Saturday, April 9, 2011
CHARLES JOHNSON TALKS ABOUT HIS LOVE FOR DOGS
Don't get me started on dogs.
I love dogs. Everyone in Seattle seems to love dogs and all my neighbors have one. Or more. I read books and articles about dogs for pleasure. Although I had cats when I was growing up and also one here in Seattle, it's dogs I love writing and thinking about---Berkeley the heroic watch dog protagonist of one of my most reprinted stories "Menagerie: A Child's Fable"; and the dog character Casey (named after our late lab/shepherd mix) who swaps minds with a human in my recent sci-fi story "Guinea Pig" in Boston Review (Jan-Feb, 2011). Even my last story, "Welcome to Wedgwood" in Shambhala Sun (March, 2011) has our present furry companion Nova, a West Highland White Terrier, as a character important for the story's action.
As a species we adapted to the same environments and living conditions with dogs over the last 10,000 to 20,000 years. As a matter of fact, we selectively bred most of the different dog breeds that exist. Our two species complement each other perfectly. Studies have proven that caring for a dog relieves stress (At Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state dogs are used to provide stress relief for deployed soldiers.) There is a 75% overlap in the genetic codes of humans and dogs; the structure of their brains contain most of the same organs found in the human brain. Dogs have emotions and personalities.
Our Nova's ears hear four octaves higher than I can perceive and they can be hundreds of times better than my own ears for some sounds. He can identify smells somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 times better than a human can, and he has 50 times more scent receptors than I do. He has at least the intelligence of a two-year-old child. A border collie named Chaser recently was taught the names of 1,022 items, and can categorize them by function and shape, which is something children learn around age three.
Living with a dog, then, is like living with a younger, beloved family member. Last November our Nova tore a ligament in his right, rear leg. Repairing it required two surgeries. I spent the first month after his first and second surgeries carrying him everywhere, up and down stairs, inside and outside the house, to his twice weekly physical therapy sessions on an underwater treadmill (thank heaven a grown Westie male weighs only about 25 pounds), and making sure he took his medications. In other words, Nova is my constant companion. My buddy. Wherever I am, he is. He's across the room right now on his soft mat as I write these words.
So, yeah, don't get me started on dogs. I plan to live the rest of my life with one (or more), and sneak them into my fiction whenever possible. And high on my reading list right now is The Greatest Dog Stories Ever Told, edited by Patricia M. Sherwood (The Lyons Press, 2001), which contains 36 dog stories by such authors as Willie Morris, Peter Mayle, John Graves, Vance Bourjailly, Farley Mowat, Jack London, Merrill Markoe, Will Rogers, Lord Dunsany, Thomas Mann, William Cowper, James Thurber, Sparse Grey Hackle, Rudyard Kipling, and one of my heroes, Ray Bradbury.
Posted by Ethelbert Miller at 5:46 AM