A bodhisatva in dog form
November 26, 2009 9:46 PM   Subscribe

posted by VulcanMike at 10:54 PM on November 26, 2009


Animals are jerks for making us love them.
posted by Graygorey at 11:08 PM on November 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

posted by autoclavicle at 11:10 PM on November 26, 2009


Nothing like an animal's unconditional love.
posted by arkhangel at 11:37 PM on November 26, 2009

I think it is obscene how we torture sick animals in the name of love.

I have pets to whom I am crazily, hopelessly devoted. And I will have them put down before I will have them suffer the fear and pain and isolation of repeated surgeries and treatments and vet visits.

Kobe sounds like he was a wonderful dog, and I have no doubt he loved his people and they loved him. But I wonder if sometimes our desperate attachment to our pets is in the best interest of the animals.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:45 PM on November 26, 2009 [11 favorites]

BitterOldPunk speaks truth.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:10 AM on November 27, 2009

Who ordered the verklempt?
posted by sagwalla at 2:52 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

My family all own dogs (I'm the pet-free exception), and I feel there's been a real change in the way they (and other people) behave around dogs and cats over the past 20 years.

Twenty years ago, from what I remember, a dog was just a pet. You threw sticks for it, it played with the kids, you took it for walks. It slept in its own bed under the stairs. You never told it that you loved it. In fact, you barely talked to it beyond 'Good boy', or 'Stay', or 'Hey, get off my leg.' When your dog got old and started biting people or developed a hip problem or started having seizures you took it to the vet and the vet sent it discreetly off to 'sleep'. You were a bit sentimental about it, but you quickly got over it and bought a new puppy.

And then at some point things started to change. People started taking their dogs to bed, or into the bath. Dogs apparently started having complex emotions. You'd tell your dog-owner friend a cute story about something your little kid did yesterday and they'd come back with "Yeah, Fido is just like that. He looks so funny when he gets food all round his mouth." And it became clear that dogs had become, for all practical purposes, children. And when they got sick, you'd mortgage your home to pay for any treatment that might give you one last week with them. And you'd have a little funeral down at the pet crematorium and people would send cards and flowers and you'd take a week off work.

I think this change started in the US. It has certainly thoroughly infiltrated the UK, although I don't see so much evidence in southern Europe. And while I don't begrudge the two hairdresser-y guys in their mobile doggy-salon their chance at a successful business, I do wonder if as a culture we've lost perspective somewhat.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:02 AM on November 27, 2009 [6 favorites]

"Twenty years ago, from what I remember, a dog was just a pet."

You couldn't be more wrong. This is not a new thing. It is as old as human interaction with animals.

Your argument amounts to anecdotal evidence. I have heaps of anecdotal evidence suggesting the exact opposite. What you should be going for is evidence from some objective source.

People have doted on animals as if they were little people since forever.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 4:35 AM on November 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Your argument amounts to anecdotal evidence.

Absolutely, and it was written in an anecdotal way, as opposed to having been written in the form of a research paper. But I'm going to defend my right to say "This is a trend that I have perceived", and maybe that perception will chime with your own experience, or maybe it won't.

As I said (also anecdotally), I've noticed that the relationship humans have with pet animals varies with geography and culture. I'm not going to argue that people haven't always developed meaningful (to them, anyway) bonds with their pets, but I do feel that I'm seeing different behaviours in dog and cat owners, of whom I know many, than I did a decade or two ago. Again, perhaps this is just regional or cultural.

People have doted on animals as if they were little people since forever.
Your argument amounts to not-even-anecdotal evidence.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:19 AM on November 27, 2009

Non-anecdotal, then: the pet insurance market is both recent and rapidly-growing. This might only be a reflection of greater consumer wealth, more sophisticated financial products and changes in the vetinary industry, but the summary of this market report mentions one driver being "the pets-as-family trend". Assuming expenditure is a reasonable guide to what we really care about, we do appear to care more (or differently, if you like) for our pets.
posted by alasdair at 5:33 AM on November 27, 2009

The summary of UK Pet Insurance 2005 says:

"There is little scope for growth outside of cats, dogs and horses ... Exotic pet insurance market is dominated by specialists ... Rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs will not be growth areas"

So we don't appear to care much about rabbits, but we do care about cats, dogs and horses. That supports my feeling and le morte de bea arthur that it's about "companion animals" now being classified "family" rather than "possessions."
posted by alasdair at 5:39 AM on November 27, 2009

On the other hand, the same report points out that "As Pet Owners Have More Income They Are More Likely To Take Out Pet Insurance" and "Affluent Consumers Are More Likely To Have Insured Their Pets, With A Penetration Rate Of 43 Per Cent" so maybe it's just we're better off, and the market has developed, rather than being evidence of changing attitudes? Interesting.

