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Front Page » September 11, 2012 » Opinion » The smarter species may not be us
Published 585 days ago

The smarter species may not be us


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

If one looks around one can find a lot written about how different the world would be if it was run by dogs. Most of the writings I have seen about this include tongue in cheek humor about the way dogs run their own lives and how they could run ours.

I have had dog partners for most of my life. Note that I didn't say I owned them, because while in the old days I would have used that term because I had not considered the situation with the sensitivity I should have, today that is the way I think of them.

My first dog was a black little puppy named Butch. He grew up on my father's farm with me. He came to us about the time I was born, so all I remember of him was as an adult. He was gentle and loving, although after a few years around the house, he ended up being chained up in the barnyard to keep him from getting run over on the increasingly busy road that divided our farm in two. He died when I was a teenager. Butch was never a Willie Morris dog ("My Dog Skip') for me. I wasn't shy and needed reinforcement from a canine friend, but he was there a lot and was a good friend to me.

Butch may have been special, but our farm was full of dogs (and many other animals). We were about 10 miles from Salt Lake and people from the city were always dropping off strays. Some stayed around, others left and many were killed on that busy road. Strongest in my mind were two dogs. One was named Lady and the other Blackie.

Lady was a fruitful dog that multiplied her number quite a few times. We gave away the puppies most of the time, although a few grew to maturity. I know too, that quite a number were put to sleep by my uncles who operated the farm with my father. No one told me that, but I am sure thinking back that is what happened. There were just too many dogs and in those days, spending money on fixing dogs just wasn't in the cards. I remember that one day, Lady just disappeared, never to be seen again.

Blackie was a keeper. A medium build mongrel, he was gentle and sweet. I accidentally ran over him with a full hay wagon when I was 12. He had laid in the shade of the wagon on that hot summer day while we were sending bales off another wagon onto the escalator up to the barn. When I went to pull the wagon that he laid under over to the escalator to unload it, I didn't see him. He squealed and ran away. We didn't see him for days, and I cried and cried. What had I done? Then one day he showed up with a grin on his face and came right up to me. I thought he had died somewhere in a cornfield. But upon his return I realized that not all was well. That dog lived until I graduated from high school, but the injury I had caused him hurt him until the day he departed. His limp and crooked back reminded me that life can change on the turn of a wheel.

We also had a string of house dogs, largely due to my youngest sister's love for little canines. We went through a few of them, with most of them getting out of the house and seemingly ending up under the tires of a car in the street. It made me swear off every having little dogs, although big ones can die just as easily.

In my adult life, I have had a history of dogs almost all throughout my years. There was a short time living in an apartment in southern California when I didn't have a dog, but for most of the rest of the time I did.

My father's dairy farm, while it was a living, always seemed a burden to me. As a kid we never went on a vacation because the cows always had to be milked and there was no one else to do it. I remember my dad had to hurry just to make it to both my sisters weddings because he had to milk the cows the evening they got married. I swore I would never be tied down like that to a job or to a group of animals. So for years I only owned one dog at a time. That way I could either take it with me or I could afford to put it in a kennel for a few days.

Then came along the sport of dog sledding. It was something I had always wanted to do, yet I never had a place to keep four dogs at once, which to me was the minumum you could use. All of a sudden I had a lot of partners competing for my love, time and patience. This new endeavor happened pretty much after my kids had grown up. My children had taught me some patience, but over the years, this team of dogs I now own has finished the job (or as much as they could with my personality). And with that I have gained a new respect and insight into the life of dogs.

Watching them work together and unite to pull the sled, how their instincts tell them what to do and how they could reach distances through almost any conditions, made me think of this breed, the Siberian Husky, as the smartest dogs in the world.That was regardless of what all the literature said about dogs like Poodles and Australian Shepards being some of the smartest.

Then two years ago I was given a Border Collie. From a puppie she intrigued me. Still a working dog like the Huskies, she had an intelligence all her own. She is now my "ride along" dog partner, going with me in the truck or on the ATV. She has a spirit unlike any other animal I have ever seen, and many others who meet her see it too.

So what is this column all about? It's about intelligence and wisdom. Not all the dogs I have had in my life were smart; many were not beautiful; many were not athletic. But all had a wisdom of their own, and I might say, from what I saw from them, they far outclasse many of the humans I have known.

At any age a dog could outlive a person as a partner, but in most cases, unless the person is very old, that doesn't happen. The thing I find the most bittersweet about having a dog as a partner is that no matter how much you love them, they will probably die before you do. In that they teach you not only about life while they are here, but about death and its consequences after they are gone. Before the Border Collie I had never, when bonding with a dog, thought about that they would die someday. Now, with that bond myself and a dog have in place stronger than I have ever felt it, I think about it every day. This is where the lesson should be learned. We are a species of the past and the future, but pay so little attention to the time that is here now. I think about how how much fun we, as partners, have had, and worry about what might come in the future when she leaves me.

I am guessing in her mind, she lives in the moment, enjoying the flight of the frisbee as well as the catching of it and the run to return it to me to do it all over again. To her life is always new, because she doesn't worry about what was and never about what is to come. The moment she takes a breath is all she relates too. So you have to ask yourself?

Which of us is the smarter and more mature species?

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