I penned this post months ago, but fearing widespread condemnation at the theme, I foldered it away in the drafts section and there it has remained, collecting dust ever since.
But then Covid happened and in the proceeding six weeks of solitude in my studio apartment I seem to have lost all sense of giving a damn about what anyone thinks of me. I’ve gone full on big biz-conspiracy theorist, 5G, Anti-vaxx, and god knows what else. If it’s accepted mainstream thinking, chances are I’ll have a go at it, it’s become something of a hobby. A rare source of intrigue in this perpetual Groundhog Day. It keeps me going. I make no apologies.
Some months ago I stood around a central kitchen worktop conversing with three others on the subject of dogs, man’s (supposed) best friend. As we conversed we came to the startling realisation that none of the four of us were massive dog fans. One or two even went as far as to suggest an outright dislike of the furry fellas. I say “startling” because this is unheard of. Seriously, what were the chances of all four of us; white; middle-class; thirty-somethings; living in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs – turning out to NOT be dog people. Staggering odds I’d suggest.
A number of individual reasons for our indifference were put forward as we delighted in our shared disdain;
“they stink when they’re wet”
“they’re only our friends because we enslave them” (Stockholm Syndrome anyone?)
“they slobber on your clothes”
“you have to walk them twice a day and literally pick up and carry their shit in a little black plastic bag”
“Those shit bags aren’t bags for life”
“they cost a fortune” – vet’s bills, pet food, doggy daycare, kennels whilst holidaying, replacing the ruined, gnawed, hair-covered sofa, etc.
“They take up more time than children”
“They bark all day when you leave them home alone and piss off the neighbours” (God forbid they protest their capitvity)
“A massive one chased me and knocked me over on the beach when I was very young and I’ve been slightly wary of them ever since” (admittedly this one was me)
When you start to break it down, the cons of dog ownership are plain for all to see, so why is it that so many of us live in such awe and wonder of our canine companions? I referred to them as “man’s best friend” earlier in the post, but in reality, sat here in 2020, I think they should be re-labelled to ‘woman’s best friend’, on account of the obsession many members of the fairer sex appear to now have with Rover and co. Now, before you howl at what could be perceived as the apparent sexism in that comment, let me explain.
Perhaps in bygone times when it was largely the men who tended to the land, and took their dogs with them to hunt and protect the crops and flocks from pests and predators – “man’s best friend” was a worthy and appropriate title. But I’ve been observing reactions to dogs for some time now and have come to the conclusion that women, or at least a lot of women near where I live, are besotted with them. Men, not so much.
Occasionally I take a friend’s beagle for a walk, and am always struck with how many young women gawk admiringly at my furry friend, smiling lovingly, occasionally reaching out to stroke Byron’s white and light brown fur. It’s rare that the dudes give him even a glance. It’s a cliche, but there’s a very obvious and compelling reason for why lonely, single dudes get a dog.
I almost crashed my car last year after a female companion squealed loudly and suddenly in my left ear. “What happened?!” I yelled, my eyes darting around my periphery trying to identify the unseen threat.
“OMG that dog over there is too fucking cute!”
“Are you eff’ing kidding me! What dog? I can’t even see a dog”
“It’s over there, in that park, the brown one, I think it’s a puppy”
Now, dear reader, this pup must have been at least 150m away, in a park, on the other side of the road, and despite the fact my vision is near 20/20, the aforementioned pooch was a mere brown blur to these eyes. That didn’t matter to my companion, this was seemingly the highlight of her day, and me crashing my car was of secondary importance to a glimpse of a goddamn puppy.
None of my guy mates talk about wanting to get a dog, in fact I can only think of one that has a dog (he actually has two, and they’re massive great Rhodesian Ridgebacks saved from a rescue centre), but getting a dog often seems to be high up on the list of #lifegoals for the women I meet or know.
