Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A dog is not a computer


Cash is an 8 month old, red, purebred Doberman. He was left behind in an empty apartment by his owners when they moved out. Now he is at Toronto Animal Services.

His bark is loud, anxious, when I approach his kennel. He is excited when I stop in front of his kennel. He does a bum wiggle and his stubby tail waves like a fast metronome. I open the kennel door, put the leash on him, take him out.

He is skinny. You can see his ribs. He's got a slight cut on his nose. He's got an eye infection. Otherwise, he seems pretty healthy. He's full of energy, very bouncy. Every few steps we take, he turns around and looks at me, tries to jump on me in excitement and play bites his leash, my hand. He's acting like a puppy but he's in an almost fully grown adult doberman body and this behaviour is not good. I put a stop to it by controlling his leash away from myself. This tends to focus his attention back on the task at hand which is to go out for a walk.

Outside, he immediately relieves himself. So, he appears to be housebroken. He is focused on the environment around him, barely pays any attention to me and then when he does, he tries to jump on me. Again, control with the leash.

We pass another dog. He tries to pull closer to the other dog. I don't let him get any closer. I watch his hackles rise but he does not bark or make any further attempts to close the gap.

We continue our walk. I stop every 5 minutes to call him over to me. The first couple of times I do this, he does his usual jumping routine which I immediately stop. By the fourth or fifth time, he's no longer jumping on me. I give him a good pat and scratch his back and ears. Praise him.

At the end of the walk, I take him to a bench. As soon as I sit down, he climbs up and drapes his body over my lap. I rest my arms on him and we sit like that for several minutes and we watch the cars and pedestrians go by.

Like so many people, my days are spent in front of a computer. I'm not complaining. It's a good job but it is not life. There is no living thing behind that monitor and after eight hours of communicating with something lifeless, it does something to me. I have sunk closer to its level. I am less alive.

The dogs, they reverse all that. They can be out of control, loud or stand-offish but then, so unlike a computer, their personalities change. I give them this simple thing, a walk, a small taste of freedom and companionship, and suddenly, there is bonding, attachment, comfort. They remind me that the earth is a warm blooded place.

I am a little bit concerned about Cash. His rambunctiousness combined with his size may turn off a lot of people who would prefer to have a preprogrammed dog. Actually, I know this will be the case. People have started to expect from life what they expect from their technology. They expect life to be an extention of what is on-screen or on-line and not the other way around. Life is being gradually reduced to something which can be expressed by zeroes and ones. Black or white. With us or against us.

Is Cash a good dog or a bad dog, they will wonder. No, no, there's no time for training, they will say. And there's no room for imperfections so just tell us, is he a working item or is he broken?

This confusion between life and those things which emulate life grows but life is not zeroes and ones. It is infinite and it is unordered. I hope someone who understands this comes in for Cash soon, before his puppy dog antics become adult dog problems.

1 comment:

Catherine said...

Fred, this is a great post. It would be wonderful to see it reach a wider audience. The dog/computer metaphor truly touches the heart and would make a lot of people think.