Canine Consciousness Redux

If you want to understand how parlous the political culture has become in America, just look at the stories that dogged us last week regarding the two candidates for the most powerful office in the world.

First there’s the ongoing saga of the Mitt Romney cross-country vacation decades ago. The story goes that with the car packed with his brood of boys, he rigged a cage for the family dog atop the car. The dog objected, fouling the cage and later running away. Given ongoing dogmania in America, the Obamites have gotten a lot of mileage out of that faux paw.

Fed up with such cruel gruel, the Romlicans dug up a story decades older from Obama’s memoir, “Dreams of My Father,” in which Barack described being unwittingly fed dog meat as a boy in Indonesia. The Twitterverse blazed with pun-filled Fido fusillades. How can I resist?

Some say the dog madness was just a weeklong flash in the pan, a function of the 24/7 news cycle. But it runs a lot longer and shallower than that.

With a few revisions (the last two paragraphs were added today), and having nothing else for this deadline, here’ a column I wrote five years ago. Much to my consternation, it seems positively prescient. I don’t see a light at the end of the leash.

Though the weather was dicey this morning—windy, chilly, and threatening another storm—there was a break in the early afternoon. So, before a new series of storms roll in off the Pacific, I made the most of the lull and drove to Upper Park.

The gate at the entrance to the canyon has been closed since the last rain, and it takes me the better part of an hour, hiking upstream on the trail alongside the raging creek, before I come to the gorge. Along the way I pass three dog people. That turns out to be the theme of the day, and the decade.

Walking after a sitting meditation, I spot two pairs of mergansers lounging on a little island in the middle of the swollen, wavelet-filled stream. I drop down off the trail and approach slowly. The notoriously shy ducks allow me to come up to the edge of the water without fleeing.

They are large ducks, the two males sporting dapper, sharply defined black and white patterns on their backs and sides, while the two brown-bodied females have magnificent fan-feathers on the tops of their heads.

One of the males cavorts in the water in front of the sandy spit, while one of the females, perhaps his partner, cleans and preens. Another male and female sleep, their heads tucked around into their bodies.

I back away carefully, and immediately cross paths with a black dog and its owner on the trail. The dog jumps up on me, and does not see the ducks. But the ducks spot him, and are instantly in the water, floating downstream on the rapid current.

After the two-minute meditation with the mergansers, and the encounter with the dog and its servant, I encounter another man, this one with two large dogs, one of them a huge poodle. The other, a black Labrador, breaks away from its owner at my approach and runs headlong toward me.

The dog is dripping wet from having just been in the stream, and the owner is not having any success in calling him back. The animal shows every sign of intending to jump up on me. Greeting the dog verbally as he takes his last few bounds, I put my hand out in a motion that both pets and pushes him away.

I pass green slopes that are already bursting forth with new poppies, lupines, and small violet wildflowers, the first of the year. The canyon opens up and the volcanic slabs and pillow rocks of the gorge appear. Some of the orange poppies are still tightly wrapped in their cone-shaped buds, waiting for the next warm and sunny day to open.

Later in the afternoon, as I ride the bike through town, I wait at a stoplight next to a 20-something fellow on a skateboard, who is being pulled by a massive dog. I pull away at normal speed, and then hear the overgrown boy behind me spurring on the animal like he was a sled dog in the Iditarod.

I’m tempted to speed up, but think, this is too stupid for words. As they speed by, the guy turns and says, “Passed you.” I say nothing, but just smile. Turning around, the fellow tries to rationalize, “He likes to pass bikes.” To which I reply, “Are you sure it’s him?”

It’s getting harder and harder to tell who has the higher consciousness—dog owners, or their dogs. Call it canine consciousness. (There’s a reason that the following are the synonyms for ‘dog’: afflict, plague, trouble, beleaguer, bother, harass, vex.)

“Don’t you like dogs?” Lest I commit the unpardonable social sin of the first decades of the 21st century in America, yes, I like dogs, and they like me. It’s many of their owners with whom I have a problem.

Sadly, I understand that “man’s best friend” has, too often, become man’s (and woman’s) only friend. But things have gone too far when you open your home page to see, as I did this morning, the lead story (with picture): “Yoga for dogs—doga.” Someone ought to do a sociological study of these four-legged symbols of alienation.

Buddhism notwithstanding, I don’t think dogs ever advance to human consciousness. But human consciousness can, in a single lifetime, devolve to canine consciousness.

Today in the best café in town I overheard a young fellow enthusiastically shilling for a restaurant to some out of town businessman: “We’ve made it not just a place where people go to eat, but are excited to go. For example, dogs are allowed on the patio—a real cool thing.”

Dogmania is spreading around the world. They’re even becoming barking mad in China. Truly, the last days are upon us.

Martin LeFevre