Once in a while I get a client that pre-phrases her or his need for help with a: ….”I have owned dogs all my life….” kind of statement. And to this kind of statement I feel like responding in oh so many ways. I wonder first why then are they calling me for help? Do they just want to be told that the pet they currently “own” is SUPER cute, intelligent, etc? Do they need validation for knowledge acquired?
Many times I wish to answer: Well, I have owned shoes all my freakin’ life, but that does not mean that I have a clue as to how to make shoes or what stitch should go here or there to keep the integrity of the shoe. I don’t know how to design shoes so that they are super cool looking and yet give enough arch support!
But I don’t respond this way. Beyond my frustration with this comment I realize and I get what my potential client is thinking or trying to convey. Not their fault because in reality dogs under the law ARE possessions and as such it is so easy to equate “owning” with “knowledge” or worse, to do with this possession as one sees fit.
Legal stand aside, we must ask: What are the moral implications of dog ownership? Frankly, I can think of way too many negative implications for the dog because they are possessions and not one advantage. Or, does ownership imply a sense of care and responsibility to that which we posses? I think in many instances it does.
In such cases this is the good news – kind of scenario. However, often pet ownership can blind us to really learning about dogs. Their history, biology, individual traits and inborn needs and wants. It is not only their status as “objects of ownership” that puts them in a disadvantage, but the fact that they are ubiquitous. We have gone on automatic when it comes to having dogs in our lives.
I have also received the occasional call by someone who wants to help a dog that they perceived is in some danger or is not having his/her needs met but the problem is that they do not “own” this dog. I explain to them that my hands (and theirs) are tied – there is nothing we can do because we have no dibs on the dog and his welfare. Yes, sure they can try and have the keeper of the dog come to some realization about what is best for the dog but sadly this seldom works.
In light of the still archaic notion of ownership of anything alive and by default a sentient being, I take it upon myself to often question my interactions with my dogs and the dogs that I come in contact with as part of my work. I strive to look at the dog as an individual- to respect how he learns and what he is capable of. To advocate for his or her well-being. It is also true, that based on what I can bring to the “table” in terms of canine knowledge and know-how, I do get to help in changing dogs’ lives for the better as well as people’s knowledge of dog behavior. All this is very satisfying!
I think of myself more of a “dreamer” than a “cynic” and as such I do believe that my understanding and caring for one of my more precious relationships – the one with dogs – requires that I inspire in others the accountability for their best friend. More to the point, we all can and should pronounce injustice or ignorance. Not by pointing fingers as this is ineffective, but by example. Our example can serve others as a reminder that how we handle the “possession of our dogs” can affirm our humanity or crumble it.