PETS OF ONE KIND or another, even if one does not own one, are a part of our lives. Enough of the people one knows own pets to make it more likely than not, if one visits them, that one will have to come to terms with some kind of animal. We are in fact the only species that has bred other species to keep them in this way. Human life, as all our literature can show us, includes pets.
Not only our literature, but our very language. Few phrases are more numerous than those using "cat" and "dog." From "A cat may look at a king" to "the cat's whiskers," from "a dog in the manger" to simply "dog- tired" or "in the doghouse," our daily language is infested with both these animals. This is not surprising: We invented pets, obviously to some end.
Poets write poems to their pets. Matthew Arnold had two dachshunds, Geist and Kaiser. When they died, he wrote in memory of each: "Geist's Gravae" and "Kaiser Dead." Byron's favorite dog, Boatswain, is buried in Newstead Abbey; he wrote its epitaph. Pope's dog was called Bounce, Lamb's dog was called Dash, Scott's dog was called Hamlet and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog, of course, was called Flush, and Virginia Woolf wrote a novel immortalizing him.
Prince Rupert's dog was called Boy and, gallant as his master, was killed at the battle of Marston Moor; Roosevelt's dog was called Fala, Churchill's dog was called Rufus, and both traveled with their masters in a world war. Tito's dogs were called, in succession, Winston I, Winston II, Winston III, in honor of Churchill and, when I visited him at his home, he pointed to the gravestones of the two dead ones outside his window, "where I can see them."
Gray wrote a famous poem, "On the Death of a Favorite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes," thus celebrating two kinds of pets at one stroke. T.S. Eliot wrote a volume of poems about cats, which has been turned into a musical which has been a smash hit in London and is about to come to Broadway. If one takes life seriously at all, there is no way of getting away from pets.
Since we invented pets, domesticated them to our purposes, they answer some need, beyond any actual usefulness. A child who is denied a pet is not likely to grow up to be very pleasant. An adult who dislikes all pets -- not least other people's -- is probably a misanthrope as well. One's attitude to other people's pets must be like one's attitude to other people's children: if one cannot stand them, don't blame the pets or the children, blame the parents or owners.
I am not being facetious when I say that being introduced to someone else's dog for the first time is an exercise for which Emily Post or Miss Manners ought to provide clear rules of etiquette. The behavior of all children is a reflection of their parents. Our reflections on our friends' pets and children are thus reflections on our friends.
One may often wish to, but one does not usually go to someone's house and say, "I can't bear your kids." Only a miserable cur -- there is the vocabulary drawn from dogs again -- would say it of a pet. The temptation is often strong -- especially if I am expected to dote on a Chihuahua -- but a decent person must resist it. If Byron can bury his dog in an abbey, a dog is clearly not a trifle to its owner.
These reflections have been partly excited -- the word is appropriate -- by my first encounter with a dog. Boom- Boom, as he is called, is no trifle. He lives up to his name. Weighing in, as they say of boxers, as a heavyweight, with a dazzling white coat for which one would have to pay $6,000 at Bergdorf Goodman, and clearly lunatic, he is a reflection of his owner in more ways than one.
This owner, a notable writer, has lodged the beast, not in the zoo where one would be safe from it, but with a friend, whose own sanity, at least so far, is miraculously surviving. But when a dog so obviously resembles its owner -- beneath Boom-Boom's deep-pile coat, a thin dog must be crying to get out -- one has to be polite about it. One might not hurt Boom-Boom's feeling -- what would? -- but one could easily hurt its owner's.
Actually, it is some credit to his owner that Boom- Boom is plainly a dog and can be treated as such. For here is the crucial -- really the only -- point about all pets, and their owners. Any pet is acceptable if it is regarded and treated as an animal, bird or reptile, and not regarded and treated and even addressed as if it were human. That is the first, last and sufficient axiom.
Konrad Lorenz has a severe passage about two kinds of dogs -- which he distingushes as Lupus dogs and Aureus dogs -- and the severity is addressed to owners of Aureus dogs. In the Aureus dog, infantile affection persists. "Instead of the proud manly loyalty of the Lupus dog which is far removed from obedience, the Aureus dog will grant you that servitude which, day and night, by the hour and by the minute, awaits your command and even your slightest wish."
Those who mistake their pets for humans not only turn their pets into pests, so that their presence is unacceptable, but they in fact degrade the animals on whom they lavish their misplaced and self-indulgent affection. We are rightly concerned, these days, about animals' rights. Pets have a right to be dignified for the real animals they are, and not for how their owners manipulate them into seeming to be humans.
The spoiled pet is like the spoiled child. He may pester people, as Lorenz says, but is actually submissive. He pesters people as his only way to protest against the submissiveness to which a false affection has reduced him. When Lorenz writes of "the permanent infantility of these animals," he is writing as the disciplined observer of both animals and human natures.
In two magnificent sentences he says: "A predominantly Lupus-blooded dog is, in spite of his boundless loyalty and affection, never quite sufficiently submissive. He is ready to die for you, but not to obey you." That is why Boom-Boom must be -- and is, thank God -- thrown out of the room sometimes. He is Lupus-blooded -- not "quite sufficiently submissive" -- and so a helluva dog.
Writing of the Aureus dogs, Lorenz goes on to say: "The worst part of it lies in the literally 'dog-like' submission that these animals . . . show towards anyone who treats them with the least sign of severity; the playful storm of affection is immediately transformed into a cringing state of humility. Encountering a severe command, after a storm of affection, Boom-Boom does not cringe. He flops with his own dignity kept.
That is why I celebrate him. It is also why, even as I observed him, I remarked to his guardian: "We have a terrible power over dogs." We can bend them, if we so wish, to our self-indulgent whim. We can make them, with a misplaced affection, seem more and so be less, other than they are. Pets are genuinely tests of our humanity: we honor them by treating them as animals.
We have domesticated these animals over the years -- this is why dogs are different from all other pets, for the cat is not ready to be affectionate in the same way -- not only to be useful but to be our companions. It is a very risky business, for one can easily destroy the dog's character. When Lorenz says resoundingly. "He is ready to die for you, but not to obey you," he is speaking of a fine line, which only we can draw, of allowing the dog to remain a dog.
There is so much misplaced, thoughtless, love given a license these days, that a defense of animal rights is, rightly and urgently, concerning our moral philosophers. The whole issue of the snail darter raised profound questions in almost everyone's mind. The true and trained lover of elephants, like Iain Douglas-Hamilton trying to save the elephants on the Serengeti Plains, decides that to save them some must be killed.
It is acutely objectionable, then, to think that, because we are "kind" to our dogs, that kindness bestows the right, the arrogance, to turn them into humans. Every hippie student on a campus, a few years ago, seemed to have a dog. They brought their dogs to lectures. They brought their dogs to dinner, when at least the dogs seemed able to sit at table, while their owners sat stoned under the table. The whole scene was completely offensive.
The dogs of the hippies -- not unlike their women -- were submissive followers of them. It was not only that we had to put up with their dogs, but their dogs were expected to put up with their behavior. But one may see this in the most well-dressed homes: dogs that lope around some member of the family everywhere.
There has to be a time, if one is to dignify the animals, when one says, for want of a better verb, "Scootch, Boom- Boom, scootch!" The two worlds are thus kept separate, even in a home, the human realm and the animals kingdom.