Friday, August 14, 2009

Wolf and Man

"In the wildness is the preservation of the world
So seek the wolf in thyself"
-Metallica

Pets are so metal.

Given, Metallica's "Of Wolf and Man" is actually a song about werewolves. But, I lack the requisite experience to speak on personal stories about lycropanthic shapeshifters. I have no werewolf friends (shocking, I know). And, if I do, these friends of mine haven't decided to let me know about their... condition... quite just yet. Which is fair - werewolves have been persecuted and hunted down like rabid animals for several millennia due to a situation seemingly beyond their control. Plus, what if I freaked out and plugged one of 'em with one of those silver bullets I have laying around in preparation for the vampire apocalypse? Ah, but this isn't a post about werewolves.

Human Beings and Their Relationship with Other Animals

The Human Being! Curious creatures to be sure:


"Bi-pedal organisms with cranial and thoracic sections. Dual ocular sockets, each facing the ventral plane, allowing for depth perception. This implicates homo sapiens primary behavior to be predatory in nature. However, dental structure suggests an omnivorous diet - combining incisors and molars for versatility - despite lacking any natural, external advantages. Yet, the human race still seems to have established itself as dominant over most other species on the planet."
- Leonardo Da Vinci (except, not)

Remarkably, humanity seems to thrive as a living example of contradiction personified. Freudian psychological theory dictates that our psyches are the result of an interplay of opposing forces. Id to superego. Something demonic to something divine. From wolf to man. Jungian theory changed the view of this spectrum a bit - focussing less on reconciling darker urges and more on finding the appropriate compromise between two irreconcilable poles. The wolf and man agree to meet somewhere in the middle if we let them. We seek balance between civilization and wilderness to find where we stand as individuals. There, we are supposed to meet the person we were meant to be. If so much of our core selves is wrapped up in this eternal (well, human lifespan length, as it is) interplay, are we surprised when it leaks into the waking world?

Ever notice how owners look like their pets just a little bit?


Simple explanation - we like "things" that look like ourselves, despite whatever level of satisfaction we may have with our physical appearances. But, we usually take it one step further. We may attempt to identify with the animal, projecting onto them our personal qualities and emotions in an attempt to humanize them. Maybe the pet fulfills a specific need or impulse, compensating for the owner's archaic, biological instinct to create and care for children while living in a modern world. Others may purchase one for protection in an attempt to present themselves as aggressive and territorial. And, then there are those who raise pets to fight them - because they fail as human beings and are cowards who won't step into the ring themselves. Point - human beings form deep, visceral connections with their domesticated counterparts often for a sense of completion.

Despite a love and respect for all animals, I'm a dog person. And, those who've had the pleasure to know me personally understand the truth of that statement - I keep my nose to the wind (literally), I like to think myself a loyal friend, and I'm protective of those I care about (also, when you scratch my head, my face scrunches up and one of my eyes closes a little bit). To make the obvious comparison, cat people may think themselves clean, independent, crafty, and tactilely affectionate (jury's still out on whether or not all of them purr). I know part of the appeal of having a dog, for me, is their social aspect - their need to be a part of the pack. Growing up, I knew I lacked the feeling of connectivity that many of my peers shared. Part of this was the way I view the world - I think very differently than most, often very clinical and logical, yet very abstract and non-linear (side note: what do you do with that?). In my years approaching and following high school graduation, however, that proved to be less of a hindrance and my social life began to blossom. Lately, though, approaching the noble and busy age of 23, my social life's been a little absent and I've been starting to feel it. Maybe being a dog owner provides me with a sense of completion in that department.

Regardless of how you feel about any of that, I know one thing for sure: your (mammalian) pet will love you unconditionally (even if you're a complete asshole). Your relationship with an animal extends beyond being a provider of a steady food source. You're their best friend. Their entire world:

I had a dog once, of whom, we named Lady and she was an amazing dog. Interestingly enough, her doppelgänger, an apparently evil version of my dog, also named Lady (who we nicknamed "Mangy"), also lived in our neighborhood. Mangy looked nearly identical to Lady - just a little bigger, darker, with longer, matted fur, and she was a constant growler. I don't think Mangy ever attacked anyone specifically, but she was always aggressive - especially with my brother and me - and Lady would come to the rescue every single time we crossed paths. She just knew. Their battle over the neighborhood was epic and it lasted for a few years, until one day Mangy disappeared. Up and vanished. We found a dog corpse (mostly just bones) some time later, in the swamp in the woods behind our house. We knew exactly who it was - she had caught the business end of a hunting rifle resulting form either A) attacking a hunter or B) her owners, of whom I'm convinced may have been a family of sociopaths, taking her out back and putting her down. It's sad - Mangy could have turned out a lot more like Lady if her owners actually gave a damn.

Lady lived a glorious, happy 16 years (112 80 dog years) with my family before she passed. During that time, she saved my life three times. The first, when I was younger we spent a lot of time climbing around the woods on fallen trees - some large enough to walk or crawl on at that age. During one of the climbs, Lady pulled ahead of us when one of the branches snapped and she fell down. Lady was far enough ahead to where the rest of us were unaffected, but she fell a solid 8-10 feet and landed unharmed. We decided, at that point, we were done with that particular tree. She would do something similar the second time around. During a particularly cold winter, a group of us were getting ready to play on a frozen-over cove. Lady had stepped out ahead of us, excited to play too, when the ice began to crack. She was a light dog - any one of us would have fallen straight through. Without any adults around at the time and surface temp maintaining about 28° F, freezing to death was a definite possibility. She immediately dropped flat and crawled her way back unharmed. The final time would be years later, when my brother and I were bicycling home from a friend's house at around dusk. As we traveled, we looked across the way to see a fox making a B-line straight for us at full sprint. Putting our bikes between ourselves and the possibly rabid and ravenous animal that wasn't breaking stride, we prepared ourselves for impact and uncertainty. The fox never made it, however - Lady appeared from nowhere to attack and defend. The fox never saw it coming and, after Lady landed the first hit, the fox U-turned and headed into the opposite direction at full speed. We never saw that fox again.

