|My son, Ian, with Chelsea & Bexley
For those of us who love animals, our feelings for a dog that lives inside the house and shares our daily life is special. The connection is powerful. Now that our kids are grown, our dog Chelsea is like an only child. When she is not dragging things out of the garbage can or waking us up in the middle of the night barking at the deer that wander into our yard, she brings us endless comfort and enjoyment. We groaned when she caught a frog in our kitchen, scattering the contents of her food bowl in the process and chuckle every evening when she begins to follow me around the house, giving me the stink-eye until I take her leash off the peg by the door. And we will cry buckets of tears when, in the not too distant future, her life comes to an end. Author Roger Caras said, “Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole”.
A recent article on the BBC.com asked Are Dolphins Cleverer than Dogs? Ask most people, according to the article, which of the two species is the most intelligent and the answer would most likely be Dolphins – with their sociability, communication skills, playfulness and ability to understand the complex commands of trainers. They are widely considered to be the second most intelligent of all animals after humans.
But, not so fast my friends. People who study canine behavior are concluding that there is far more going on in the mind of a dog than we previously thought. A dog can use pointing as well as eye-direction cues to locate objects in the distance. Even our nearest animal cousins the chimpanzees don’t look at something when we point to it.
We humans have a habit of judging intelligence by how animal responses compare to ours, but we are almost exclusively a visual species while dogs also live in a world of smells. Their understanding of objects in the world partly involves chemical trails that linger for hours or days. Dolphins are not only visual, but they also have an extra sense that allows them to see through some materials by penetrating them with sonar sound waves. Once subjective, human-centric value judgments are stripped out of the concept of intelligence, the article continues, it makes about as much sense to ask which animal is cleverer as it does to ask whether a hammer or a screwdriver is the better tool. The answer is – it depends on the task at hand.
For me, there is just something about having a dog in the room. I can feel her presence as I write this even though, as I glance her way, she is sound asleep. When I get up in the night, she is there in the dark. I can’t see her but I know she is watchful. When I get home from work she is at least as happy to see me as my wife – maybe more.
A couple of my Facebook friends recently mourned the death of beloved dogs, and I felt their pain. Earlier this year, my wife and I had to have one of our dogs euthanized because of incurable and painful arthritis. Bexley was a big, lovable, shaggy dog. Our friends at the kennel where we boarded Bexley from time to time called her “a clown in a dog’s suit”. I still miss her terribly. Living with her memory makes me appreciate Will Rogers’ comment that if there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.