The wolf in my living room

22 03 2010

Has it ever occurred to you what an odd thing it is to keep a pet?

To give houseroom to another species. I have a dog and I wonder why they were domesticated in the first place. It makes sense that cattle and sheep were domesticated as an easily accessible food supply but who thought it was a good idea to tame a wolf – and why? Taming a wolf to protect a flock of sheep seems wholly counter-intuitive. I could look it up on-line but I’m not that bothered. If you look it up then please leave a comment so I’ll know next time my brain wanders in that direction.

I’m not an uninterested observer of pet owners, as I have said I do own a dog. We take a tiny pup away from it’s mother and then train it not to make a mess in the house. In exchange for not crapping everywhere we then have to walk it at least four times a day and I have the delightful job of “clearing up” after my dog on at least two of these outings!

And it’s not like we are sharing a walk when we head off outside. True, we are in the same place at the same time at opposite ends of a piece of rope but we inhabit completely different worlds. I walk along looking up at the birds, the trees and wrapped up against the elements while the dog walks head down, navigating her world by smell.

During this winter the snow has allowed me a glimpse into her world – it has allowed me to see what she smells. Tracks in the snow left by other dogs, deer and rabbits. Trickles of yellow across the snow; droppings of largely unknown animals and, thanks to owners who don’t feel the need to do the “clearing up” thing,  other dogs. Most often when we walk  I stride out and Lola follows, with me giving a quick tug when she stops too long in on place but sometimes I go at her pace. She mooches about in the undergrowth at the side of the track and I stop when she stops and move off when she trots off towards a new smell. It is fascinating to watch her and, in a small way, share her walk.

We recognise people and places mainly by sight. Lola’s world is dominated by smell and I wonder what her mental image of the world is (although image is itself the wrong word as it suggests the visual). The nearest I can imagine is a scent gradient, like us following the smell of freshly cooked bread as it intensifies through the supermarket from front door to the bakery department. Does her smell gradient allow her to identify particular dogs? I recognise the mad labrador Scott ahead of us on the path, I can see him.  Does Lola know he has been on the path before us? Can she smell Scott or just know that another unidentified dog has been along the path.

I guess that her knowledge of what has happened in the past is better than mine. If Scott had been further up the road then I wouldn’t have seen him and he wouldn’t have left a visual clue behind him (apart from the obvious and his owner is a responsible dog owner!) but Lola would know that a dog had passed that way. Smell is a more persistent sensory marker. I can see by the small pockets of snow still hugging the contours of the golf course that it snowed recently but that is the limit of my knowledge of what has gone before.

And the food that they eat. I’ve blogged about this before – I am not one of those dog owners who feeds their pet prime steak but even on dried meal keeping a dog is less environmentally friendly than running an SUV! And with thousands starving across the world I chose to feed a dog. With thousands homeless I choose to house a dog.

So I’m left wondering why I keep a dog? It’s environmentally unfriendly, diverts resources from people and I could just as easily wander through the golf course myself. In fact it would be easier as I wouldn’t have to stick to the paths or carry poop bags!  As I finish this she is lying at the other side of the room spreadeagled in a thin shaft of sunlight as the sun moves round to shine through my office window. I’m really busy today but will have to head out soon so that she can relieve herself!

I don’t have an answer so feel free to comment!

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