Sunday, September 01, 2019

Going to the Dogs

That's Toby, my dog, in the forefront, along with my daughter's dog Julio, wishing everyone a pleasant day.

I kind of wish I'd written this column by Frank Bruni. I'm not generally a fan of Times columnists. They seem to know as much about education as I do about calculus (which is nothing whatsoever). But there's some real thought here, and some genuine insight into how dogs enrich our lives. Like Bruni, I've developed a micro-culture around dog-walking, which I do several times a day.

You meet people you'd never meet otherwise, mostly for the better. You learn things about yourself you hadn't imagined, and there are these two cultures that kind of mesh--that of dogs and humans. My dog adores almost all humans. He thinks God placed them on earth, and particularly in his vicinity, so they could pet him and give him attention. For the most part, he's right. People look at him and he looks right back. He walks right over to them and they make an instant connection.

This brings me to make connections with the same people. Without him, I wouldn't venture out the door nearly as much. I'd be home reading a book, or watching TV, or something like that. But he actually drags me into a lot more social interaction than I'd bother with myself. Those of us with dogs have an obvious common interest that supersedes social, cultural, economic and political boundaries. I see something inherently good in people who love dogs. I might mistrust people who don't.

Of course, that doesn't mean we're perfect. My dog was almost attacked by a loose pit bull owned by the idiots across the street from us. I managed to scare him away, but I think it's left my dog with a fear of big dogs. He barks aggressively at them sometimes. I say, "Are you out of your mind? Look how big that dog is," but he pays me no mind. I usually cross the street to avoid big dogs he isn't already friendly with. This morning when I did that, the guy walking the big dog followed me. I crossed again and he followed me again. I then got into a conversation with a passing dog owner I knew about why this guy was so stupid, and she said it's because the dog is making the decisions for the guy.

That's better than sitting home watching Netflix, or having impersonal interchanges on social media. I'm guilty of both, and quite frequently. Nonetheless, having a dog and spending a daily hour or two walking him makes me have real interchanges with real people (not to mention real dogs). I've never appreciated my home as much as I do now. We have a canal and a waterfront park that Toby and I explore day after day. From my living room, where I sit writing this, I may as well be anywhere.

I worry about our children, who've moved away from human interaction. While my daughter, like me, has a dog, she's also capable of sitting in a room with family or friends and texting rather than talking. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but it's hard for me to understand how a group of teenagers can sit in a room texting one another when they could just as easily talk face to face. Maybe they're saying things they don't want me to hear, but I have the distinct impression they'd do this whether or not I was nearby.

Our job, at least so far, entails and encourages human interaction. Celebrated billionaire/ troglodyte Bill Gates thinks we can simply place good lessons on DVD, but the fact is good lessons go two ways, and in worthwhile classes, students have to actually do something. How shallow and ignorant do you have to be to think our knowledge of geometry and triangles is the only reason we attend school, or that the test determines anything more than what we may or may not know about geometry?

Tests are a simple reflection of subject matter. They don't determine how we interact with others, They reflect a limited skill set, but they don't tell whether we're altogether honest, disciplined, self-motivated, reasonable, creative or any number of qualities that might lead to our successes or failures.

Our canine friends are living, breathing creatures that demand our real attention and won't settle for the social media nonsense in which we so frequently find ourselves. They're an additional dimension in our lives. In ways, they set examples for us. In others, they support us.

That's my handsome buddy Toby on the right, by my side at this very moment with his weird pink toy. He's the only person on earth who will stick by me while I do something as tedious as writing, and I for one am grateful.

I think dogs help us keep it real. What do you think? Am I neglecting cats? I don't know because I've never had one. Do animals make us better humans?
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