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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Love of Dogs

March 12, 2021

What is it in this time of plague that makes me take such delight in my two dogs?

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

What is it in this time of plague that makes me take such delight in my two dogs?

O, I know the usual answers: that dogs always seem happy, even in their sleep. That they seem to have no worries, though we know, really, nothing of what dogs think. And do not fool yourselves, our dogs can think. Else, why should they whine in the night, or pace restlessly from room to room before they lie down by our side and heave a sigh, or get up in the night and turn around twice, three times, then curl around themselves, chin buried by their tail?

Of course dogs think. Then why do I (falsely) delight myself by thinking: “How restful it must be to be a dog, to know no longing but for food or sex, untroubled by sad dreams, or lack of dreams; to be faithful, without worrying what it is that humans mean by faith; to trust a man, and never know what man means by trust, or what it leads to.”

Don’t kid yourself, my friends; dogs know all of that and more.

(Courthouse News photo/Bob Kahn)

Sometimes my dogs look at me with troubled eyes as I lie upon my couch, opened, half-finished book upon my chest, regret in my heart, sadness in my human brain. “What’s wrong?” they seem to say. “Aren’t we enough for you to make you happy? Don’t you want to go out and play?” And then I do. Want to go out and play. And be happy.

Happiness to dogs, it seems to me, is just to be outside, with me, or with another dog, to share the joy of being a dog, outside, of being alive upon the Earth, upon our planet, with its smells, its animals and plants, which for reasons unknown, or known, or best forgotten, make us want to be a dog. As though we knew what being a dog is.

Can you imagine a dog with human voice who was a poet? Who could explain to us, poor paltry humans, what it’s like to be a dog? What smell is? To follow a scent, head down in grass, and know not just what animal it was, but what direction it was heading? And how long ago?

We’ve all smelled sex, crunched bones in our teeth. But do you know the smell of lightning about to strike? The taste of earthquakes? The certain knowledge of rain about to fall? OK, so dogs don’t know numbers. But what do numbers mean to you? Numbers have no meaning. And do dogs? Do we? And if we do, could we boil it down to anything that could not be understood by a dog? And if you say, “No, our lives have more meaning than a dog’s,” could you tell me how that is, or why?

The spirit is leaving me. I tried to write these paltry lines as if I were a dog who could speak. But my voice is fading behind the beauty of my dogs. They do not seek for beauty, as we do; they are beauty. “What beautiful dogs,” women tell me in the park. “Yes, they are,” I say. “Thank you.” And then we go our separate ways, without smelling one another, here or there, without knowing anything about each other — her or me — whereas a dog could smell it in a whiff. 

Well, my friends, take pity on the dogs — not your own dog, the dog who owns you — take pity on the dogs on the street: the mangy ones, the ones that no one ever loved. And realize that pity is not the sentiment that you should spare for homeless dogs, but the sentiment that all dogs feel for us, homeless humans, upon our home on Earth.

(Author’s note: This was written in blank verse — unrhymed iambic pentameter, with a trochee thrown in here and there. Poetic sleuths with too much time on their hands might delight, or despair, in unraveling it and reinserting the line endings — though I have no idea why anyone would want to do that. It’s an experiment, an attempt at hypnosis — or hip gnosis.)

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