Which leads me to the question of where has this come from? Besides those trained up to guide the poor of sight through the streets, sniff out a bag of Colombia’s finest, or locate a hidden explosive belt around the midriff of some poor deluded fool hellbent on self destruction, what exactly are dogs for in the 21st century? Are they really man’s (or woman’s) best friend? Are we desperately breeding more dogs so we can give them amazing lives? Please. No fucking chance.
I suspect that many of us are using dogs to medicate ourselves against the symptoms of loneliness and disconnection now rife throughout our Western societies? ….hmmmm. Are women perhaps more drawn to dogs because it fulfills a maternal yearning in them, in a developed world where the birth rate is dropping fast and many couples are choosing to delay starting a family, or simply avoiding having one altogether. Men don’t need dogs by their side anymore, at least not in a functional capacity to help protect the tribe, or rounding up sheep on the farm, or keeping intruders off a property. I’d argue that men’s need for a dog today is likely driven by loneliness. And I say that having spent a weekend dog sitting earlier this year, it was definitely a less lonely with him by my side.
This is worth exploring at this time. I suspect that #lockdown has led to a massive surge in demand for puppies and kittens. As people have been sent home and told to stay home unless going for a walk, it’s understandable that having a dog to walk could seem appealing. Walking around my suburb of Potts Point in Sydney, it is hard to walk further than 10m without coming into contact with a pooch, they’re everywhere. Many of them pups.
At the back end of last year I spent three months in Thailand studying yoga and meditation. In Thailand there are also lots of dogs, every establishment seems to have a dog, the beach I was staying on had at least 10 dogs in residence. Here is what I noticed about the dogs in Thailand:
- None of them wear a collar
- They sleep outside
- They are allowed to go wherever, and do whatever they want
- They play, wrestle and occasionally swim
- They consider the road to be their highway
- They do not pay much attention to humans; tourists or locals
- The local people do not pay a huge amount of attention to them
- The local people most certainly do not yell “Come here Buster” twelve times on the trot, becoming increasingly irritated as their ‘possession’ does not behave as they expect – as I witnessed one dog owner do in a Sydney park last week.
- The Western tourists, somewhat pathetically, try to befriend these dogs, usually the cuter looking ones. Invariably their attempts are futile. The dogs simply don’t give AF. They act more like very playful cats over there.
One of the participants on the yoga course remarked that the Thai people were horrible to dogs. I took umbrage with that comment. Yes, the Thai people might not show huge amounts of affection towards to the dog population, but neither did they seek to enslave them, drag them around by a leash, lock them up inside on their own for hours on end, or yell at them to “come here”, “fetch”, “sit down”, “give a paw”, “be a good dog”, etc. You get the picture… Those Thai dogs looked pretty happy and healthy to me. They were free to be dogs. Free to be themselves.
Do we love our dogs in the West? Like, truly love our dogs? Real love is unconditional, but do we love our dogs purely for being, or is it because they show us tangible physical affection in a world increasingly disconnected and devoid of such affection? A recent study of 20,000 Americans suggests that almost half (47%) of us admit to feeling lonely ‘on the reg’. 43% said they feel not just lonely, but ‘isolated’. Gen Z (those born after 1995) is the loneliest generation ever to have lived (which is crazy scary given it’s commonly accepted that the easiest time to form connections and friendships is when we’re young, impressionable, open and free of adult responsibilities). A study by the University of San Diego went even further and deduced that in fact, almost 75% of us are chronically lonely, which is amazing given how many are married, with children, and friends, and jobs that come with colleagues. What’s going on? (this is a question for another post), but what has this got to do with dogs?
I would argue that we do not love dogs, for in many cases we are using those dogs to feel better about ourselves, to medicate against our loneliness and isolation. They give us company, and purpose, something to care for. But it is not love, not unconditional love like they show us. It is a love with a contract. We expect them to show us unconditional love, but in return we treat them like pleasure slaves.
