Sunday, April 13, 2014

Laughing Is Not Always Loving

Recently a friend passed on a video showing a dog obviously confused about himself, trying to play with a toy. As he attacked the object, his left hind leg seemed to move on its own, to pull the object from the dog’s mouth. Time and time again, the dog turned to grab and try to "kill" the aggressive leg. Time and time again, one could hear in the background, humans laughing uproariously at the dog’s action. Giggles and guffaws filled the soundtrack as the dog repeatedly attacked himself. And I asked myself why it seemed funny. And I thought about my "Buddy."

Last Fall I adopted a dog whose name (since he joined our pack) is Buddy. Buddy is about two years old, a cross between a German Shepherd and something not quite as big. A handsome guy, now weighing a bit over 50 pounds, he is "my" dog, follows me where ever I go, lies at my feet under my desk, runs along beside the truck or tractor when I'm working around the place (doesn't like to ride with me, sad to say), and if I'm working in_place, cutting wood for instance, he finds someplace nearby to lie (on the snow, in the shade, please) and waits until I'm finished. When we walk he is ahead and behind and around me even if the rest of the pack is running off up the ridge or playing near the woodpile. There is one thing that distracts him, however. Somewhere, in his previous life, some not very thoughtful person, probably one addicted to YouTube, began teasing Buddy with a flashlight or laser pointer.

Animal experts recognize this "game" as an addiction. Now, if I'm walking at night with my headlight on, say out to the furnace or some other after_dark chore, Buddy will chase the beam wherever I turn my head. Cute. Reflections from an opening or closing door will send him into paroxysms of lunging at the light on the floor or wall. The flicker of light from a rotating wheel will bring him close to (but so far not in contact with) the changing light patterns generated by the wheel. It is probably too late to modify this behavior, and I have a dog I am really attached to (and he to me), who may someday make the wrong guess and hurt or even kill himself, chasing a point of light, an addiction someone thought was "cute" or "funny."

I don't mean to get on a soapbox, but dogs – the only animals that really attach themselves to us as they have since before recorded time – are not toys. They are real live animals. They have vocabularies of several hundred to a thousand words (our words), can be trained to do useful things (they really like to be helpful), and most of all, can give the love and their lives to their people as no other non_human can. So while the video is funny at first glance, consider that the humans who are laughing so hard at this dog's attempt to "kill" part of himself, is not really in the animal's best interest. But then again, people often fail the test of humanity. Maybe this test isn't very important.

But it is to my Buddy, and probably to the dog in the video.

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