This article was originally written and published on Facebook in February 2010. Since that time my dog Nero has died.- M Schuett
I have some pretty smart dogs. Of course, anyone who’s had a dog as a pet feel’s pretty sure of what I write. But a recent demonstration of my dogs’ intelligence had me wondering if humans are more like dogs than the other way around. Or are we cats? Or are some cats and some dogs?
I have two labs. Nero is the old man. He’s a black lab working on his seventeenth year on this planet. Dakoda is a two-year old yellow lab, though really he’s white and tan.
The dogs’ intelligence is demonstrated in many ways from recognizing my moods to communicating that they have to go poop. Most frequently and notably it is demonstrated at feeding time. Once a day, every morning around 8:30am its feeding time. The routine is the same each and every day. I direct them to their respective kennels; though lately they go on their own without me telling them to do so. Upon scooping the food into their bowls from the metal garbage can in which it’s kept I bring them out tell them to heal and sit. These days, with the dogs being so intelligent, and so used to the routine that I actually say VERY little, if anything. Mostly, it’s just hand gestures.
Some 14 years ago my family began to routinely eat pizza for Friday night dinners. It was a tradition began out of necessity. My wife worked a corporate executive position that frequently had her out-of-town Monday through Friday. I would care for our, then, two kids through the week. I don’t mind saying that by Friday afternoon I was as worn out as a clothe rag used to scrub cement. I wasn’t about to cook dinner. So the pizza tradition started.
The dogs benefit from the pizza tradition too. They get treats. They certainly do enjoy their pizza CRUSTS, and are so sad and let down when we get Round Table pizza. Round Table is about the only pizza we have that has a crust that most of my family likes and regularly eats. This leaves the dogs with bupkiss.
As happens very infrequently this past Friday came…and we didn’t get pizza. The dogs are kept outside while we eat. When I let them in they furiously looked around for the pizza and for us to give them crusts. It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed this behavior. It’s happened often, when we don’t get pizza or when the pizza is a Round Table and there are no crusts to pass out. What struck me this time was that the dogs knew it was Friday. They knew it was pizza-day. They always do. Now, it’s easy for me to get my mind wrapped around a dog knowing when it’s feeding time on a daily basis. Their stomachs tell them so, if not their minds. But the realization that they know when its Friday and pizza day at my house just tickled me.
As with any dogs my dogs are dependent on me to feed them. They’re also dependent on me for love, and for petting and occasionally for disapproval. Any dog trainer will tell you this dependency is what enables a dog to be trained. When you consider a cat, you don’t get that dependency. While it’s true that cats are regularly fed by their keepers; they’re not like dogs. For instance, a cat’s food is left out. They eat it when they want. Often, they’ll eat some of it, leave some, and come back to it later when they’re hungry. I’ve never seen a dog leave food in the bowl. And as gruesome as it may seem a house cat can and does get its own food sometimes. Or what do you call the small bird or mouse your feline occasionally brings to your door? Cat’s whole personality is about independence. “Sure Mom and Dad; I like you and I’ll let you pet me and I’ll purr to show my satisfaction. But I can take it or leave it.”
The habits and training of a dog come from routine and the dependency soon follows. So the thought occurred to me are we any different from our fellow mammals? Calling humans “creatures of habit” is a cliché and like most clichés is based on truth. If you regularly have coffee as your morning pick-me-up you’re going to find it difficult to function without your cup of Joe. If you go to bed every night at 10 o’clock it’ll be hard to sleep if you turn-in at 9. Or you might find it hard to stay awake until midnight.
And if you are used to someone giving you something, deserved or not, you are going to develop an expectation and possibly a dependency. You won’t be a cat you will be the domesticated dog. I think of Chevy Chase in the movie “Christmas Vacation”
when for the first time in years his boss doesn’t give him the Christmas bonus Clark Griswold has become so expectant of, and dependant on. When he doesn’t get it, he goes a little nuts. As we all know the domesticated dog was not always domestic. Canine’s historically were hunters, scavengers, survivors. Now if Nero and Dakoda were turned loose in the wilderness I fear they wouldn’t survive long. Or at best they would go through an extremely difficult time before learning to fend for themselves. Their knowledge, experience and even their drive to survive has been weaned out of them. They still have the claws, the fangs, and the running and jumping ability to catch and subdue prey. But they are dependent on me, so they use none of their God-given abilities.
When Government gives farmers money for not farming and for crops given a fixed price; when non-working low educated folks are given food and rent; when criminals continue to be let loose in order to re-offend; when the Government gives students all the necessary funds for college; and when corporations can spend money recklessly and still be given more money to fritter away, dependency is created. And though the recipients maintain all the claws, fangs, the running and jumping ability and all else that’s required to survive and thrive, loosing that which they’ve been given leaves them as defenseless as my dogs in the wilderness.
Our superior intelligence over that of Nero and Dakoda and their kind enables us to properly discern those from amongst us that truly need help. And collectively we’re caring and giving enough to see to it that such individuals are well cared for. We’re not animals. And yet we are. For when we rely on the pack to feed and nurture us entirely, like a wolf, we lose our ability to hunt. And soon we die. Or at least, like me, and like my dogs you badly want your pizza.