New Bern, NC – On a bright winter afternoon, I was out for a walk with Brooklyn, a beautiful, soft-eyed chocolate Labrador.
The barking started as soon as we got to the street. Our neighbors' tiny dachshund stood chest out to defend his masculinity and his driveway. He barked and skittered from side to side aggressively.
50 feet away from the little dog the lab grinned and watched, her eyebrows animated. Thirty feet behind the little dog, plain as day, stood three deer, a doe and twin fawns. The doe was frozen. Only her right ear and nostrils twitched involuntarily. The fawns had stopped and posed but could not maintain the necessary stillness. They took a few tentative steps. They turned their heads. They forgot to be statues.
I stood at the end of the driveway looking at this amazing diorama layered before me: a large Labrador, a barking dachshund, three deer. The dogs saw only each other and me. The Labrador did not notice the deer directly in her line of sight. The dachshund was much closer to the deer. Surely he could have heard or smelled them. But the dachshund didn't even glance behind him. The Labrador looked at me for a sign of what she should do next.
I called her, and she bounded over. The deer dematerialized into the thin woods behind them. The dachshund continued to bark his comically deep-throated bark.
I laughed at the silly dogs. I was glad to see the deer safe and unmolested, but the scene left me uneasy. It was unsettling that despite their exquisite senses, the dogs were focused solely on each other and me instead of paying attention to their surroundings. What was wrong with them? What have people done to dogs?
The answer is simple: We have bred the wolf out of these creatures so that they can be our toys, our children, our ever-loving friends. We have removed the hunter and predator and bred them for the traits we admire loyalty, beauty, spontaneity, dependence, and affection. We have bred them to meet our needs.
I am a little embarrassed by this fact, but I don't lament it. Especially this spring the world is a cold, unforgiving place of deep chills and financial disaster. All of us need as much warmth and creature comfort as we can manage to get. We need to snuggle with these solid, unworried bodies. I feel lucky to have Brooklyn as my pillow, my therapist, my Zen master, my tranquilizer. What human can offer such acceptance and calm?
It seems to me that our attempts to redesign of God's creatures have made us seem a little ridiculous in our transparent neediness, not the dogs. I can see our human predicament, but I cannot escape from it. There is a ten dollar word for it: Thigmotaxis. This is the need of animals to pile up all together for warmth and security. I've got it bad, but, lucky for me, our dog is ready to cuddle all the time.