Thursday, May 20, 2004

Blah Blah Ginger Blah Blah

The much maligned Jon Katz of former Slashdot infamy is back, this time with an article in Slate, in which he argues that there is no such thing as a perfect dog:

The peddling of Perfect Dogs amounts to a multibillion dollar business in the United States. You'll never see images of ugly dogs vomiting in the living room or terrorizing the letter carrier on dog food commercials. Those dogs—the ones we want—are always adorable. Their happy owners are not holding pooper scoopers.

Because people have such ill-informed and unrealistic expectations, dogs often suffer when their true hungry, messy, and alien natures are revealed. They get yelled at, irritated by studded chains and zapped by electronic collars, tethered to trees, hidden away in basements and back yards, or dumped at shelters and euthanized.


Some romantics see the match between a human and dog as kismet; If they're "right" for one another, or destined to be together, they'll fall in love at first sight. But most puppies are cute. And few humans like to accept the idea that the affectionate puppy is as drawn by the food he smells on your hands as by some mysterious ethereal connection. (emphasis added)
I'm inclined to agree with Katz, and my agreement with him is why, despite my own fondness for dogs, I can't see myself ever actually getting one of my own. Dogs are basically poop factories with appealing demeanors, and the prospect of spending 10 years or more scooping up some animal's fecal matter doesn't in the least agree with my constitution.

Then there is also the matter of fertility to consider - dogs can be incredibly prolific, given the rapidity with which they reach sexual maturity (within a year of birth), the large size of the average litter, and the fact that female dogs come into heat twice a year, while males are fertile all year round. In light of the sheer number of animals that end up being abandoned or mistreated all over the world, it is incumbent on most dog owners to get their animals "fixed" rather than allow them to bring yet more unwanted puppies into the world. Still, there's something about the notion of adopting an animal with the aim in mind of spaying or neutering it that makes me flinch.

The final point mentioned by Jon Katz, and one that I think especially worth keeping in mind, is that most of us who are fond of domesticated animals tend to project unto them mental qualities they almost certainly don't have. I won't go as far as the Cartesians would, to say that dogs are merely stimulus-response machines, with no real emotions beyond those they project to us in their search for rewards, but I think that this picture of how things work is probably a lot closer to the truth than the sentimental worldview that tends to be prevalent amongst dog-owners. Not to put too fine a point on it, but these animals have evolved to game us into looking after them, and when you're doting on Lassie and mouthing baby words to her about her being such a good doggie, all she's probably really hearing is "snack coming, snack coming, snack coming!"

If one wants a truly reciprocal emotional relationship, one's best off looking for it with another human being. It's a lot more work for most people, it's true, and it's also a fact that dissimulation for the sake of pecuniary or other rewards is hardly unknown amongst our own species; nevertheless, it is genuine often enough that we as a species are still here - how many of us do not love our parents or children, despite the flaws they have? No dog is going to grieve for its owner after his or her passing, even if it shows some frustration that the doggie treats no longer fortuitously appear at the usual hour.