Doggy Sentiments

Dog wet and freezing © Lodewijk Muns 2014

I’ve known a man who hated all living things that bore a human imprint — from cultivated landscapes to house plants and pets. An unlivable state of mind, of course, and probably not quite sincere. But understandable: the craving for the wilderness, the feeling that being human is a curse.

We can’t escape from our humanity, and can’t escape from our own imprint upon nature, which in the grand perspective belongs to natural history too. Parks and pastures, cows and horses, cats and dogs can be beautiful, moving or charming, within bounds (excluding lap dogs, daffodils and feral pigeons). Despite the fact that their likableness is largely the product of our own making them to our liking.

Why do we (or most of us) like dogs? — Because they have been bred to live with us and milk our sentiments. It’s not their fault if large-eyed and furry they may look like a Disneyfied version of themselves. We should, I suppose, admire nature’s adaptability to us and try to improve our own adaptability to nature.

Stories about smart dogs following hikers are common enough. I’ll add my own to the lot, for sentimental reasons.

In August 2014, hiking the Tour du Queyras in the French Alps, we passed the hamlet Les Fonds. A hairy, brown and white spotted dog (bouvier, I guess), followed us from the village. Pleasant company, remaining close without being obtrusive. We thought he shouldn’t be allowed to wander too far from home, though, and when we left the main track we decided to send him back (Allez à la maison). He obeyed — after some insistence, looking back several times (Are you serious?). We were serious, at least my partner was, and I half heartedly concurred. As he must have noticed — for 15 minutes later I felt a warm and wet touch upon my thigh, and there he was again, slyly wagging his tail (See, you can’t get rid of me so easily). Allez again, more sternly.

Dog in fog © Lodewijk Muns 2014A near-vertical rock with iron footholds looked undoable for a dog, so we were sure we had got rid of our amiable stalker. With the sun setting and a fog coming up, we pitched our tent and started cooking dinner. Out of the forest appeared our dog again (wagging: Look how smart I am to have found you!). He didn’t risk coming closer, though, and at a safe distance of some 200 m he watched our bed time preparations, his snout slowly vanishing in the darkening fog.

After a cold night we found him crouching wet and freezing in a hollow right behind our tent. Realizing, finally, that we had no choice but to accept his company, we shared our bread and sausages. We continued our hike with Malrif — as we had now baptized him, after the local topography — as our guide. At one somewhat steep and uncomfortable ascent Malrif was at the top first, watching attentively, and it seemed, with genuine concern, for each of us to make it safely.

In the afternoon we met a family heading for Les Fonds. With regret we asked them to take Malrif back. No regret on his side though — he walked as happily with them as with us, and didn’t look back.

Bred to milk our sentiments — and hurt them.