I stumbled upon this outstanding article; it’s actually an excerpt from Simon Garfield’s book, Dog’s Best Friend: A Brief History of an Unbreakable Bond.
Who’s a good boy?
Our centuries-old love of dogs has never been stronger. So what does a study of ‘man’s best friend’ say about us?
Why is he here? Why is my dog lying at my feet in the shape of a croissant as I write this? How have I come to cherish his warm but lightly offensive pungency? How has his fish breath become a topic of humour when friends call round for dinner? Why do I shell out more than £1,000 each year to pay for his insurance? And why do I love him so much?
Ludo is not a special dog. He’s just another Labrador Retriever, one of approximately 500,000 in the UK (he’d be one in a million in the United States, the most popular breed in both countries). Ludo has a lot in common with all these dogs. He loves to play ball; obviously, he’s an expert retriever. He could eat all the food in the universe and leave nothing for the other dogs. He is prone to hip dysplasia. He looks particularly attractive on a plush bed in a centrally heated house very far from the Newfoundland home of his ancestors.
But, of course, Ludo is a unique animal to me and the rest of his human family. He is now an elderly gentleman aged 12 and a half, and we would do almost anything to ensure his continued happiness. We willingly get drenched as he tries to detect every smell on Hampstead Heath. We schedule our days around his needs – his mealtimes, his walks, the delivery of his life-saving medication (he has epilepsy, poor love). We spend a bizarrely large amount of our disposable income on him, and he never sends a card of thanks. When he’s not with us for a few days (when our children take him for a weekend, say), then the house feels extraordinarily empty. I feel so fortunate to know him. Goodness knows how we’ll cope when he dies.
This strongest of bonds has manifested itself over the centuries and transformed so many millions of lives, human and canine. If it is at least partially true, as Nietzsche claims, that “The world exists through the understanding of dogs,” then perhaps it is also partially true that a study of dogs may provide a valuable insight into ourselves.
Why is he here? Why is this man doing something that involves a repeated tapping noise and the occasional loving sigh? How many hot drinks can he make to interrupt this tapping? Why is his timekeeping so bad when it comes to my luncheon? Why can’t this so-called memory-foam bed he bought me remember how I curled up so snugly last night? Why do I feel so fortunate to know him?
NOTE: I am legally permitted to reprint up to 500 words here. The article is much longer and so worth the read. I wish I had written it! You can find it in all of its entirety on TheGuardian.com.
You can purchase the book in USD on Amazon.
Photo Credit: Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Observer