I would never claim that animals don’t have feelings.
Besides the fact that my animal rights lobbyist brother would cut me out of the family, it would just leave too many questions in life unanswered.
Like the two flies I watched going at it this weekend on my porch railing. It went on so long, I finally had to go in to get some water. I mean, no one can tell me that fly wasn’t feeling full on joy.
And the cat who sits in my driveway, taunting me to run it over. I’m sure his glance at me as I turn on the car exudes a combination of anger at all the past car owners who have come close, and love (of himself – like all cats).
And my puppy, Sir Finian as he’s called, certainly would agree.
There is no denying the happiness he feels when he senses a new bully stick has entered the house. Although he didn’t seem to sense my sadness and hurt when my vegan sister-in-law informed me what bully sticks actually were, and I realized that, as disgusting as that was, as the mother of a hyperactive, high chewing dog, I now had no choice.
And he clearly has strong emotions when he is growled at to get off the couch. Especially as he has been sitting there undisturbed for hours while everyone else was fast asleep. Is it anger? Or grief.
But, even with all those feelings going in and out of his tiny heart and soul, I am pretty sure that he doesn’t feel shame.
The scene: Dog park. Afternoon. It is sunny. Groups of dogs, people, children, balls, plastic baggies scatter about.
The action: Finian arrives. Frustratingly still on the leash, he lunges forward, then waits. He knows what he must do. He sits. The leash is released. Free at last.
He proceeds to run up to every person, one by one. Stopping just long enough for a pet. Just to know that he’s been seen and loved. Then, move on.
There is always the possibility that one or more of these people won’t love him. They might not be thrilled with a feisty, vocal puppy running into their laps unasked, pawing at their chests, and smooching them. Even at a dog park, people vary in their needs for boundaries, and cleanliness. Usually though, he is petted, hugged, loved. Sometimes he is ignored. Occasionally he even gets the swipe – “Get that pest away.”
If the roles were reversed, my first action would be to leave the dog park (or the date) immediately. No time to ask why. To wrap my head around the unforeseen rejection that had just occurred. Just go. And try not to have a car acident on the way home.
Finian, however, feels none of this. Rejected? Okay. Try someone else.
And then, five minutes later, try again.
No matter what the ratio of loves to rejections, he is still 100% game to give it a try. He seems to come, every afternoon, with the assumption that everyone loves him. That’s just the starting point. And well, if they don’t – there’s so many more dogs, people…peanut butter treats… in the world.
The same goes with his activities at home. Now the couch has never been an approved resting area for animals. But he will get up there and settle in every chance he can – i.e. when I am in the shower or in bed, so a low probability of my time gone being too brief for couch time to be worthwhile.
But, eventually, I finish sleeping, and come into the living room, see him on the couch, and – and this is always the same – growl at him to get down. Which, after stretching into a langorous cat/caw pose, he does. I don’t say ‘bad dog’ anymore, which I learned from my grandmother. I think I learned it because I heard her say it so many times (clearly it wasn’t working). But a dog knows when you’re not pleased.
He jumps down, sits on his bed.
And then, two minutes later, tries again.
Huh. She doesn’t want me up there. Okay, I guess I have to get down. Let me just stretch first, just to let her know that even if I am doing what she tells me to, she is not in charge. I am. And always will be.
Okay, here you go. See? I’m good. It’s not so bad down here. Not as nice as the couch though.
Oh, wait. She just went back in the bedroom. I think I’ll get up on the couch again.
Shoot, here she comes. Down again. Yeah, I’ll close my eyes, if it makes you feel better. I can rest here too.
Oh, wait – did she just go where I think she went? Okay, bend the knees, big breath…
I just have this feeling that if someone told me ‘that’s bad, that’s wrong, I hate it when you do that, you can’t do that, get off, that’s mine not yours, just stop it already’ over two hundred times in the span of a year, I’d start to feel kind of bad. And even if I didn’t feel bad for doing it, even if I never questioned my authority or knowledge to know what was best and right in the world, even if I felt no emotion from the fact that the person who fed me, bathed me, and was responsible for the maintenance of my life was continuously and consistently telling me that my behavior was unpleasant and unlikable, I still might think, ‘you know what, it might be easier to just not do this.’. Or at least, only do it when I knew I wouldn’t be interrupted.
No shame at his incessant need for food, regardless of whether he’s hungry or not. Of his obvious peanut butter addiction. Of the way his lip gets stuck on his teeth because of a mild deformity (his overbite). Of whether he’s gained or lost weight, made or lost friends, caught the ball or missed it, learned a new skill or learned nothing.
There is a way people sleep. When they have had the fullest of days, accomplished that huge task they had been working on, planning, putting off, afraid they might fail at, worked up to, and finally tackled – and succeeded. Happy but spent, they come home, have a good meal, a drink, a shower, get into some cozy pajamas and climb under clean covers, curl up and close their eyes, content. At last, fully peaceful, they can rest.
Every day Finian tackles his food puzzle, eats every morsel out of it. Chews on a stick. Pulls on his leash. Then, exhausted from a long day, digs at his pillow to make an invisible nest, and curls up and closes his eyes. Doesn’t matter what the day brought, hardship or ease, challenge or gentleness.
Fully peaceful, he can rest.