Man's best friend should be man

Last updated 07:46 28/01/2013

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OPINION: The idea of a dog being man's best friend is an admission of societal failure, writes Sam Mahon.

Garrison Keillor once wrote: "We all wish to be formidable, we all want to cast that long shadow. But usually we are only formidable in the eyes of children and dogs; and children grow up."

Recently this paper ran a handful of stories about dogs in bars and cafes, and, by all accounts, everyone seemed pleased with the idea of dogs being raised to the status of honorary human. Pretty soon we'll be electing them to parliament; although some less kind than me will say it has already been done.

But this is all anthropomorphical foolishness. We like dogs because we mistake obsequiousness for devotion, and a kiss on the lips for love. It's not love that Muggles is hoping for, it's the regurgitation of a recently dead antelope.

Our neighbour's dog from time to time comes frolicking through our property like an animated mop, its tongue lolling from the corner of a Freddy Krueger grin. The quail skitter back into the hawthorns, the hedge sparrow leaves its chicks and the leveret lies lean and quivering in the grass. Everything remains quiet long after he is gone.

When we visit his owner we are required to remove our shoes before entering his home. Quite right. At the same time the dog comes in after a pleasant morning of paddling in the offal pit and, wearing all his paws, drabbles ordure over the carpet on his way to a healthy can full of diced long-finned eel.

The owners of such animals also think it extremely endearing when their dog, which has recently had its nose up the worm- infested backside of the neighbour's schnauzer, slobbers all over the face of your infant, the one you've just had vaccinated against everything except dogs.

Somehow it's all OK because the dog is, after all, their best friend and, damn, if it could only talk . . .

I'd prefer to commune with a rat. Throw a piece of meat to a dog, and whether it be pickled in pinot or crawling with maggots, he'll scoff it down without a second thought. Throw a lump of limburger to a rat and he'll step back, he'll pause. He'll light a cigarette and lean against the skirting board taking time to consider. He'll ask himself, "Now I wonder why he did that?"

With regard to the dangers of anthropomorphism, I remember a televised broadcast of a police stand-off in Queen St several years ago. Some character had lost his mind and was menacing people with a shotgun. A dog was sent in to grab him. The man with the gun saw an approaching ravening beast and did what you'd expect: He shot it.

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The dog looked surprised. This was not the reception he'd expected. Every time he'd tried this manoeuvre at the academy the man in the tracksuit had fallen over and he'd been rewarded with a hamburger.

The confused creature limped back to its owner and into the Disneyfied heart of the nation. I think it was awarded a medal for bravery. All it ever wanted was a bone.

But the thing I remember most clearly about this incident was someone close to the camera saying, "Oh no, he's hurt the dog . . . shoot the bastard!"

To say dogs are complete idiots would garner too much public disapproval, and most unbearable of all, a possible retort from Joe Bennett. So I'm not going to be that forthright. But let me just ask you this: have you ever heard of a thing called Pavlov's cat?

Of course not. You stop feeding a cat, he goes next door and you call it treason. You stop feeding your dog, he lies down and expires, and you call it duty.

Dumb as he eventually proved himself to be, there was one little pooch that I did get to like, at least a little. I had to. It belonged to my girlfriend. One day she came to visit with the corgi off its lead. I was flatting at the time with five gymnasts and a huge german shepherd called Heinz. He was dozing in the yard when he spotted the corgi.

At the same instant that he exploded from the dust, all hackles and teeth, I launched myself into the air. I had given him a duck shooter's lead and a moment later I was lying on the ground with Heinz in a headlock, my thighs wrapped around his waist and the corgi circling us like a particle in a Hadron collider, taking nips out of the german shepherdat every turn. It would have been all up with the corgi if I'd let go.

Heinz never got over it. He became sulky and took to howling at the distant wail of fire-engines. The corgi died chasing a train. I guess he was hoping I'd come drifting out of the fennel and put the caboose in a headlock. Dumb little guy.

An average of 10 people in this country are injured unintentionally by firearms every year, usually because someone didn't know that "it was loaded". Last year nearly 12,000 people were attacked by dogs - 1700 were children, most of whom were blamed for their injuries because they "invaded the dog's space".

When I walk with my young daughter on beaches and parks we are invariably accosted by an unrestrained dog. And every time I am forced to ask the question, "Is this one loaded?"

So now it seems there is every prospect that if I take her to a cafe and ask for a fluffy, I am going to be handed a samoyed and be expected to take my chances.

Surely the idea of a dog being man's best friend is an admission of societal failure. I would have thought man's best friend should be man.

Sam Mahon is an artist, sculptor and writer.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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