owners tend to take better care of them than their own children, but if I had to choose, I'd take a dog over a cat any day.
    A dog is always your friend. A cat puts up with you.
    Of course, as Archie Bunker postulated, the perfect pet is a goldfish: It doesn't mess up the carpet or claw the drapes, and long before you ever get tired of looking at it, it dies.

  • At 8:52 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Depends on what for, border collies sure perform impressively in sheep herding competitions, but military dog trainers go for Alsatians for guard duty,


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