Since our dog Benny’s life came to its inevitable end not long ago, we’ve been super sensitive to all things canine. Even those Pedigree commercials get us choked up. And yesterday, in the Current section of the LA Times, Thomas de Zengotita, in an essay about the relationship between man and dog called “You can’t play fetch with an iPod,” concludes his piece with this perfect literary visual that still has us smiling while weeping. This guy knows dogs.
Try this. Try to show your dog a picture of himself. You might as well stick a copy of the Bill of Rights in front of his nose. Your dog doesn’t know what that picture is and doesn’t care — and, at some level, you are redeemed by his indifference.
Your dog frees you from the relentless reflexivity that otherwise haunts your life in this mediated world. Above and beyond unflagging loyalty and affection, which are the most obvious gifts your dog brings to you; above and beyond the enthusiasm with which your dog greets you, or the way his features suffuse with expectation as — leashed, perhaps, to a parking meter — he waits for you to emerge from a store, waits for you and only you. For only you will do. The planet will not be balanced on its axis again until you return to his side.
But then, after a flurry of tail wagging and butt wiggling and ear flattening, how seamlessly your dog settles back into its normal groove, now that the natural order of things has been restored. No recriminations, no grudges, he trots beside you, or strains ahead at the leash — all in accordance with the inclination of the individual and the breed — sniffing at this and that, the past wiped away, the slate clean — and the future doesn’t exist at all.
Your dog is always there in the moment, and you matter absolutely in its eyes. But beyond the simple transaction of affection that has always been essential to people’s relationships with dogs, there’s a new dimension. You cannot help but reciprocate their unconditional loyalty and affection — and, in so doing, you stumble into innocence yourself.