Say what you will about imprinting, instinct, and a need for a consistent food supply - I'm convinced that the relationship between "wolf" (read: any animal) and man is far deeper. It's love and that's the real connection we're all trying to form when we take charge of a pet. I have a friend who told me a story about his dog - a dog that was fairly old and had been apart of their family for a very long time. My friend had been away at college for awhile and his dog hadn't seen him in ages. One day, he returned home and when he came around the bend to see his dog again, the dog was so surprised and so excited that he tried to get up and run over right way and... he had a heart attack. The dog survived and, as far as I know, he's currently fine. The veterinarians made a humorous suggestion, though - that they show him pictures of my friend on a regular basis to "prepare the dog for the real thing," so he wouldn't be so excited the next time.

Still, it begs the question - when's the last time you had a heart attack because you were just that excited to see someone?

9 comments:

nevie said...

i cried a little at your lady life-saving stories. and i agree with you about it not being entirely just imprinting, instinct, and need for food. one of my cats eats very little and is hungry very seldom, but all she wants in life is for me or my brothers to be around. i'm not even the one who feeds her very often but i'm the one she prefers to be with. all she wants is half the affection she seems to feel for my brothers and me.

also, i've always considered myself a dog person but ever since my family got cats i'm reconsidering the dog/cat stereotypes. there are certainly differences, but i think cats get a bad rap. i now consider myself simply an animal person. (because reptiles/amphibs are fucking AWESOME too.)

also--
"Lady lived a glorious, happy 16 years (112 dog years) with my family before she passed."
they changed the way they calculate dog age. lady was in fact around 75-85, depending on her size.

Ozkirbas said...

I didn't know they changed dog-year calculations! Lady was a mid-size, so she was probably about 80. The change has been made. Guess you learn something new everyday.

Yeah, Lady was a fantastic dog. We have another one now, a beagle named Lucy. She was a trauma dog that was rescued by the humane society. It's not the same, but she has her own personality and she's an absolute sweetheart. We joke that we're taking care of Lucy now to pay Lady back.

Cats are great pets, as well. They just have their own dynamic. We used to have a cat, named Altin, and we were very upset when we had to put her down. My opinion - having a pet is part of the human experience, no matter what the species and each animal certainly comes with its own territory.

Dennis said...

I was never a pet person, I always had bad experiences with them as a child. Cannibal hamsters, a dog with a mental disorder (seriously, we took him to multiple trainers and they all said the same thing), kittens that my neighbors murdered (again, that really happened).

Jescie and I are looking at getting a few dogs though and I'm going to pretend like they are my first pets. Your Lady stories were inspiring and brought a smile to my face. They also made me wonder what a meeting between a young Johny Oz and Dennis Schlosser would have been like.

Also, doggy years are kind of silly in my opinion, considering how large the average age difference between certain breeds are.

B.Graham said...

@dennis - what about boo??

@john - tonight is the first night boo is in the new apartment, and I feel like THE WORST CAT MOTHER EVER for putting her in such a traumatic situation. I know she'll be fine, but I just wish I could speak cat/she spoke english so I could properly comfort her. steve is making fun of me about it, but I don't even care I know about Cat Politics.

Jackie.Russell said...

I think if anyone of the gentlemen is a werewolf it would have to be Adam. He's pretty hairy.

On a more related note, I highly encourage people who have the time and are ready for the commitment to adopt an animal [especially ones from humane societies and rescue leagues]. But there really is more to it then just petting your pet and feeding it. I see dogs and cats get neglected all the time by people who thought it was nice to have a pet. While a pet shouldn't cost you as much as a kid, the responsibilities that goes with having one is almost as much if not more simply because a pet cannot speak. Here's a hint, if the people at the kennel/boarding/daycare see your dog more then you do then you're doing something wrong [though honestly this is better then leaving your dog at home for more then 6-8 hours by itself]. Cats can be left alone for longer but why would you really want to do that to them?

AZ Winer said...

I would like to put one of these discussion to rest:

- yes, I am, in fact, a werewolf. I don't really know how that'd be an argument tho... I think that's pretty ovbiously. Thankfully (and luckily, for all of you), it only really affects my daily social life for about 36 hours per month, when there is a full moon.

Side note to John Oz - I'm curious about your non-linear world views? and what does that mean? and your answer, I would hope, is to make art about it - thats a wonderful gift I think you should explore.

AZ Winer said...

Also

check it - more pets that look like owners:

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2009/08/11/health/20090811_dogsowners_userslideshow_index.html?ex=1265774400&en=138c6969a811d298&ei=5087&WT.mc_id=HL-D-I-NYT-MOD-MOD-M110-ROS-0809-HDR&WT.mc_ev=click

Scotty said...

"Still, it begs the question - when's the last time you had a heart attack because you were just that excited to see someone?"

This story is straight out of the Odyssey:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argos_(dog)

Ozkirbas said...

@ Scotty - Good pull, my friend.

@Adam - I should admit, "non-linear" may not be the most precise term. It was cleaner than saying, " I sometimes have a round-about way of thinking about things." Writing seems to be the best "thing" to do with it. I'm hoping it applies to coming up with new ideas in the legal field.