My dog is now very old and stiff from arthritis. Some days he can be quite spritely in an
elderly way. Then he twists his leg and is acute pain. Realise I’m waiting for a sign that this is
the start of the inevitable downward slide into his demise. Or maybe a little slide and
recovery for now. I know that a pet can be a beloved friend, so their decline can be parallel to
losing a human partner. The downward slide, small respites on a daily level, so
unpredictable. Listened to Laurie Taylor’s programme on radio 4 – ‘My Family and Other Animals-
Animals as Kin’. A researcher interviewed pet owners about how they see their pets, in terms
of being part of the family. It seems that older people tend to think of animals as working,
kept outdoors, sometimes eaten. Younger people think of animals as kept indoors, and
regarded with feelings. They felt that dogs and cats show choice and have freewill, whereas
hamsters, say, don’t because they are in cages. People described the place the dog had in their
family system. One husband said of his wife, ‘the dog is the love of her life, not
me’. Or in a divorce, who gets care of the children and the dog. This set me thinking about pets in relation to us and our human networks. Do we turn them into people, project onto them our moods and feelings ? Do some of us make use of their trust and innocence by acting out onto them our possessiveness, or cruelty or suffocating love ? In drama and in fiction, what part can animals play ? In ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’, Gabriel Oake shoots his rogue sheep dog because it chases his sheep over a cliff and loses him his livelihood. More in sorrow than in anger, or is it rural pragmatism ? The
historical Danish drama, currently broadcasting, features a scene where the young Danish army recruits are trying out a new powerful shell from their big gun. The missile randomly hits a nearby pig farm, and the camera closes in on dying and incinerated pigs squealing in pain. I guess, dramatically it is meant to pre-figure the impending carnage of the trench warfare during the first World War.
I found it very hard to watch because the pigs are powerless, innocent victims of this casual attack. Hey ho, serious stuff.
In the here and now, I know many people with pets love and are loved. A doting companion
who doesn’t speak – what could be better ?
To end, here is my friend Maximilian the Dog. One of his hobbies is shredding paper, as you can see.