Is this what being a dog lover is about?

Not sure which end of the lead is in charge.

It’s hard for someone who has a real bond with an animal, especially a dog, to explain the nature and strength of the connection to someone who has never experienced it. Or to convey the sense of loss if the animal dies or is taken away.

But Ninni Holmqvist may have managed it. She’s the Swedish author of The Unit.

(It’s set in a dystopian future where the women over 50 and men over 60, who are deemed not useful to society are confined in luxury and used for experiments or body parts. Sounds macabre, but isn’t – so far anyway. I’m still reading and enjoying it. So don’t tell me the end if you’re already finished it.)

But back to dogs. The main character has had to give up her dog Jock, and she misses him.

For anyone who has never experienced or set any store by being close to an animal, it is perhaps difficult to understand that you can miss a dog so that it literally hurts. But the relationship with an animal is so much more physical than a relationship with another person. You don’t get to know a dog by asking how he’s feeling or what he’s thinking, but by observing him and getting to know his body language. And all the important things you want to say to him you have to show through actions, attitude, gestures and sounds.

People, on the other hand, can always be reached through talking. A bridge of words grows easily between people, a bridge of information, explanations and assurances. For example, one person can say to another… “I will love you until death do us part,” which is an assurance. But words between people also act as a kind of shock absorber: those in close relationships often choose to talk about something other than the matter that is weighing them down, worrying them or annoying them…

Between Jock and me there was no bridge, no shock absorber. The contact between us was what it was, with no shortcuts, diversions or beltways. We couldn’t talk to each other about our relationship, couldn’t sort out misunderstandings or explain how much we meant to each other. We lived completely separately, because of the conditions imposed by our respective species. But we also lived side by side, body to body, without promises, lies or small talk. And irrespective of whether I thought about him or not, during my early days in the unit [after having to leave him behind] I could feel his coarse coat beneath the palm of my hand, the rapid beating of his heart under the coarseness, his cold nose, his warm tongue against my cheek, the smell of his breath and his fur. I could see and hear him: his brief bark when he caught sight of me and came bounding toward me, his legs wide apart, but his head held elegantly high; his excited snuffles and constantly wagging tail; his panting breath as he ran alongside me, his paws rhythmically rasping against the ground. And in bed at night I could feel his weight on my leg, and when I woke up in the morning I would sit up straightaway, and for a fraction of a second I would imagine I could see his expectant expression meeting my eyes from the foot of the bed. Each one of these sensory perceptions, these phantom emotions surrounding Jock’s presence was immediately followed by the realization thast it bore no relation whatsoever to reality. This realization was always equally brutal, like being struck hard by a fist or stabbed with a knife, and then it turned to a constant nagging ache.

I wonder does any of that ring true to any of you who have loved dogs?

I’ve known some notable canines. There was my mate’s dog Patch who had to keep nipping off south of the Irish border to escape the police in the north. He was some sort of collie-alsatian mix with different coloured eyes – one blue, one green, I think. He was on the run for nipping people.

Then there was the wise patrician Badger – now gone. And the lovely Ralph who lives down the road.

I’ve never had a dog and unlike many people in the UK, I prefer people. Though myself and mutts tend to get on fairly well too.

In the past when people have banged on about how dogs are better than humans, less treacherous, more living, etc – these lyrics from Ewan MacColl‘s 1968 song Nation of Animal Lovers have tended to come to mind.

When Greeks were being tortured then we always held our piece
We used to like to spend our summer holidays in Greece
Cats and ponies, budgies, moths and hairy caterpillars
Lousy Europeans can’t appreciate the pleasure that these little creatures give us
We’re A Nation of Animal Lovers

When there’s hangings in South Africa we just avert our gaze
But we’re tender hearted to a fault with alley-cats and strays
Remember how the nation nearly had a nervous spasm
Breathlessly anticipating giant pandas’ pleasure in a cuddly orgasm
We’re A Nation of Animal Lovers

When there’s rioting in Brixton we’re impressively impassive
But be cruel to a horse and our reaction then is massive
Guinea pigs and painted terrapin, tropical fishes-
Lesser races cannot understand that it would meet with all our wishes
If there were no human beings.

However, having read Ninni Holmqvist’s take on the matter (translated by Marlaine Delargy), I fear I may have rushed to judgment too quickly. For one thing, her description of the wordless communication between dog and human sounds honest and appealing – and that’s speaking as someone who loves to talk and listen.

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20 Comments

Filed under art, life, What I'm Reading

20 responses to “Is this what being a dog lover is about?

  1. Also goes for cats, though they are more subtle.

    They are every bit as loyal as dogs, in fact more so. With them it is also a more equal relationship as they are much more independent “minded” than dogs.

    I’ve had both in my day.

