February 25, 2020

Enjoying the rail-trail.

So we grew together,

Like a double cherry, seeming parted,

But yet an union in partition,

Two lovely berries moulded on one stem…

-A Midsummer Night’s Dream 3.2.208-11


It’s a fine winter day on the rail-trail. The temperature is in the low thirties, the sky is a cloudless blue, the sun is bright, the wind is light and the path is clear of snow, ice and slush. Waldo is doing his Waldo thing, trotting along with nose less than an inch above the ground, in search of something interesting. He goes off-trail toward a rail fence. Something over there got his attention and he’s crawling under the lowest board to get to it. His body is stiff with curiosity, his legs pushing him on his belly toward some treasure.

I can see his excitement in his posture. I don’t smell what he does (thank God) and I pretend I don’t see him stick out his tongue and lick the target of his attentions (ugh!). But I not only see how he feels about the experience, I, somehow, feel it too. It’s a shared experience – I’m right there with him. It’s curious and it’s magic.

We must be a lot alike for that to happen. After all, 84% of dog and human DNA is the same. To put this in perspective, chimpanzees and humans share 99% of the same DNA, birds and humans (whose evolutionary paths parted hundreds of millions of years ago) share 65% and humans and bananas share about 50%. So, dogs and humans are biologically close, but, more than that, we are spiritually close.

No rational person who has loved a dog can doubt that dogs have consciousness. They are aware, they understand language, they interact with us. You say, “Sit,” the dog sits. You throw a ball, the dog brings the ball back to you. The dog whines, you take him outside. The dog paws his bowl, you give him food and water. These require a common understanding of what it means to sit, what a ball is for, that one has to pee and poop and that there are biological needs for nutrition and hydration. And it also requires that each of you understands that the other understands what is meant. But this only scratches the surface.

I know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that when I see Waldo dancing down the rail-trail, stick in mouth, tail wagging, eyes besparkled, that he is feeling something that, if I felt it, I would call happy. When he is startled by something unfamiliar to him, causing him to have his tail tucked, ears back and a crouched posture, I know he feels something I would label fear. When I am upset with him, he looks at me with those damn doe-eyes that melt my heart and I know he knows I’m upset and, although he probably wouldn’t label it “mad,” I know he knows what I’m feeling. When I call him to me and give him pats, rubs and head-hugs, he responds with licks, love nibbles and body rubs and I know he knows what I’m feeling. But we not only understand what the other feels, we feel it. We have a rapport, an empathy, an emotional, no, a spiritual, give-and-take. I can’t imagine how this could be possible if we didn’t share a great deal of the same experience of what it means to be alive – more than what we don’t share. Of course, this isn’t unique to dogs. You can bond with chimpanzees and birds as well. Bananas, well, not so much. But they taste good.

It’s magical how much Waldo and I can share nonverbally. I can feel what Waldo feels and I know he can feel what I feel. The accuracy of what we feel about the other may be questionable, but it is consistent with our reactions to our feelings and our interactions because of them. How do you know when you are communicating with another person? How do you know they can accurately parse your words into meaning and understand what you’re trying to say? You know when they consistently respond in an appropriate fashion. How do I know Waldo and I feel what the other is experiencing on a deep and precognitive level? Because we can have an interaction based on that, one that is consistent and predictable. Our bonding has put us in a place where we interact by intuitively “speaking” to each other on a level that is subliminal and profound.

Yep, Waldo and I, we grok each other.

Chillin after our walk.

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