Man goes overboard, dog goes with flow
Last night, in Los Angeles, the Golden Collar Awards were underway — bestowing the canine version of Oscars on dogs for their performances in movies and television.
Meanwhile, in New York, that prestigous annual beauty pageant known as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show opened.
In between the coasts, across America, it was business as usual: dogs in our movies, dogs in our parks, dogs in our beds, dogs in our yards, dogs on the cover of Time magazine; dogs visiting psychiatrists, getting pampered, dining on gourmet meals and chewing up a little more of the record $35 billion it’s estimated we will spend on them this year.
There’s a cliche we never use on this blog — “going to the dogs.” Headline composers love it, as do writers who are writing too fast. It suggests that — ohmigoodness! — dogs are taking over, whether it’s an event, a location, or the world.
Sometimes, there’s the accompanying implication, or outright fretting, that dogs, or our love for them, is getting out of hand.
So what else is new?
John Timpane, in a commentary piece Sunday for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is one of the latest to weigh in on the subject in an article that looked at the pedestal-like heights, and red carpet treatment, some dogs are achieving. It quoted a few dog experts, of which (though I question my credentials) I was happy to be one. And it avoided the common trap of describing it all — given I’m pretty sure there were pharaohs who coddled their dogs — as something new.
“Before anyone trots out ‘It’s all going to the dogs,’ let’s recall that the human world has been a mondo cane (dog’s world) for about 15,000 years now,” he wrote. “This year is only one more peak in a long and beautiful friendship between homo sapiens sapiens and canis lupus familiaris. Human beings have created more than 5,000 breeds, the longest-running genetic engineering experiment of all time.”
Still, dogs today are, as a species, higher up on the pedestal than ever. How’d they get there? By being so damn smart. By being so very obliging. By doing what we can’t always do ourselves — up to and including figuring us out.
Timpane’s article quotes Christina Williamson, a wolf researcher, behavior consultant and trainer at DogTown Obedience in Morrisville, Vt., who says dogs have learned social skills their wolf forebears never had.
“The biggest one would be their social connection to people,” she says, “their even being interested in communicating with people, figuring out what people are asking them to do. Some of it is to gain access to resources, such as a toy or food. But clearly it’s also for having the relationship itself, the emotional connection. That’s unique.”
Timpane goes on to quote me and, more importantly, mention my book.
John Woestendiek, a former Inquirer writer, is a big dog fan. He runs ohmidog!, a canine-themed website, and is author of Dog, Inc., an exposé of dog cloning. He says our cur connection reflects the human need to give and receive affection. People have “become emotional codependents with their dog,” he says. “We make room for them, and they gladly step in, whether it’s into the house, the sofa, the bed, or whatever void needs filling …
“So we have greyhounds racing, and dog beauty pageants, and dogs in handbags,” Woestendiek says. “We have dogs that can adapt to guiding the blind, or sense an oncoming seizure, or sniff out cancer. And we have gazillions more that do the less specialized daily work of simply keeping their humans calm and on an even keel.”
Have we come to expect too much of them? Probably. Are we making them too human? Definitely. Are we manipulating them more than we have a right to? Maybe. Do they mind? Seemingly, not at all.
“The astonishing thing is,” Timpane notes, “whatever we throw at (them) dogs lap it up.”
Posted by jwoestendiek February 14th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, award shows, beauty pageants, commentary, dependency, dogs, evolution, going to the dogs, golden collar awards, humans, john timpane, john woestendiek, pedestal, pets, philadelphia inquirer, red carpet, species, westminster