This would support my feeling, of course, since I'm one of this affluent group, so it is what I would observed: but it would suggest that maybe it's just my class that is making pets into family members, and I'm over-generalising to other socio-economic groups where attitudes are more traditional.
posted by alasdair at 5:46 AM on November 27, 2009

Standard poodles are the best dogs.

That is all.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:49 AM on November 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

As I drove the panic subsided and I could hear Kobe’s voice. “Mom, I know this time is going to be hard for you. Just remember that I live in you like you live in me. And if you can just call up that part of me that lives in you, you don’t have to be scared.”

I find this just fascinating. I guess it's common for dog owners to do a certain amount of playful imagining of what their dog is thinking or feeling, filling in the picture provided by their pets behavior, and treating the animal as somewhat more human than it is. But this takes things to a level I haven't witnessed before. Does she realize that Kobe had no such thoughts and said no such thing? I'm really curious about whether she thinks that she is recording something that Kobe really communicated to her, or if she is consciously recording her own moments of magical thinking during the grieving process.

It's striking how similar this is to the sorts of things the gospels record Jesus saying as the crucifixion drew new, preparing his disciples for the persecution that they would face after his death. I especially think of this line:

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.--John 14:18-20

Kobe is a suffering Christ-figure in this narrative. When Jesus is dying, he promises the disciples that he will send the Holy Spirit to comfort them: But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.--John 14:26-27

The part of the Holy Spirit is played by Egregious, who is (providentially?) in Vienna. Kobe tells Hamsher to email her.

Coincidentally, Egregious was in Vienna visiting her kids and staying at her old house. She had emailed me the night before to ask if I needed her to come by. “Email egregious,” said Kobe. So when I got to a stoplight I did. I asked her to meet me at the clinic.

She goes on to record post-death experiences with Kobe in which she can feel his presence:

I was feeding Lucy one day and I asked her where Kobe was. She said “he’s here Mom, you just can’t see him.” I felt Kobe there in that moment. (Note that Lucy is also a dog, Kobe's daughter.)

She even sees Kobe again in the form of the miraculous video that she never took, but suddenly finds just when she needs it:

I had no memory of taking that video. But when I saw it, I felt like I’d been given this incredible gift that I wouldn’t have traded for millions of dollars. Kobe wanted us to know that he was there, watching over us, and that he wanted to play with the orange bone too.

This isn't a full-blown resurrection, but it's moving that direction--a postmorten vision of the deceased loved one who is now watching over his family from the spirit realm.

She goes on to write, I see him every day in the blog — in the compassion this community has for those who are suffering, in the fierce emotional commitment that we all share for social justice, and in our determination to be stronger together than we could ever be apart. That kind of connected emotional wisdom is the very soul of Kobe.

And ends by writing, Thank you all for being part of FDL. Because Kobe lives on in you, too.

Just as the New Testament says that Jesus lives in the church, who now do his work.

To top everything off, the last thing in the blog post is a picture of Kobe on the beach, reminiscent of that sappy Footprints poem, but also of the end of John's gospel. The last place we see the now-resurrected Jesus is on the beach, enjoying a cook-out with his friends.

Because the Biblical story is the one familiar to me, I make these connections to the Christ narrative, but Hamsher sees it in light of the Buddhist tradition (of which I am nearly completely ignorant): Kobe was a bodhisattva, and a zen master’s final teaching to his students is always his death.

We've passed from memorial to hagiography, and maybe scripture. This would be an incredibly unusual way to write about a human being, unless he was quite literally a saint or a bodhisattva--and no one we know qualifies, because the humans we deal with tell us their actual thoughts and feelings, some of which are base, hateful and vulgar. The real humans we deal with disappoint us. Even if a very beloved, wonderful person dies, we will go on and on about what they meant to us, or even what an example they were, but we aren't likely to call them a Zen master.

But that's the wonderful thing about dogs, I guess. They can't talk, so you can imagine them to be as deep and wise as you would like. To me (non-dog lover that I am) this almost reads as a parody of the gospels, and it wouldn't take much editing to move it over the edge into outright parody. But I think she's sincere about it, although I still (even after reading it three times and thinking about it way too long) wonder if she knows that all those conversations with Kobe were just in her head.

To quote Ms. Hamsher from September 15, 2005:

We now return you to our regular reality-based programming.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:50 AM on November 27, 2009 [16 favorites]

I am always faintly squeamish when people talk about their pets in this manner, but I know its what some people do. I know my mom feels this way about her cats.

But I can really be critical. I realize that some animals are the best companions a person can have, and I've learned to let people anthropomorphize as they need to.

This is the source, I suppose, of all the good /and/ bad things people do in the name of their pets. We imbue them with a variety of handy human attributes and then add their dog (or cat) "nature" on top of that, making them nearly supra-human.

