Promoting understanding
and compassion for animals

Jan

10

Book excerpt no 9

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You’ve got to be joking…

Have you ever met someone who felt the hand that fate had dealt them was beneath them? Maybe they were embarrassed by their car or their job, or maybe like Dylan, they felt that they were expected to accept less than perfect accommodation.
Despite the fact that Dylan sleeps inside (my bedroom) and has his very own dog futon he obviously still thinks this is beneath him. One morning around dawn, I awoke and was shocked to see a figure sitting in the single seater armchair that I have at the end of the room. I sat up in fright and as my eyes became accustomed to the dim light I realised that it was Dylan. He must have awoken at the same time and was making a valiant effort to try to remove himself, however the lack of space made this impossible and after much effort he sort of rolled out of it. Despite the cramped conditions (which couldn’t have been comfortable for a dog of his size) he had decided that the chair was much more suitable for a fellow of his standing than a dog bed.

Puppy school dropout…

I am convinced that some animals are born clowns – just as some people are. They get enjoyment out of making people laugh. Dylan is one such character.
As you can probably imagine, training Dylan was not an easy task. I took both dogs to obedience classes when they were puppies. Joshi excelled and was so serious about it. He concentrated, listened and did everything right. Dylan on the other hand, thought it was a great joke.
He tended to get bored after the first five minutes (when the introductions were over) and would spent the rest of the hour glancing around and acting like a fool. The first trick that he perfected was the collapsing dog routine. When given the command for stand he would start to stretch out – his back legs and front legs moving in opposite directions. Slowly but surely he would sink to the ground managing to have a rest without openly disobeying me by sitting. Norma – the trainer started referring to him as the “incredible collapsing dog”.
The next trick was the down stay. This exercise required you to put your dog in the down position, tell them to stay and walk away from them. After a certain distance, you turn around and the dog should be in the same position, waiting for your command to come. There were six people and six German Shepherds in my class. When we got to the designated spot we would all turn around and there would be six Germans Shepherds watching their owners intently – and Dylan rolling around on his back with all four legs in the air. We would all explode in laughter, despite protests from Norma that we shouldn’t laugh at him, and to stop encouraging him.
As you can imagine, Dylan was a puppy school drop-out. At one of the last lessons we attended, Norma made a special effort to assure me that he wasn’t stupid. I wasn’t worried about this, in fact I was actually beginning to worry about how smart he was.

Happiness…

Isn’t it nice to be around people that are happy? Animals are no different – an animal that is happy is a joy to behold, and their happiness is just as infectious as the human variety.
Some years ago I went on a beach camping holiday with Josh and Dylan. Now I myself have never been particularly partial to camping and the idea didn’t thrill me. Personally, I like a comfortable bed and electricity, but someone managed to talk me into the idea and there I was getting accustomed to my igloo tent for five days. I gradually came to enjoy myself but this was nothing compared to Dylan’s reaction, he took to it with gusto. In fact he informed me (telepathically of course) that that is what he wants to do with his life. He wants to be a caravan park attendant. Really, what better life is there for an outgoing dog with a sense of justice? For the whole five days, he kept his nose to the pulse of the park.
He knew everything that was going on. Every now and again I would see him disappear around the corner of the compound, there he would stand watching whatever was going on, wagging his tail, just happy to be observing or overseeing. However, when it came time to load up the car and go home, both Josh and Dylan became depressed. They lay down and had to be lifted into the car. Seeing them so happy made me happy and gave me a whole new appreciation for camping as well as establishments that allow pets.

Josh and Dylan on our camping expedition. People aren't the only ones who don't want to come home.

Josh and Dylan on our camping expedition. People aren't the only ones who don't want to come home.

