For the Love of Dog

All I have to do is say “Old Yellar,” and everyone will know the feeling.  Everyone of a certain age, I should add, who’s owned a canine.  The love of dog.  From where I pass my days I can see out the window into the neighbors’ back yards for four houses over.  They all have dogs.  Big dogs, mostly.  They also have fenced in backyards.  One of the things I haven’t seen too much in our neighborhood is dog walking.  People let their dogs out to frolic, and do their, ahem, other outdoor activities in the yard.  Once a day some member of the family, either with the basic plastic bag or with the specialized, long-handled brush and scooper, slowly surveys the yard to remove any offensive matter so the space may be used for human activities.  It’s a level of care that most would shudder to provide for their own species.

Wolves were the earliest domesticated animals.  In those hunter-gatherer days either they or humans—the jury’s out on which—realized the advantages of working together.  Kind of like we were fated to be partners.  Besides, unless the dog turns on us, there’s no question of who’s the master here, and everyone likes to be the boss.  When I catch a glimpse of one of the neighborhood pets being scolded, or praised, it’s clear they share emotions with us.  The bond is deep.  I often wonder about this—they recognize the tone of voice, something that takes humans a while to learn.  I grew up with dogs and I found out that even if you insult them in a friendly, encouraging tone of voice they’ll love you for it.  Dogs are just that way.

Our first real dog—the one that ended up staying with us his whole life, was a beagle pup we got at a farm.  Dogs like to be with others.  Unlike humans, they don’t have to pretend.  (Although they can do that too, as when they growl at you during a game of tug-o-war.)  Then we leave home and go to our places of business, where capitalism reigns.  We treat other humans coldly, clinically.  “It’s only business,” we’ll parrot, especially if we feel bad about doing what the boss tells us.  That’s the way we treat our own species when money’s involved.  And we’ll sit at our desks, daydreaming of our dog at home that will be so glad to see us when we walk through that door.  And we’ll gladly clean up after our pets what we find obscene even to write in human language.  It kind of makes me wonder when I glance out the window while at work.


College move-in weekend can be a stressful time. In our particular case it means crossing a couple of state lines and staying in a hotel. Well, I suppose we technically might manage to load, drive, unload, and drive in a day but that seems awfully abrupt. You need time to shop for those supplies that might have run out, wait for roommates to arrive, and spend the last quality time together before facing an empty nest for four months. So we find ourselves in a hotel. It’s the one closest to the university, but it is also the host to some kind of event that draws a lot of people but fails to make internet event calendars. We usually stay at this hotel, and they even emailed us at the start of summer to make reservations early. The clientele this weekend is a cross-section of town and gown. It’s a mixed group. In the hall I see other students about, but there are those here who’ve come for non-academic entertainment, whatever that might be.

The barking started about 6 p.m. I grew up with dogs and most members of my family still have dogs. In fact, evidence points to the dog—the wolf at the time—being the first of the domesticated animals. Before agriculturalists rounded up sheep and goats and cattle, the dog accompanied the hunter-gatherer and both engaged in a win-win scenario. The successful hunt of a large animal left food for both humans and their best friend. Ironically for dog-owning anti-evolutionists, dogs are among the most selectively bred of animals. Looking at a pug, or a maltingese, it’s difficult to conjure up images of the wolf pack. The dog next door, obviously lonely and abandoned, was the small, yippy sort with a high-pitched, insistent bark. It was clear there was more than one in there. And, of course, hotel doors are about the least soundproofed surfaces on the planet. It was like Fifi and company was in the room with us. When I turned in about 10, the barking was still going on, and the front desk said they were trying to locate the guests registered for that room.

What's that shining?

What’s that shining?

I grew up with dogs, and I understand the attachment. I do, however, sometimes wonder about the courtesy of others. Some actions impact other people in direct ways, and sometimes we just don’t think of the consequences. I don’t just mean dogs. Lying awake, listening to distraught pets, I thought of the point of higher education. It is an “industry” in which I have a strong investment. The point of it all is to make our life together on this planet better for everyone. There will always be those who can’t travel without their dogs. There will always be those who have to venture far from home to get the education they want. Can’t there be affordable hotels with doors to dampen the noise just a little bit? Or maybe some of us a just over-sensitive at times like this. Maybe it’s time for me to go back to school to try to figure it all out.

Wolves and Sheep

A state of the university address might not be a bad exercise.  If I might be so bold, as an inveterate outsider who nonetheless has tried to play by the rules, I have been cast in a supporting role—I think a few of my observations might be valid.  Some of my more pastoral colleagues try to reassure me that editors influence more people than professors, but in fact, the professors are the ones with the luxury to write books.  I get to sit on the bus and read them.  I do read many proposals before they become full-fledged books, and, interestingly, I get to discern how someone becomes an “expert.”  I worry a little about this latter point.  When it comes to religion, there are a few too many experts and dreadfully too few places for them to find gainful employment.  This is a volatile mix. I often run across religion experts who have professorships because they are of the right brand.  In a way that is almost inconceivable in any other profession, schools where religion is taught are actually allowed to discriminate.  This fact may even stretch out, in the case of some religions, to more objective fields.  Some religions teach that illness is spiritual rather than physical.  Some of them have medical schools, staffed by believers.

This comes back to the privileging of belief.  We all believe things, and most of us (if not all of us, when the lights are out) include some irrational things in that realm.  Beliefs can change, but not easily.  In the case of religions, most often we are taught our beliefs.  Sitting back and thinking about those truisms is the ultimate of academic enterprises, and yet few matters have a greater impact on society as a whole than the belief structures of people.  If you want to start a university for your brand of religion, after all, the law protects you if you keep your biases on your sleeve.  These people get to write books with the credibility that pathetic posers, like the current blogger, are doomed to lack.  You see, if someone is an expert, they have to have an institution to prove it.  That’s the way higher education works.

I read lots of stuff.  I sometimes think maybe I read a little too much because the ideas begin to affect my beliefs.  Nevertheless, it is a risk I’m willing to take.  It seems to me that if a religion is really as secure as they all pretend to be, you’d be willing to invite a few interlopers in your doors—a few wolves in wolves’ pelts.  If the sheep have to run, think of it as a chance to test their belief systems.  If the sheep overcome the wolves, then they will have earned the stars in their crowns.  Sometimes I am criticized for my liberal approach to things.  One thing my training has taught me, however, is that systems carefully reasoned through don’t shy away from challenges.  That’s a major difference on many belief-based structures.  Beliefs do not appreciate being challenged.  They want to be right.  But then, don’t we all?  It seems to me that the time for allowing prejudice against other religious views has outlived its usefulness.  If the truth is the truth, after all, it will be able to stand any fright that the wolves might bring.