Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC
If I think about it for any length of time it boils down to this. There are two types of people in life: Ones who are fanatical about dogs, and ones who aren’t. I’m here to reveal myself as being among the former. Though I will also admit, I sometimes don’t understand either group very well.
Dog fanatics (simply calling them “fans” doesn’t quite suffice) often don’t have human children, They consider the dogs their children. We fanatics also recognize, and will gladly tell you, that dogs possess and demonstrate virtues that human beings, including human children, simply do not. Dogs are deeply forgiving and kind. Their anger is usually explainable, if not justified. They are natural creatures who play by the rules without trying to bend or manipulate them. Yes, we sometimes dress them up, especially for Halloween. Yes, we talk to them even when no one else is around to hear. Of course, we tell them secrets. And I know you didn’t ask, but we kiss them too. A lot.
If you still don’t understand “dog fanatic,” here it is in one sentence. We put dogs on a pedestal where we firmly believe they rightly belong.
Then there are those who are unashamedly not dog fanatics. I met a woman recently who boldly admitted she didn’t like dogs. The shock that followed was not so much a result of what she’d just told me. It was that I had nothing to say in return. I was proverbially and literally speechless. What could I possibly say to a woman who would admit such a thing? “At least,” I thought, “you are honest about it.”
A few weeks later I saw my boss at work with a dog I didn’t recognize. When I asked her about him, she told me he’d been left in front of the building in a crate with a note attached. We can no longer afford this dog. His food and care are too expensive. We can’t afford to take him to a shelter to get rid of him. Please find him a new home for us. My boss is a leader among us dog fanatics. Her face was shell shocked. I, again, was speechless. I know what it was that cut us both to the emotional quick. Get rid of him. He was clearly a sweet and gentle boy. Who would simply get rid of him? Who would leave him like this? Who, in leaving him, would fail to leave the dog’s name on the note, one bit of dignity, a simple goodbye?
Find him a new home. The people who abandoned This Dog won’t read this column. On the off chance they do, I should tell them there are painfully few new homes for dogs. There are shelters staffed with kind-hearted people, some volunteers, who suffer the truth of the neglected dogs in their care. There are shelters, haunted by loneliness and disease. There are shelters, where some dogs are adopted but many more are not. Find him a new home? This Dog. My boss turned away from me. There were unspoken expletives in the air. “We are a horrible species.” I said, and that was all.
I thought for a moment of my own dog, Stewie, running in a storm not far from the place where I work. He had no tag, no microchip. No one responded to the signs or web postings that he’d been found. He’s a good boy too, like This Dog. I found my Stella at a shelter and saw her through distemper. She probably never had a home before mine. As I write this, their bellies are full and their hearts are at peace. Tonight they will cuddle in my bed before retiring to their own. Tomorrow they will go to work with me and romp in doggie daycare. If I were down to my last meal, I’d share it with them.
I don’t understand those who are not dog fanatics. Equally, I’m sometimes perplexed by those of us who are. When I joined the ranks of the insanely in love with dogs, things seemed clear enough. Dog is god spelled backwards. The righteous praise and love them. Those who neglect and abandon dogs are the villains.
The truth, controversial as it might be, is not so clear. I know many dog fanatics who distain fellow humans in equal measure. Some are deeply unforgiving. Others are quick to anger. Often, we fanatics dress each other down, sometimes in public. Occasionally we cut ties, and rid ourselves of others altogether. The truth is stark. We put ourselves on a pedestal and believe firmly it’s where we rightly belong.
So, perhaps this first column is a confession. I heard the story of This Dog and said, “We are a horrible species.” What did that say about me? Is that what I really believe? The people who care for suffering dogs suffer the most. They are the people who work at shelters, and the people who volunteer for rescue organizations. They are good people who see horrible things, who see humans at their worst. They love dogs, and sometimes lose the fight to save them. How easy is it then to lose hope in our own kind? Maybe that’s why we turn on each other, on ourselves, even on other dog fanatics. I’ve done it myself. I confess.
My boss is a leader among us dog fanatics and I admit sometimes I don’t understand her. There she stood that morning with This Dog, ready to take him to the vet for some shots and a fresh start. Her look turned from shock to stoic determination as she turned and walked away, clutching his leash in one hand and the painful note she’d found in the other. There was a lesson in the sight of them together. She’s a good woman. He’s a good dog. Their strength together was quiet humility in the face of injustice. It’s an old lesson I keep forgetting.
“We are a horrible species,” I said, and almost immediately I wished I could take it back.