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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Squirrels are my Religion


Singer is like a religious person when it comes to squirrels and chipmunks. She’s actually quite zealous. But unlike some religious types who try to force their religious beliefs down your throat, Singer is not interested in sharing her religion. In fact, she wants it all to herself. I doubt that she’s interested in converting Dakota, for example, although she has had an influence on him. Dakota definitely perks up his ears these days when he hears the sharp chirp of a chipmunk. Although always interested in wildlife, he is several degrees more attuned lately and I believe it is due to Singer’s example.

Canine religion is probably about chipmunks and other exciting things that have so much meaning for dogs. I can just hear what some people would say about this—“how heretical—worshiping animals!”

If you constructed a line graph of a typical canine’s life and compared it to a human’s, you would find some similarities. A dog will have its high points, such as reaching maturity, leaving the nest, finding a forever home, that should be marked as significant in its life. The line graph would show roughly 12-14 years, and a lot of a dog’s significant events would occur early in life. I think this graph would approximately run parallel to a person’s life:  leaving home, falling in love the first time. But that is where the similarities end.

A dog might have other events, if it were reviewing its life at the end, which would earn a mark on this line graph of significant events. For Singer, it would definitely be hunting squirrels and chipmunks and mice. The day a herd of squirrels ran right in front of her would certainly merit. When Saylor lay on the clinic table near death, as I kissed her and whispered how much I loved her, images of her life flooded my mind. Most of the images had to do with the walks we took through the years. How much joy and pleasure I got out of those walks, and how much pleasure I think Saylor did, too. I hope she and I were reviewing the same images at that special time in her life. Saylor wasn’t much of a hunter, but she did love her walks, and she did love food. Perhaps one of her significant events in life involved food as well.

I realize that Saylor didn’t ascribe as much meaning to her ending as I did. I don’t believe dogs view death, or birth, like we humans do. I’m sure that death is just another event, not rated very highly in the emotion department for dogs. I think they view it as a necessity, and I don’t even know if they wish it over quickly. They just endure. I’ve seen two dogs pass in recent years, and that is the impression I got—they endure the pain and wait. There may be anxiety due to pain or suffering, but that’s it. No existential spiritual suffering common to humans—will I make it to heaven? Will I see God? I love that about dogs (and cats, I might add, one of which is sitting on my lap right now, while I awkwardly type on the arm of the couch…) Death is just another passage. And birth. One day a pregnant dam is fat and uncomfortable, the next day she has a litter of puppies. Oh. Okay. But she knows instantly what to do. Do humans? Hardly.

There’s a picture of Saylor I took while she was dying—one that elicits a lot of feeling when one sees it. It shows her in pain, an oxygen tube up her nose and another one threaded through her front arm, a pink gauze bandage around it. She looks sad. It triggers a flood of emotions for me, and for most people who have seen it. But I know that Saylor didn’t ascribe the same emotions to this last event in her life. And for that, I’m grateful.

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