I know I\’m not the only one suffering from this, but sometimes it feels that way. Are there really other people out there who, watching their canine companion snoring peacefully on the rug, wonder whether the dog is sleeping because, a) she is tired or, b) she is in despair at the hopeless monotony of her days?
There is no end to the emotional and mental states that I attribute to my dogs: frustrated ambition, a sense of unrealized potential, loneliness, boredom, and existential despair. Don\’t think I haven\’t noticed that some of these preoccupations also occupy my mind. But it\’s hard to keep from projecting when my dogs are at my feet (Wolfie) or under my elbow (Bisou) practically 24/7.
I feel that I am perpetually disappointing them. Every time I close my laptop or put on a sweater they catapult to the back door in the mad hope that something magical is about to happen–but alas, it\’s just me going to fire up the wood stove or spritz the plants. It\’s that all-forgiving but never-ending hope in their eyes that does me in.
I\’m lucky to be a member of an unofficial dog-guilt support group. I have dog-loving friends whose dogs by any standard lead enviable lives. They have good food and soft beds. They have received the benefits of training. They enjoy the company of their own species and are hardly ever out of sight of their owners. And yet when we humans get together, one of our perennial topics of conversation is the guilt that dogs us. We each assure the other that her dogs couldn\’t possibly be depressed or sad or bored in any way. This makes us feel better for as long as it takes to finish a glass of wine. But the moment we get home and are greeted by our patient dogs (\”Not that I hold it against you, but why were you gone so long?\”), the guilt returns.
Many years ago, I felt guilty about my first dog, who lived in the back yard–now that was something to feel guilty about. But all our subsequent dogs have lived in the house, slept in our bedroom, been trained and groomed and walked and cooked for. And the guilt has, if anything, only gotten worse.
Lately the guilt has expanded to include my fish, my little Betta splendens that I got for aesthetic reasons but who, it turns out, has emotional needs like everybody else in this house. Every time I go by–he lives in a large flower vase on the kitchen counter–he rushes towards me, waving his tiny fins. If it weren\’t for the glass between us, he\’d jump onto my shoulder. He doesn\’t want food. He wants to be petted.
So I do. Every morning, after I let the dogs out, I stand at the counter and stick my index finger in the water and pet the fish. I try to remember to pet him once or twice while I\’m fixing dinner, and again before retiring. I don\’t want him to feel ignored–my interactions with him are probably the highlight of his day.
For some reason, though, I am delightfully free from chicken-related guilt. I take good care of my hens, but although they come running whenever they see me, they don\’t have that ever-hopeful-yet-forgiving look in their eyes that the dogs have. Besides, there are nine of them. They are their own little tribe. They depend on me for food and shelter, but not, thank heavens, for mental stimulation or emotional sustenance. I find them blessedly restful to be around.