The $60,000 Dog
I know I am an infidel, in more ways than I care to mention. I can discuss my deficits, but I am not yet ready to admit to the particular one of which we are speaking, even as I state it as a possibility. Because perhaps valuing nonhuman animals as much as, if not more than, our own kind is not wrong at all. Perhaps it's in fact right. What, I have to ask, in the Darwinian theory of evolution, which has more proof to it than any holy book, posits human beings at the top of the heap? As the planet erodes, and as our role as its destroyer becomes harder and harder to deny, might we not be considering, or reconsidering, the idea that the human species is far from sacred? Might we, in losing the sense of our own importance, be better able to see our kinship with species outside of ours? A long, long time ago, Copernicus suggested the earth was not the center of the solar system, and by doing so he shook the souls we say we have to their ethereal roots. Roger Fouts, comparative psychologist at Central Washington University, told me, "It is a fundamental misperception to think human life has more value than any other life form."
I like to touch my dogs' paws. Their paws are rough, scaly, the skin cracked like quaked earth, the nails smooth and curved in their sharpness. A dog's nails can be difficult to cut because, unlike humans, they have veins, and if you snip too deeply, a bead of blood wells up and the animal winces in a way that is hard to bear. I did this to Lila once, cut too close to the quick, cut the blue-violet vein that threads the nacreous nail of this beautiful beast I call mine. I call her mine not because I own her but because I love her. I call her mine as I call mine my children, my husband, my self. She is mine for as long as she is Lila, which amounts to no more than a nanosecond of time in the scheme of things, and when that second passes, she, like us all, will undergo the phenomenal changing of categories that we call death. But until she does, I will care for her with everything I have. I will struggle to divide up my limited resources in the best way I can. I will admire her daily, as I do all those I love. And why? That is the question I have not answered here, the question my husband always asks. He no longer asks if it is right to so love a dog, because he knows how I will answer. "Yes, it is right," or "Someone has yet to offer me any scientific proof that animals mean less than we do, so it is certainly not wrong." His question for me now is simply, why?
Why? I don't know. What I do know is that when I look into Lila's blind eyes, I see amazing things. I see the wildness of the wolf; I see humans finding fire, the Pliocene plains, millions of molecules, the softest snout, a single cell split. I see an animal walk out of the water; I see the engine of evolution, and if I listen closely, I think I can hear it, too, a low continuous hum—a sound that doesn't stop, I must believe, even if, or when, we do.