"Many people believe they know what goes on in the head of an animal, but I believe I almost never do. I close my eyes, clear my head, and listen, and I hear sounds and feel emotions that are strange to me, and not describable. I love the mystical connection of animals and people. If I listen, only if I listen, and clear my head of the arrogant human idea that I know." Jon Katz
Katz usually has intelligent insights into the human-animal bond, and he captured my feelings exactly in this passage from his blog. George and I have always anthropomorphized our pets by carrying on ventriloquist conversations with them. One of us will pretend to speak for the dog, while the other talks to the dog. But we've always recognized the process of anthropomorphizing is just a guess, a projection of our imagination on a creature whose own thoughts remain largely alien and inaccessible to us.
Dogs eat poop. How in the world do you explain that?
For us, I think that alien-ness makes dogs more appealing. Well, not the poop-eating, of course. But they clearly need us and respond to us and enjoy being with us, without being able to understand us. How could Daisy understand television? She largely ignores it, perhaps because there is no smell, and we do know dogs relate to their world much more through smell than sight. But what does that mean, to have so many smell receptors that we would be able to distinguish a fish sandwich being eaten five miles away?
And if their smell receptors are so sensitive, how can they eat poop?
We see their reactions and attribute human feelings and thoughts to them, but George and I suspect that most of the time, they are thinking, "What?" Their brains are capable of fear, pleasure, and anger...primitive emotions regulated by primitive parts of their brains that largely resemble the primitive parts of our brains. Beyond that, our understanding of their responses becomes guesswork.
Still, we do manage to co-exist rather nicely, despite our big frontal lobes and their tiny ones. Dogs and people have evolved to be together, to need each other and to serve each other's needs. They tolerate us and our foibles and our neediness, without understanding us very well at all.
The least we can do is return the favor.