Love me the way I am…

Do you secretly admire people who aren’t worried about their weight? People whose character is so strong, that you don’t really notice that they’re a little on the heavy side or that they aren’t immaculately groomed.
Dylan is one such individual. He is a little on the podgy side and has battled with his weight all his life. In fact the first time I saw him, he has licking an empty bowl while his four brothers and sisters were off playing in the paddock.
He is also a bit lazy. Dylan doesn’t actually run – sometimes when he is really excited he trots a bit, but running is just far too energetic.
Dylan also isn’t that keen on mornings and likes to lie in bed till about 8.30. Another energy conservation strategy that he employs is to not get out of the car unless it is absolutely necessary. If we stop somewhere and he knows that I am only staying for a few moments then he won’t get out, because in his eyes – he’ll only have to get back in.
Dylan is himself and I love him for that.

Playing the fool…

Dylan loves to make people laugh, and if a situation needs an injection of comedy then he has a few tried and tested tricks up his sleeve.
The first is the game “how many toys/ tennis balls can I stuff in my mouth?” which is hilarious to watch. His limit is actually three – but only for a very short time.
The other trick is walking up and down the room, moaning and groaning like a true hypochondriac. The performance is enhanced considerably if I egg him along, asking “Oh Dylan are you sick?” “Poor Dylan” etc.
And, like all good comedians, once you get Dylan started, it is very difficult to stop him – he will work the joke until the end and then push it some more. But the interesting thing is no matter how many times I view his performances, I never get tired of them. The toys in the mouth routine is just as funny today as it was yesterday and even now after years of exposure, it is impossible to keep a straight face during the “Poor Dylan” routine .

Personality, what personality?

I hope that you are beginning to appreciate the complexity of Dylan’s personality. I laughingly think of him as a cross between Frank Burns from M*A*S*H and Dr Smith from “Lost in Space”.
He can be lazy, greedy, devious, scheming, stubborn and funny but underneath it all beats a heart of gold. You could not wish to meet a kinder, more gentle or loving soul than Dylan and I feel incredibly privileged to have spent the past ten years with him.
Yet if Dylan had been unfortunate enough to be born into the hands of a normal “pet’ owner, his wonderful antics may have gone unnoticed. In fact he probably would not have even had the chance to develop these characteristics. A non-animal lover would never have let him in the house, taken him to puppy school, driven him around in their car and certainly not taken him on holidays.
The non-animal lover would argue that an animal’s behaviour is determined by genetic factors – their species, breed, parents, linage etc while a minority may concede that an animal’s behaviour can be attributed to environmental factors that impact the animal after its birth.
I can’t help but wonder how these people could justify the completely different behavioural traits that two dogs that are littermates and raised in the same environment, possess.
You see Dylan has a full brother – Josh, and for many of the traits that Dylan possesses, Josh exhibits the complete opposite. Joshi is honest, obedient, active and not particularly motivated by food. In fact Josh will not eat anything if he is in a public place. Dylan on the other hand loves nothing better than to feast on bits of hamburger, bread and hot chips that are dropped at the local markets.

You can see the difference in Josh and Dylan's personalities even in this photo. Dylan is grinning/ playing the fool. Josh is serious - his 'have I done something wrong?' face.

You can see the difference in Josh and Dylan's personalities even in this photo. Dylan is grinning/ playing the fool. Josh is serious, his 'have I done something wrong?' face.

I also wonder how these people can explain animals like Dylan – who possess a sense of humour, who like to entertain and make people laugh.
Sadly, I think I know.
If Dylan was a human he would be labelled a comedian and his motivation would be described as the “entertainment of others”. However Dylan is a dog and so his antics are simply dismissed as “attention seeking behaviour”. The thought of his behaviour as being even the slightest bit altruistic in nature, is just too ludicrous to even contemplate.
So if animals are just mere biological entities, then I suppose it is ludicrous to suggest that a person could have a meaningful relationship with one. Surely the relationship is simply a case of dependency?
Personally I don’t think so.
As you have seen, I am convinced that animals can have extremely complex personalities and that animals have much to offer us in terms of friendship and support. In addition I believe that some animals actually enter our lives with the express purpose of helping us to learn valuable life lessons. So in some ways, maybe the relationship does involve dependency however I am beginning to think it is more a case of us who are dependent upon the animals 

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