The wording of this aphorism changes slightly every time it’s used. Its attribution is uncertain.
The French put forth Madame de Sévigné and a few others. The English, Thomas Carlyle. The Americans, Mark Twain. And even the Russian actor Vasily Kachalov (d. 1948) has a claim to the authorship.
Whoever said it first, and whatever the exact wording, the meaning is crystal clear. Dogs are generally superior to humans.
A recent poll shows that this view is widely shared in Britain. Two out of three respondents say their dog is their best friend, and a quarter prefer their pet to their other half. Asked why they felt that way, 60 per cent said that, unlike their spouses or lovers, dogs don’t judge. They also like to cuddle, which respondents’ inamoratos don’t.
No poll in recent memory has saddened me more. None has even come close. For I can’t imagine a clearer proof of a civilisation sinking into rampant, infantile paganism.
To begin with, a halfway intelligent person would simply refuse to answer such a question. He’d say it’s based on a false premise, that of humans and canines being in any way comparable. That’s like asking someone whether he prefers BMW or Beaujolais.
This reminds me of an enterprising American adman, who back in 1975 came up with the concept of a ‘pet rock’. He packed a small rock in a box and enclosed a clever brochure, to the effect that the rock makes a perfect pet. You don’t have to take it walkies, feed it, bathe it or paper-train it. All you have to do is love it.
The clever marketing ploy worked: he sold four million boxes at a dollar each and became a millionaire. My point is that a pet dog is infinitely closer to a pet rock than to a human being. It’s basically a rock that can bark, run around the garden, urinate and defecate, chase cats and drink out of puddles.
Yes, it can cuddle, but it can also bite strangers or kill their fowl or cats (spoken from personal experience in both cases), which may put the owner into an awkward and a financially embarrassing position.
In short, dogs are beasts, and their similarity to rocks or trees is much more pronounced than any resemblance to human beings.
The lives of minerals, plants and animals are predetermined by their chemical or biological makeup. Thus dogs are slaves to their genes. They have no option of changing their behaviour in any way because they have no free will.
Dogs may be trained to guard a house, guide a blind person across the street, fight other dogs, hunt or even, if one is so inclined, have sex with people. But that only means that their trainers impose their will on the animals – they still have none of their own.
Some of my friends have hunting dogs, mostly Golden Retrievers, trained to, well, retrieve. When not picking up dead game out of the grass, these dogs are well-behaved and unobtrusive.
Their owners treat them kindly but without any cloying sentimentality I detest so much. The dogs are functionally related to their owners’ shotguns, not their wives.
One could cite any number of scriptural references supporting the towering superiority of man over beast. Concepts like soul, the image and likeness of God, moral sense (and absence thereof) will be mentioned, but they would cut no ice with those respondents.
They self-evidently don’t believe in God. They do believe in Darwin though, and a man to them is only an animal. He may be cleverer than other animals, but that’s a difference of degree, not principle.
Moreover, these poor people show what happens to a civilisation cut off from its religious underpinnings and cast adrift. Such a civilisation replaces mature reflection, love and intelligence with childish anthropomorphism.
What miserable lives those people must lead if they depend on dogs for tactile tenderness. They don’t get it because they are incapable of giving it.
Mature love is like a piggybank: you can take out only what you put in. The stunted emotional growth of those respondents prevents them from developing and expressing real feelings, real commitment – real love.
Their intellectual development is equally stunted. If it weren’t, they wouldn’t be so panic-stricken at the thought of being judged.
The judgement of others is a test for our thoughts, behaviour and personality. As with any tests, this one is only frightening to those who are certain not to pass. Real people may fear God’s judgement, but not man’s.
A lifelong effort in refining one’s mind, improving one’s behaviour and developing compassion would turn a man into a confident test-taker. He’d know he could pass muster and, more important, wouldn’t care if he didn’t.
This is another thing about those respondents: they must be chronically insecure. That makes them unable to develop normal relationships with friends or the opposite sex. All such things have been replaced with surrogates.
If I may be allowed the bad taste of quoting from myself, this is what I wrote in one of my books:
“We have replaced religion with (at best) religionism, freedom with liberty, wisdom with cleverness, sentiment with sentimentality, justice with legalism, art with pickled animals, music with amplified noise, statecraft with politicking, love with sex, communication with sound bites, self-confidence with effrontery, equality before God with levelling, respect for others with political correctness, self-respect with self-esteem – in short, everything real with virtual caricatures.”
Because human canophilia is infantile, it was widespread at a time when the human race was in its infancy. Many early civilisations not only anthropomorphised dogs but even deified them. When I myself was a child, I too loved dogs to distraction.
I once spent several summers in the company of five Dachshunds and an Alsatian. The latter used to be known as the German Shepherd, but, in an early display of political correctness, that name was changed in 1914. Because Americans entered the war later, they kept the original designation.
There were no children of my age around, and I spent many hours either reading or playing with those cuddly creatures. Most of my time I tried to keep the Dachshunds from digging up the roses. Again, that was biological determinism at work: the dogs were bred to dig into fox holes, and they were genetically compelled to dig even when there were no foxes in the vicinity.
Then they began to die one after another, and my response to that was so tragically shattering that even at that early age I decided never to own a dog. Life provides enough tragedies as it is, I thought, in my first act of emotional self-defence.
Yet I continued to like dogs, with that affection slowly attenuating as I grew older. What eventually turned diminishing affection into mild disgust was the soupy, maudlin affection so many people have for their pets.
There’s nothing wrong with liking one’s dog. There’s plenty wrong with treating the dog as if it were a member of the family, which is to say human. That only shows that, though civilisation has grown up, some people haven’t.
P.S. On a lighter note, I notice that in most idioms featuring the word ‘dog’, it can be profitably replaced with ‘wife’. ‘Let a sleeping wife lie’, ‘work like a wife’, ‘wife’s dinner’, ‘sick as a wife’, ‘can’t teach an old wife new tricks’ – they all work, don’t they? (I admit that ‘wife’s bollocks’ doesn’t, not yet at any rate.)