July 30, 2019

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

-Carl Jung


Have you ever wondered if your dog has one of those parasites in his head? You know, like the ones that infect an animal’s brain and causes its behavior to change. Like the hairworm that infects grasshoppers and produces proteins in the host’s brain that causes the grasshopper to seek out water where it will drown and release the worm so it can continue to pursue its life. Or toxoplasma gondii that infects rats and mice and reduces their fear of cats, allowing them to be eaten so the parasite’s life cycle can continue in the cat. It might explain an awful lot. Dogs do some pretty weird shit.

Waldo does some stuff whose motivation I just can’t fathom. Where we live, there are flowers and bushes whose beds are covered by a layer of wood chips. Waldo will run up to the chips and come to a dead stop. He’ll stare, motionless, at a particular spot, as if he were stalking something. There is nothing but wood chips there. Rising up on his hind legs, he pauses for a moment, then explodes, pouncing on the chips as if to catch them by surprise before they can get away. This is followed by a nonchalant waltz in the direction he had been going with a fist-sized mouthful of those nefarious wood chips. These, he’ll carry for quite a ways, then see a stick he likes and somehow add that to the mess. Sometimes he has three or four sticks, of various sizes, in his mouth, while running along at the extreme end of his leash. Only on demand will he open his mouth and give up his valued load, and then only when convinced he has no alternative. But I can’t for the life of me understand how a parasite could possibly benefit from this behavior.

Or maybe it’s the CBD oil I put in his food to calm his anxiety. I know, I know, the oil contains no hallucinogens. At least not for humans. How do we know that dogs don’t react differently to what’s in there? For that matter, how would you design an experiment that would test that? Is Waldo hallucinating some stalk-worthy game in the woodchips? He has been going down the stairs that lead outside without problem for months. In fact, he’s usually so eager to get going on a walk that, as soon as I let him out of the apartment door, he runs down the stairs to the end of his eight-meter leash, in the process winding it around the railing of several flights. Yesterday, he started to go down the stairs and stopped, staring uncertainly down them. Was he seeing something scary down there? Maybe, he wasn’t hallucinating, but just being stoned. “Wow, dog, look at the cool pattern in the carpet!” Whatever his motivation, he repeated this for every flight, but going down the stairs only. Going up was not an issue.

Or maybe he’s just being an almost eleven-month old puppy who is just finding his way in the world. God knows I did some pretty weird stuff when I was a kid. I even put questionable things in my mouth (I ate some chocolate covered insects, for example, on a dare) and I neither had a parasite in my brain nor was I stoned. In kindergarten, some classmates and I spread several bags of manure over the playground at school – I have no idea why. Of course, that happened back before I figured out which was what and such was thus. Come to think of it, I’m still working on that. Even to this day, there are more than a few people who would claim that I get some pretty weird ideas that seem to come out of nowhere. I wonder what Waldo thinks of my behavior. I know there are more than a few times when he finds it pretty baffling. He is quite puzzled by why I spend so much time in my recliner, writing, for example. I can see it in his eyes and the tilt of his head. And I know he has no clue whatsoever why we aren’t outside ninety percent of the time.

You know, if instead of being dumfounded or even amused by Waldo’s behavior, I try to understand it from his point of view, maybe I can learn something. Imagine myself being a puppy who stuffs his mouth with woodchips and walks around (even swallowing a few that appear later in my stool) and speculate what I might get out of it (I am not about to actually perform the experiment), maybe I can feel something of what life is like for him. Now, if I could really do that, see the world through the eyes of another species, that would be something truly spectacular, wouldn’t it?

As it is, Waldo and I, we baffle each other.

Explain to me again. Why aren’t we outside?

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