Canine and Human Intelligence

Jun 10, 2006 at 12:18 PM
OK. I own a black labrador, but I am very glad he cannot read. Cause I'm about to talk up another breed.

I met the most amazing dog, and he was a malamute. (I am decidedly closer to the top of that mythical, theoretical "bell curve" than most but this dog was arguably smarter than me.) His original owner was dead, and when she died suddenly, her daughter came to get him. She sat him down to explain, and he understood - he mourned her. How could anyone claim dogs have no souls? The spiritual component that is so blatantly obvious in life is undeniable. How any of you can be materialistic is beyond me. And this dog was another tiny fragment of proof toward that end.

I want a malamute for my next dog. But I'm not entirely sure I'm a good enough dog owner to have an animal that smart for a pet. It would require more commitment than my last marriage did. A dog lives at least ten years. The average marriage now lasts somewhere between seven and eight years.

About my marriage (skip this)

My marriage to Stevie (I'm the only person who calls him that) lasted seven and a half years (three and a half years of eye-rolling sighing and otherwise emoting, three years of living apart). It was utterly predictable in it's downfall. It was like watching a glass of wine fall from across the room, even though I was holding it. It was obvious the marriage would fail because of how it began.

One look at my wedding pictures and you see tight smiles on tired faces, and something in the eyes of everyone there that said "this marriage worries me".

In the end, worry was exactly what it was -- worry in a marriage wrapper. A pumpkin is a pumpkin no matter how often you call it a carriage (or marriage). There were too many times when the matter was unresolvable because I was stubborn or he was thickheaded. Being married to him made me feel like a brick wall: dense, unforgiving.

Anyone with half a brain of sense would never have done it, but I was impulsive and very independent at the time. I had already shown that I was gonna do whatever I wanted no matter what my parents said. I had moved into my own apartment, joined our religious order for a little while, traveled the country for another little while, gotten engaged but not married a handful of times -- and all between the ages of 14 and 18. And none of them at the same time.

I was like a ship with the latest computers and no guidance system. I hopped into every whim of mine with both feet. My quick mind found a way to wrap itself around whatever whim I was presently feeling. If something caught my eye - a twinkle in the sea - I went off that a-way. Then this a-way. No one owned me.

Anyway, when I announced I was pregnant (and, by the way, getting married) my parents were probably just hoping I would stick to something - anything. And I did. I stuck to motherhood. Steve tried, but - God bless him - he just doesn't have whatever it is I need. Steve couldn't make himself into a different person, and I simply married the wrong person. Simple as that.

There is way more about this. I was firmly resolved about only one thing. I was not going to kill the life inside of me. I am WAY anti-abortion. But that's my personal decision on it. I had pressure to marry from my mother who had stopped thinking of me and was focused on the life in my womb. There was the pressure of my ex-fiancee who simply thought we were on a break. Pressure from Steve who was in love with me but was positively (as I was destined to hear endlessly over the next few years) absolutely sure I didn't love him. Stevie'd been chasing me for four years already and probably hadn't figured on what he'd do if he caught me. Pressure from the Headmistress of the school I worked at who had told me I had to quit teaching or get married. The parents didn't want to have to explain that babies can happen even without a husband. I actually agreed with that one at the time, despite the rock-and-hard-place it put me.

My rock had always been my older sister, and she was in Switzerland at the time. I had nowhere to go. I thought.

For someone intelligent, I sure wasn't smart.

I went ahead and said "I do" - even though it was impossible to miss that this was not a marriage that could work. I did it because I was stubborn - I am still stubborn. It's the curse of intelligence that you know you're right. Too much faith in the steady, reassuring click of your own gears. I knew it was obvious from the state I was in that I had already chosen this man. I was NOT going to be wrong. I was not going to admit I had made a mistake, even to myself.

Of course I lied to myself, we all do when we marry the wrong man. The jitters are from nervousness, not gut instinct, right? Bull.

So, that's why the tight smiles and worried faces in the photo. Don't get me wrong. Steve's great - in the eyes of most people. I am probably the only person who should have been able to settle for that.

What each of us all take for granted - that guidance system, that sense of knowing what you're gonna do with yourself called common sense - I was missing that. And not for lack of anyone trying. And not for lack of learning about life. I just had to cognite on it, had to realize I had never taken on the Code of Honor, shrugged my shoulders into it, made it fit my life, made it my own. It had always been a hypothetical, a sort of "interesting idea". Lots of falling on my face later, I found out why it was written.

I would like to think that I would do better now. But I'm not filled with chagrin. The pieces of that tripping, stumbling adventure that made my life hard also molded who I am right now. And I like who I am now.


Back to the dog again...

So, if I'm gonna get a new dog, I'm gonna think it through, so I don't end up wanting to pass it off to someone else. That's just such a cop-out. Don't get one unless you're sure it's the right dog.

But doesn't that make me a bit pretentious? Wanting to surround myself with only intelligent humans, and then hesitating about whether to get a truly intelligent pet? Am I perhaps the domesticated animal version of a plantation owner? Trying to find a way to keep my own personal house in order, rather than do the right thing?

Or perhaps - and I prefer the way this one makes me feel about myself - I simply know that I give my dog a great deal of control over his own life and I need to really carefully consider the consequences of having a truly intelligent animal around - it's like having another family member.

Tucker is sweet and loving and smart enough to know the difference between friend and foe. Smart enough to recognize the commands that I have chosen as important (my step-mother scoffs at this because I never taught him to stay or jump or balance a treat on his nose like their dog can - but I never cared about that).

Tucker can follow the course of my conversations to a greater or lesser degree. But he's still definitely in the class of "dog". I would have placed this malamute into the wolf category if I didn't know better. He understood and complied like a three year old child to very complex communications. I was awed.

I don't know... I just think you must consider your dogs very carefully. It's still hard for me to imagine that my puppy, my little wagging tail, is getting old enough for it to be time to start thinking about the next one. He's only as old as my children are - and they're still young.