But, there is no escaping the fact that it is the smartest animal in this relationship (i.e., the hominoid with the big brain) that is agonizing over the details, and making up most of the dialogue (internal or otherwise.) But it makes us feel better sometimes, projecting an ideal onto these creatures.

For example, for some reason my goldfish is telling me to "kill everyone now."

No, it's not. I don't have a goldfish.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:25 AM on November 27, 2009

It makes me really uncomfortable when people talk about their pets this way. I know someone who creates detailed horoscope charts for her dogs, and reads their horoscopes in the paper each morning. For her, I just uh-huh and oh yeah, and wait until she's ready to talk about something else. This post makes me feel a little like it's "Let's gawk at the crazy person," but I guess if others here don't think she's crazy, then maybe I should just go read something else.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:50 AM on November 27, 2009

My two goldfish were named by Elliott Smith in a web chat in 2000. Unfortunately they both outlived him.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:56 AM on November 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

Pater Alethias hits the nail on the head for why this story makes me squirm, even as it touches me in the depth of connection Jane feels with her beloved Kobe and her loss when he passed. Dogs can be fantastic companions, great distractons, even teachers of a sort, but they are not human and they are no more divine than any other creature. Kobe obviously meant a great deal to Jane, and if she finds comfort in thinking of him as a bodhisattva, it's no skin off my nose, but I wonder if there is a wider implication in looking at pets this way.


Regarding "pets as family" and pet insurance, I think the difference we're seeing now is not so much a difference in levels of affection or inclusion of pets, or even a difference in anthropomorphizing, as it is a refection of mass consumption creep.

Fifty years ago, kids had a few toys, not a playroom full. Fifty years ago, a lucky dog got a bone from the butcher or saved from dinner and maybe had a ball as well. He may have had a leash or a doghouse.

Now the dog has daily treats, possibly with breath fresheners or extra vitamins or arthritis-easing ingredients. He has balls or kongs or ropes or stuffed hedgehogs or flying discs. He may have shirts, sweaters, hats, bandanas, jeweled collars, a selection of leashes, a dog bed or prized place on a human bed.

The dog having more material goods, health insurance in some cases, a cozier place to sleep, does not mean he's more loved than that dog of fifty years ago any more than a kid with a closet full of clothes is necessarily more loved than a kid who has only the clothes on his back. Consumer culture has been teaching us that material goods are the way to show affection and status, and marketers have successfully included furry family members in that.
posted by notashroom at 7:06 AM on November 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

posted by Joe Beese at 7:31 AM on November 27, 2009

Gentlemen of the jury: The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.
Gentleman of the jury: A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.
If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies, and when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.
posted by empath at 7:36 AM on November 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

I've gone through the same sort of thing (NSF people who cry easily), and certainly sympathize with the profound connection a person can feel for a pet, but I have to share the "over the line" sentiment that comes with actually ascribing human thoughts and motivations to your companion animals.

To an extent, I get it: my wife and I have a sort of set of scripts for our current cats -- one is the "I'm hungry! Sink drinks! Wha'hoppen? Poop!" cat, another is the "Fuck off! Shut up! Leave me alone! Now give me head scratches!" cat, and the third is the "Is there a problem here, officer?" cat.

But there's a degree at which you start treating your cats, or dogs, or pigs or goats or goldfish, like human-rational people, or even worse like spiritual guides. It's not a "bodhisatva in dog form," people, it's a dog. You've reached a point where you're jonesing for a guru to the point that you can project one on anything around you: your pet goat, L. Ron Hubbard, the Harry Potter books, or a particularly nicely shaped rock.

I can appreciate the occasional rumination that maybe it's a good idea to take it easy and worry less about your bank balance or your Bejeweled scores -- y'know, like dogs do not worry about their bank balances and Bejeweled scores.

But when you're taking profound ongoing life lessons from something that left to its own devices would eat its own feces, and under certain circumstances your face -- that's not a good place to be in, spiritually or mentally.
posted by Shepherd at 7:58 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

That supports my feeling and le morte de bea arthur that it's about "companion animals" now being classified "family" rather than "possessions."

In America, and elsewhere, this change likely occurred when people moved from the farms (where animals were tools) to the cities and suburbs.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:13 AM on November 27, 2009

My view on animals dovetails more or less with Werner Herzog's sentiments in Grizzly Man. But, my parents had a cat for 19 years that they loved so much, and to which they ascribed all kinds of complex, human sentiments. So while I find it a bit odd and I do share the intuition that peoples' overwhelming pampering of pets is a sort of "decline of western civ" harbinger, I don't get too het about it. There's worse things than getting too into your pet, for sure.
posted by jcruelty at 11:31 AM on November 27, 2009

Dogs, at least, have been more than pets for a long, long time. "Man's best friend", "A boy and his dog", etc. There are some people putting forward theories that we even evolved together. Man's relationship with canines is ancient and deep, and far beyond something like our relationship with hamsters or whatever. I don't think that can be denied.

