Saturday, November 13, 2010

Dog worlds

When I look down on Fitzroy from my bathroom window of a morning, here's a typical vision of the dog and his context:

As you can see, he has gathered around him, on the lawn, a little world of random objects: a length of garden hose, half a doormat, rags (in fact, fragments of the geotextile fabric, dug up by Fitzroy, on which I had laid marble chips beneath my rose pergola), an assortment of interesting sticks, etc. There's no point in my removing this mess, because Fitzroy would simply reconstitute it within a short lapse of time. Besides, they're not exactly random objects, and they're not really a mess, because they've been selected by Fitzroy for reasons that only he appreciates. Here's another photo of the same scene, ten minutes later:

Here, we can start to understand the subtle symbolism of the situation. Don't tell me that loops in hoses merely come about by chance, and that a spiritual dog is going to lie down in any old random position. Clearly, Fitzroy is reinvigorating himself with the flux of energy in the vortex of the loop, in much the same way that a New Age adept might seek resources inside a pyramid, or meditate while moving through a labyrinth. [Click here to visit my website in the latter domain.]

Yesterday afternoon, I left Fitzroy at home and I took Sophia to her annual vaccination visit in St-Jean-en-Royans. French veterinarians are well organized, and they mail you a reminder for such an appointment. In the waiting room, I discovered that it seemed to be cat day, since Sophia and I were soon surrounded by plastic crates emitting meows. This didn't worry Sophia, who seemed to like the idea of being the only dog in the room. At one stage, a flustered plump young lady sat down opposite us. I had learned from her conversation with the receptionist that she had come along here to pick up her sister's cat, which had apparently undergone a minor surgical intervention. One thing was certain: the young lady wanted it to be known that this wasn't her correct environment. She was strictly a dog person, and she was only here on cat business because her sister had asked her to help out. So, it was normal that the young lady, visibly upset by the feline majority, should turn towards Sophia and me, to get her point across.

LADY: "I've got a magnificent dog waiting for me at home. I'm not at all fond of cats, but my sister was busy this afternoon, and she asked me to collect her cat."

I rapidly sensed that the only way of calming down the young lady was to ask her to talk to me about her dog.

LADY: "He's the most beautiful dog you can possibly imagine. An Australian Shepherd. I'm a school teacher, and my husband and I have a rural house with land down near Crest. So the dog spends all his time outdoors."

At that stage, I made an enormous blunder, through a mixture of inadvertence and ignorance. You see, there were no sheep whatsoever in the coastal region of Australia where I grew up, only dairy and beef cattle. So, I knew nothing at all about Australian Shepherd dogs. Worse still, when I heard the word "Australian", I imagined immediately that her adorable animal was surely some kind of rough-and-ready Aussie cattle dog. But I was rapidly corrected.

LADY: "His features are similar to those of a Border Collie. On his face, he's got red streaks here, then blacks streaks alongside. And, further down, it's white and gray, then it turns to brownish yellow and fawn." I imagined some kind of Technicolor dog.

ME: "I suppose he combines a little bit of several varieties." That was my polite way of suggesting that she probably had a mongrel dog.

The lady was horrified, but in a friendly way. She had no reason to imagine that I was Australian, and she no doubt found it normal that a guy such as me in a veterinarian's waiting room in France, accompanied by a Labrador, would be totally ignorant in the domain of Australian Shepherd dogs. And she was right. Later, back home, I looked up this subject on Google, where I found this splendid photo. Meanwhile, in the waiting room, I listened attentively to the school teacher.

LADY: "He's a pure pedigree animal, with a distinguished genealogy. My husband and all our friends got together with my teacher colleagues to find this dog for me. It's the most magnificent Australian Shepherd dog that you can possibly imagine."

ME: "Does he have any opportunities of working with animals?"

LADY: "Not really… and that's a big problem for the moment, because he's crazy about herding up all the animals he sees. My husband brought him along to school one day. The children had often heard me describing my dog, and they wanted to meet up with him. Everything was going along fine, out in the playground. Then my dog suddenly decided that it was time to round up all these kids. He soon got around to herding them all into a group in a corner of the playground."

Now, there's an unexpected theme of collaboration between our two nations. Australia could supply France with smart cattle and sheep dogs to handle unruly kids in some of the suburban problem schools.

The herding instinct in dogs is wonderful and spectacular. My Fitzroy obviously has it in his genes. Like all the dogs of this kind, he has the habit of suddenly flattening himself on the ground, and waiting for the others to do something. This was how he reacted, for example, when I returned with Sophia from the visit to the veterinarian. Fitzroy was there to meet us, flat on his belly, waiting for us to get out of the car. He seemed to be wondering how he should handle Sophia and me, as soon as we started to move towards the house.

In one of his books, Richard Dawkins explains that this canine herding instinct was acquired by their ancestral wolves back at the time they worked as packs, stalking large prey. The obvious purpose of this stalking was to isolate an ideal victim for the kill. Maybe this is not a good story for the school teacher's kids. Cats, of course, are no more peace-and-love than dogs, even though they neither herd nor allow themselves to be herded. Have you never contemplated the sinister stare of a cute little pussy, and wondered where this regard might have come from? The problem with all these delightful pets is that they've seen through us humans, ages ago. They know we're basically meat.

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