  2. My long ago yellow lab and I communicated at this different ESP level. If I just thought drive in care, food, play ball fetch she reacted immediately. She always responded to my depression with kisses. The saddest thing is when I had to take her to be put to sleep she seemed to know it and her eyes and expressions seemed to be begging me not to do it. That was 25 years ago and it still hurts and haunts me.

  3. I have never owned a Dog so I just don’t know.
    but I like this idea of forming bonds in different ways & on different levels.I can see how that works.The problem with language (it seems to me) is that its open to lots of shared assumptions….deferred ideals. ….
    I just checked this out with my cat Chaz.+He does not seem to disagree with me!

  4. I am learning abut having a dog in the family, but since she is 128 miles away I only see her every now and then. She seems to remember me and reacts to my voice on speaker phone… or so I am told.

  5. We have three animal companions in our home, all rescues:
    Willa (3-year-old Irish Wolfhound)
    Lexi (8-year-old Standard Poodle)
    Claire (14-year-old Westhighland White Terrier)

    Each of them is amazing in their own unique way. What they have in common is their unconditional love and great communication skills. Oh, and each of them has us equally wrapped around their finger (or should I say paw?)…

  6. rummuser

    My siblings and I grew up with dogs and one brother continues to do so even now. I can relate to the pain of separation from one due to whatever reason. Dogs can also be sources for some merriment. I am sure that you will enjoy reading this : http://rummuser.com/?p=4489

  7. blackwatertown

    You’ve got me feeling very wistful – though not for a cat, only a dog.
    @ holessence – your trio sounds lovely – though I imagine your Irish wolfhound must be massive.
    @ rummuser – I like your link. Very funny and complicated. And I thought choosing a name for humans was hard enough.

  8. Barbara

    Our family had a dearly loved Shetland Sheep Dog when I was growing up, Skipper, and he seemed like an extra pal who was always agreeable and eager for whatever adventure we were planning. But generally I am a cat person because they need less attention and I respect and admire their need for space and a sense of mutuality. I can appreciate what dogs mean to people, though, and “The Dog Whisperer” is one of my favorite TV shows.

  9. I have written frequently about our Sandy. A friend once described her as THE dog, which is an expression only a dog lover could understand.

  10. TaylorGooderham

    I have two dogs, one that I’ve had for almost ten years since he was a puppy, another that we’ve had for three or so, who we got as a rescue dog. They are sometimes annoying, but I love them both. The rescue dog had to be taken to the vet today for an unknown problem, which literally sucked the life out of him. They’ve found something they can’t identify, which scares me a lot. Dogs really are man’s best friend, and the bond I have with that dog, I would miss greatly.

  11. Can’t be doing with cats, but dogs are the business. I’ve been putting off getting one because of small kiddies, but they’re not small anymore, so the time is soon…

  12. I had a dog a long long time ago. I was inconsolable when it died. Painfully. I had difficulty going back into the house. The silence was unnerving, the empty water bowl heartbreaking. I hadn’t been a particular dog-lover. But this one – well – he was an individual!!

  13. I loved this piece BW, as I and my dog have that bond too. Nearly impossible to write about as it is so extraordinary that she can sense my thoughts, my acceptance, or not, of strangers at the door, when I am taking her with me or not, depending. When she senses my displeasure (she loves to roll in dead things on the beach) from a distance and comes, downcast and ashamed to me. And on.
    Thank you for reading my fiction and your kind remarks, that was a performance piece and went down very well with the audience.
    Your blog is a delight and I have linked to it.
    XO
    WWW

  14. I had a dog for eighteen years, it was extremely painful when she died. David wanted to get me another dog, but I told him that I couldn’t go through that again.

    It’s true, you wake up and she’s there, you have a meal and she’s there, you watch TV and she’s there, whatever you do she’s there.

    Now she’s not there.

  15. Whoa this brought out the doggiephiles. I’ve had three Labs in my time but Lily takes the cake. I think because I finally had the time to dedicate to her, train her, spoil her. Even had a cruciate knee replacement at 3 years old. I guess a non dog lover would have put her down rather than spend the $3,500 to fix it. I’ll be devastated when she’s gone. Not sure about any intuitive behaviour other than thinking she’s human and pushing me off the bed. I’m not sure about the loyalty either, she’ll get into a car with anyone the trollop.

  16. If you could recruit people on the basis of reincarnation, i.e. what they were in their previous life, all presidential bodyguards would be ex-dogs. Your dog would definitely take a bullet for you.

    I love it when my dog makes a point of deliberately leaning in when I put my arm round him in the garden. Or when, with a whole room as his disposal, he chooses to lie on my feet under the dinner table.

    The saddest thing I’ve ever done was taking my first dog, who was suffering with cancer, to be put down. I saw the light in his eyes go out as the tourniquet on his leg was loosened. There was a palpable sense of a soul leaving a body.

  17. Pingback: mutt | me, mine and other bits

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