But there does seem to have been a real change in how some people view their pets in the last few decades. And it kinda creeps me out. I get particularly skeeved when people (usually older single women) start talking about their pet cat crossing the "rainbow bridge" and so forth. It's not healthy. My theory is that this is a reaction to the fact that fewer women are having fewer babies and having those later in life. A lot of the emotion and attention that would have been going towards children is now being redirected towards small animals which act as a substitute.

Pets are great. Particularly larger dogs. Certain breeds of smaller dogs and cats can be almost as good (he says as current owner of a cat). But, yeah, I get creeped out by a lot of the pet hagiography.
posted by Justinian at 2:23 PM on November 27, 2009

In Plutarch's Lives, the emperor Augustus is said to have remarked disapprovingly about foreign nobles who kept pets, asking "if the women in their country did not bear children, thus in right princely fashion rebuking those who squander on animals that proneness to love and loving affection which is ours by nature, and which is due only to our fellow-men."

An old, tiresome argument, constantly repeated by the obtuse. We have here a bond very nearly as old as Homo sapiens itself. I come from rough old country people, but they repeated down the years to me -- "he is not a gentleman who does not love a dog."

(That said, this writing is pretty awful.)
posted by Countess Elena at 3:21 PM on November 27, 2009

Pater Aletheias-- you don't get it. Just as people who don't "get" christianity and speak strangely of it, those who don't "get" the love and bond with an animal really don't have a place to talk to those who do. Love doesn't require logic.

I'm sure there's a lot of things that generally go right over my head in this life---that said, I'm quite happy that I'm simple enough to enjoy and embrace the happiness that comes from sharing it with some dogs.
posted by TomMelee at 7:28 PM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

The thing that bugs me a little about peoples' relationships with their animals is the assumption that there is really any shared feeling between the human and the animal. There isn't - it's a wishful illusion. The reality is a juxtaposition of two very different one-way relationships. Neither party can ever comprehend the thoughts of the other in anything more than a peripheral way - 'human is angry', 'dog is hungry'. Any deeper feelings of empathy exist wholly in the mind of the human.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:29 AM on November 30, 2009

See the thing about metafilter is that everybody's an expert. People pop into threads and make declarations of fact that are, in fact, not fact. You may believe something to the absolute core of your soul, you might believe it so much that you can't fathom taking a breath of air if it were not, but that doesn't make it fact. Even the most prolific minds of the most intricate sciences usually say "we think" or "we believe" or "I have experienced."

So when you (le morte de bea arthur) state that the relationship is one way, I fully believe that you think that is true. I'll even give you that you are, in the most literal sense, correct, because I'm sure the complexity of the dogs thoughts aren't such that they could be compared to you or myself. I think your concept about the nature of the relationship is wrong though, because of my experiences with the animals---and I think a lot of animal handler people like myself would argue with you.

And, should I be completely wrong, and I leave this place having been a friend to animal-kind, having loved as I have loved, I can't say that it's something about which I would be upset. If though, I believed that human-animal relationships were so very one-way and black and white, and I had never allowed myself to love so freely, and I was wrong...well then I really think I might have missed out on something pretty much awesome.
posted by TomMelee at 5:28 AM on November 30, 2009

The thing that bugs me a little about peoples' relationships with their animals is the assumption that there is really any shared feeling between the human and the animal.

posted by scalefree at 11:45 AM on December 1, 2009

Counter-what? That's just a load of Hallmark-friendly dogs-as-heroes stuff. What on earth does that have to do with the question of whether dogs and humans share similar emotional or mental states? A dog rescues a human for the same reason it would rescue another dog - because it's part of its pack behaviour. It doesn't prove that the dog is capable of human-like sentiment.

My argument, based on the fact that humans and dogs have brains which have evolved down two separate branches of the evolutionary tree, is that perceived correlations between the behaviours of different animals (humans and dogs) are not evidence that the underlying thought processes or emotions of those creatures are the same. You see things in an animal's behaviour that you recognise from human behaviour, and you assume that the animal does them for the same reason a human would. It's understandable that you should do so, but it is nevertheless the case that the dog may be (and probably is) thinking and feeling completely different things than you imagine. Which is why I say that there is not really any shared feeling between a human and an animal; to clarify, I'm not saying, that a human and a dog don't feel anything at all towards each other, just that what each feels is basically incomprehensible to the other. By all means discuss this with your dog, and let me know what he/she thinks about it, though. I might be wrong.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:28 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

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