We turn a blind eye to the processed dry food we feed them meal after meal, removing their natural ability and desire to hunt out their next morsel. We turn a blind eye to the man-made prisons we keep them in whilst we’re out at work, or the bar, or the dentist. We turn a blind eye to the way we bark [pun intended] orders at them, or the restrictive collars and leashes we use to control their physical movements. We pull them away from interacting with other dogs, or people, or even a sweet smelling lamp post.
We turn a blind eye to this abuse because these dogs make us feel loved, and worthwhile, maybe they even give us purpose, or at least a reason to get our arses off the couch and go for a walk. But is this love? If it is love then it is a warped type of contractual love. I’m willing to clean up after you, take you for walks, feed you, pick up your shit, but in return you must be affectionate towards me, and obey my commands whilst simultaneously not mind your enforced dominion.
Something about this feels inherently fucked up to me.
Love should be given unconditionally, and abundantly, and without conditions. Especially by parents. Dog owners are essentially parents. Due to the nature and laws of our societies in the West cannot allow dogs to truly be themselves, and as a result cannot give love to their dogs unconditionally, because that would mean allowing them to do what they want, and the law clearly prevents that. The very term ‘dog owner’ makes me uncomfortable, it implies possession. Love is about freedom, not possession. The two cannot align, at least not in a healthy way.
Of course I’m stereotyping here and throwing all dog/dog-owner relationships into the same bucket, which of course is not the case, but it’s definitely a thing, and from what I have deduced it exists on a scale of ‘slightly warped’ to ‘really fucked up’.
Whilst we’re on this trail of questioning, let’s broach the subject of plucking young pups from their mothers. A practice completely normalised by our society, and yet what would be the resulting outcry if we stole away young human babies from their mothers once they had stopped breast feeding, to then re-home them with a family of wolves, despite the fact they already had a loving home and family? It’s just weird that we consider this to be perfectly okay, and why do we think it’s okay? Because we’ve been conditioned by our society to think as such. Welcome to the matrix.
There’s a documentary on Netflix called ‘Dominion’ on the subject of cow slavery, and it’s not the only film portraying such a message. Vegan campaigners often use this argument as part of their case for doing away with animal husbandry, however I see no vegan campaigns to free the dog, supposedly our best friend in the animal kingdom. It is apparently unacceptable for cows to roam freely in a field with other cows, munching on fresh grass and socialising with their bovine buddies, with a view to eventually ending the life of those cows to feed us, but at the same time it’s totally fine for us to stick a dog on its own inside all day, with no friends, eating what we choose for them, walking where we choose for them to walk.
How has this escaped debate? Why is no one debating the ethics, or even the environmental impact of dog ownership? I’ll tell you why, it’s because we’ve convinced ourselves that we love our dogs, and the dogs love us. We keep cows to feed us, we keep dogs to emotionally soothe us. It’s much easier to give up meat and switch to that soy/pea-protein crap than it is to confront our own insecurities and loneliness.
I’m not telling anyone to get rid of their dogs, or even avoid owning dogs in the future, just as I’m not telling anyone to be a meat eater. I actually love dogs, like I love all animals, even the ugly-looking ones, especially the ugly-looking ones. You know when I really love dogs? When I see groups of them off their leash, sniffing, chasing and play fighting each other in a park. That’s true happiness there. That’s how life should look. Some of the dogs I know are friendly, cute creatures because they’ve been trained to be that way, they are unknowing participants in a matrix also.
I am undoubtedly a cat person, I grew up with two little rockstar cats who I loved to bits. You know what I loved most about them? They did not give a fuck what I wanted, and they did exactly what they wanted.
Cats for the most part exist outside of the matrix, they see what is real and react accordingly. So when a cat shows you love you know they mean it, because if they didn’t love you, they simply wouldn’t bother. They’d just eat the meal you so kindly provided and piss off back out of the catflap. When a dog person rolls their eyes at my admittance to being a ‘cat-man’, I don’t get angry anymore, I just feel sympathy, they’re just not strong enough to be a cat-person. They need the dog. That’s fine, but don’t tell me I’m weird because I value freedom above dominion.
Let the backlash begin.