You’ll have to forgive me, the neighbour’s dogs are yipping up a jealous storm as they react to our local coyote pack. The latter are waltzing gleefully past windows and singing songs of merriment as they indulge in fallen fruit that has fermented on the orchard’s floor. Like animals prior to domestication, our AU minds flow wherever they go so long as we return to our key course material. Yet, sometimes, studying is for the dogs and we just need some loving chill time.
Being a loving dog owner for much of my life, I feel it within my rights to point out a few inconvenient truths about the dialectical relation betwixt Canis domesticus and Homo civilitas (known more properly as sapiens, meaning the one who thinks. But, do we?). First off, we all could use a study break with affection and pets, and a furry pet can fit the bill. But puppy love, regardless of species, is not of the thinking sort so much as of the feeling type. And as soon as power relations enter the fray mutually assured affection is called into question. Nowhere, sociologically speaking, is this dyadic quandary better illustrated than in the way masters and their dogs assert dominance and submission.
A dog unveils as just the untaxing companion needed for our recess time. Dog desire; that is, desire for a dog to call one’s own, not unlike it’s thematic parallel in baby fever, may be rooted deep within our psyches. Buried like an old bone, it would thus precede dogs or pets in general; this desire may manifest a deeper longing to become the object of a relative simpleton’s slavish devotion. Dogs, after all, are paragons of obedience, loyalty and companionship. And all this without any of the nasty viscidities that accompany engagement with another thinking, feeling being, operating on one’s own level. After all, when looking down on another being, we rarely have to gaze them in the eye as equals. Nevertheless, it’s generally accepted that dogs do think and do feel, although we bipeds pair this knowledge with pat assertions that dogs naturally feel like being obedient, loyal, slavish, and all the rest. But maybe it’s our twisted human language, that symbolic nomenclature purporting to translate sublime feelings into certain phonetics, that deserves a long, stern, stare. Are we so sure that we know why we like being adored and do we really know what bowser is saying with those grunts and yips?
Justice for the Dogs and a Walk With Mary
Now a dog, as is well known, always loses a staring contest. Goldfish not so much. And yet only humans close their eyes to injustice whilst being whittled away from within by all manners of guilt, regret, and anxiety. Heck, if an organism took us for a pet it would surely be a being who wants to be reminded how placid their life is: a sloth, perhaps, or a ponderous bracket fungi. We humans can hold our intellectual and heartfelt own with a stamina far surpassing our corporeal nature as skin bags filled mostly with water. No water balloon ambush can stymie our search for truth nor our heartbreaks along the way.
Gender Norms Parallel our Struggles.
The feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft brought Enlightenment ethos through the doors of the philosophy salons of her time. With force and elegance, she landed her 1792 Vindication of the Rights of Women with a plunk on the coffee (or laudanum) table: her script demanded attention! In its pages she drew a parallel between the grooming of her sex to be docile, calm, well-mannered, and tame, and the parallel species whose name is a virtual synonym for loyal virtues. Wollstonecraft wrote: “for though moralists have agreed that the tenor of life seems to prove that man is prepared by various circumstances for a future state, they constantly concur in advising woman only to provide for the present. Gentleness, docility, and a spaniel-like affection are, on this ground, consistently recommended as the cardinal virtues of the sex; and, disregarding the arbitrary economy of nature, one writer has declared that it is masculine for a woman to be melancholy.” (Wollstonecraft, 118)
Two hundred years later this behavioural double standard remains even as it becomes a trope in itself. Consider Miss Scrimmage’s “Finishing School for Young Ladies” or Anne of Green Gables mythic desire for ascension to wifehood!
Companionship as an Idea, With Fur
Wishes for the unconditional love of a furry, almond-brained companion perhaps represents a desire to revert away from the ethereal majesty of our intellectual pursuits at AU. We might recall Wollstonecraft’s contemporary, Voltaire, who, upon reading Rousseau’s anarchic longings for a life without hierarchy (think here of study schedules, deadline dates and examination bookings), proclaimed that Rousseau’s words made him want to “walk on all fours” If we at AU are to stand, perchance to walk, and then to run our little minds forth, we must recall that playtime and work time equally require our desire for interaction. We don’t have to always be in a brainy headspace, but it doesn’t hurt to consider why we play with who we do. I say this with an eye to my fur baby, a noble Felis domesticus named Bella. She’s accompanied me through countless AU courses and never once insisted on an unplanned jaunt at the end of a tether. And yet, like any good pet, she knows when her minion requires a break. After all, a cat for a master provides balance to a heady realm!
Wollstonecraft, M. (1792). Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Markham, Ontario: Penguin Classics.