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Friday, June 11, 2010

RETHINKING THE BABY SUBSTITUTE


















Today’s post focuses on dog fanciers and their object of interest. Or, from the FBI and the dog’s point of view, person of interest.

Often, dogs and cats are thought of as baby substitutes. Those of us suffering from one or more of the diagnosed disorders related to dog obsession would be more comfortable with children classed as puppy substitutes, but it’s best not to go there. Not if the writer wants to avoid harsh email from parents and grandparents.

What might serve everyone better is to dump the substitute idea and replace it with marriage. Or, in the case of those actually hitched, with extra-marital relations. If you own a dog or cat, you can ponder this idea in terms to your own experience. If not, please consider the writer a fairly reliable source.

Honest people know that the concept of 50/50 marriage is nonsense. It’s the sort of thing dreamed up by counselors, encouraging couples to believe that a few dozen more sessions will ultimately lead to a finely tuned, symmetrical equality. We know better. However, for those without human mates, dogs can serve very well in this regard. If you are a passive person, a carefully chosen dog will provide the sort of leadership and authority your style of neurosis calls for; if you are a take-charge type, the dog—properly trained—will serve in the role of docile, appreciative spouse, the kind traditionalists grow wistful thinking about. And none of this 50/50 business, either.

If you are already married, the Platonic ideal of equality has long ago been dismissed as so much hokum. The various grievances large and small that so often lead to waywardness, and ultimately to bitter sessions in a law office are known to you. If they aren’t, and if you are not among the handful of couples blessed by the gods, then you probably live a life of quiet desperation, keeping the lid on to avoid alimony and child support. Even so, you almost certainly hold out hope for some magic elixir, some incantation that will make the road smoother.

You hope, in fact, for a dog mistress/lover.

And here’s another plus: with dogs, there’s no need to sort out all the knotty “gender issues” that so often come into play these days regarding marriage. The life companion can be your sex or not, and there’s never any need to anguish over lifestyle options. Whether you are a hard-charging leader or fawning helpmeet, a dog can work either way.

So, employing the marriage/extra-marital concept, what can we say about the two couples pictured above? What’s your response to them? I am a dog person, and would be interested in what other dog nuts think. But people like us are pretty predictable in the unconditional nature of our love, so I am actually more interested in what less crazy persons have to offer.

To get the ball rolling, though, in my view the couple on the right appear pretty much to have agreed on an open marriage of equals. They are together but free to pursue separate interests outside their marriage. The young man is texting, or picking lint out of his navel, maybe even meditating. Possibly, something has made him remember his 401k, or the size of the monthly interest nut he carries on his credit card. Understandably, this has made him oblivious to all else, including his companion.

The dog? As with his spouse we can’t be sure, but it’s evident he is nicely composed, even though interested in something off to his right. Almost certainly it’s another dog, since this picture was taken at a Bark in the Park sponsored by the Humane Society of Naples, Florida. I like the casual naturalness of the dog’s shoulders better than I do the more defeated quality of the man’s. It suggests a tolerant, patient kind of companion, the sort that gives you your space, isn’t too needy, isn’t always dropping balls or food bowls at your feet, demanding to be let in the bathroom while you’re taking a shower, etc.

In the photo on the left, a woman is interacting with her companion in a very different way. Again the concept of marriage, a contract between two people who choose to be connected in legal and other ways should be applied. It isn’t true, of course: the dog is not allowed to agree to or cancel the deal, so think instead of the arranged marriages that are customary in much of the non-Western world.

The dog, a Yorkshire terrier, is not a male, so this too is a same-sex union, a common-law marriage involving a license, but fewer of the cumbersome legal issues that figure in human-to-human marriages.

However, this second duo cannot be called a union of equals. The dog is asserting her right to be “in your face” with her mistress (“mistress” in this instance being an obvious misnomer). Even so, the master/slave connection, usually thought of in terms of abusive men and denounced by feminists, is here being played out femo a femo. In her human marriage, the woman is in fact a strong, assertive person. With her dog lover, though, we see her happy to drop the burdens of command, free now to give herself over to the pleasures of being ruled.
I have more to say, but a person of interest has just entered my study. Seating herself before my desk, she begins working the magic of her one good eye. It’s noon, the eye says. Someone has to wear the watch in this family. Patiently she remains seated, displaying the quiet confidence of one who knows who will win, the one who always does, knowing it’s just a matter of seconds before this particular staff member gets up and follows her out the door.

3 comments:

  1. At precisely 5:28 pm our lab will find my wife and plant himself in front of her and stare at her squarely in the eyes. Two minutes will elapse, and at precisely 5:30 pm the dog will howl, as if howling at the moon....but with his eyes still locked on my wife. 5:30 is dinnertime and he reads clocks. There is no other explanation. Our routine can be different -- so he is not relying on us doing the same things at dinner time. He reads clocks.

    My wife obeys and fixes his dinner. We say it is because it is so remarkable that he is so precise and therefore he deserves his dinner.

    Hutch, the lab, is a controlling mate and we rush to obey.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jerry--
    See? Our one-eyed border collie Chelsea was right: someone's got to wear the watch in the family. Thanks for a comment every bit as good if not better than the post itself.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Husbands sometimes last longer. My longest-lived dog lasted sixteen years, but the DH has been good for 34 years already. And I never had to potty train him, either. I put it all down to my marriage counseling skills.

    ReplyDelete

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