Southern Dogs

Today is just another day, like the ones that come every week. On the other hand, it’s not quite like others, one of my doctors started me on a new medication with a warning. He told me that it might work just the opposite of what he hoped. His warning wasn’t a warning at all, but rather it was a prophecy. This afternoon has brought nothing but intense abdominal pain and liquefaction of my intestinal tract.

Beverly and my three granddaughters left a while ago to attend my grandson’s 14th birthday and since I dared not leave the porcelain throne, I stayed behind. It is quiet here at home and I’m alone with my CLWD (cute little white dog) who diligently stays very close to me when she knows something is wrong. I have no idea how she knows, but she does. When either Beverly or I are in physical distress, Mitzi shows intense attention and affection to that one, as if to somehow mediate our discomfort.

Mitzi the Wonder Dog

Well, that started me thinking. At times like this when the hose is quiet my mind often wanders into places of frivolous fancy. I started wondering what is in Mitzi’s tiny mind. I know canines don’t think in the same way as we do. Someone said that they only live in the moment, but I know that isn’t true. Once when Mitzi was a small puppy, she jumped off our bed. It is quite high and while she didn’t hurt herself, she remembers and still is reluctant to jump off the bed without some sort of step land on first. She remembers where we used to keep her treats and where we keep them now. She remembers that when she goes outside to potty she gets a treat when she comes in. She remembers to ask us when she needs to go outside. When we visit my brother, she remembers to run to his back door and ask to come in. She remembers when the Vet comes at her with that triangular thing to obtain a stool sample. She remembers when water is running for her bath. She is not just living in the moment.

How does that little mind work? Here is a real mystery; my backyard neighbor has a great Dane named Diesel. He weighs ten times more than Mitzi does and is at least ten times larger, yet she can accomplish the same tasks that he can. She can’t do them as big, but she can do them as well. They love to run to the fence and call each other. If Diesel is the first at the fence he calls her with his deep bark. If she is the first, she calls him with her delicate bark. When they meet, they delight in running back and forth along the fence talking to each other in their doggie language. Diesel makes about 20 jumps to Mitzi’s 100 or so, but back and forth they run until one or the other tires of the game. Then it’s back to the air conditioning. How does a tiny brain accomplish the same stuff that the giant one does? Is Mitzi’s brain just wired tighter than Diesel’s? Are her neurons simply smaller than his? Regardless of their size, how can they accomplish the same things?

One of the things that puzzles me the most is one of Mitzi’s stranger behaviors. Sometimes she simply sits and looks as if in deep contemplation. She sits like that for several seconds to many minutes. She is almost catatonic. This is not unique to Mitzi since I’ve seen my daughter’s dog do the same thing. What is going on then?

Mitzi often dreams. It starts with her sleeping quietly, and then she begins to breathe deeply suddenly she starts to bark, but in more of a whimper than a bark and starts running movements. Sometimes it lasts for only a moment and other times it lasts for a minute or more. Is she chasing or being chased? Is it a frightening or a fun dream? I can’t help but wonder. Is this dog’s mind filled with ancient memories of what life was like before domestication or is she  remembering chasing Diesel just this afternoon? Is something fearful after her or is she catching her dinner? Maybe her dreaming isn’t in her mind at all, but is simply muscle memory winding itself down.

Mitzi is capable of problem solving. Beverly keeps her toys in a large wicker basket against the wall in the family room. If Mitzi wants a toy that is out of reach she pulls with her paws until the basket is far enough from the wall for her to get to the other side where the object of her desire is.

We don’t understanding some of these things about the human mind, much less dogs. If I were young again I might spend some time trying to find the answers to these questions (I have googled them, but found nothing very satisfying), but the time I have left is limited by age. That is true for all of us, isn’t it? I’m not sad about that. My life has been full, fun, and fulfilling. My life is filled with blessings, a wonderfully loving wife and family. While I’m not wealthy in terms of money, I have a roof over my head, a comfortable place to sleep, food on my table, a big screen TV, and shoes on my feet, who could ask for more? Yet I have more, I have had many opportunities to make a positive difference in the lives of others and I have a CLWD that is loyal to me. My faith in God is strong and I have a home in heaven or whatever is beyond. I’m really pretty satisfied with my life. Certainly, I would like to have done some things better and some things not at all, but then I wouldn’t be who I am today, would I?

It is good to have times when I can simply sit and ponder the wonder of a dog’s mind and sometimes even my own. Now please don’t answer with theories about dog’s minds or ours, I like to believe that when Mitzi sits in her contemplative state she is saying a prayer for me and the human race in general, God knows we need it!

Jack deJarnette

Jack deJarnette

I am a United Methodist Minister who in June 2008, was placed on incapacity leave due to kidney failure.  My kidneys failed due to immusuppression medications secondary to a heart transplant in 1997. The ministry is my second career having spent 12 previous years at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta as Chief Respiratory Therapist and Technical Director of Life Support Systems at Emory University School of Medicine. I  have a wonderful wife of 45 years, two super children, and four grandchildren. My life has been exciting, challenging, and full of wonder as in my early years I was concerned with saving lives and in my later years saving souls I was graduated  from Georgia Military Academy in 1961 (Woodward Academy). I attended Emory-at-Oxford College, The University of Georgia, Georgia State University, and Emory University for postgraduate work. I received my ministry credentials through the United Methodist Church Course of Study at Emory's candler School of Theology. My Theology is primarily Wesleyan and varies with the particular topic under discussion. I refuse to be labeled either liberal or conservative. My politics are moderate embracing what I hope is the best of all parties. I have a deep love for Christ, the Church, and the United States of America. Bev (my wife) and I are deeply thankful to God for the blessings that have been showered on us throughout our lives.

  1. Dogs have situational awareness. They know what’s going on around them. It’s what we like about them–their sense of time and place. Most humans have those; some don’t. My mother was one of the latter. After we got her a mutt to keep her company, the dog kept her “on time,” so to speak, reminding her when it was time to exercise (take a walk) and time to eat. Since a dog’s hearing is “better” than humans, ours could tell when the spouse’s vehicle was still blocks away. She’d run to the window and be there to greet him when he arrived.
    Many behaviors are just habits, imprinted by doing them over and over again. That’s true of humans, dogs and cats and any other organism that can be “trained” to perform what we call “tricks.” We recognize their similarity to ourselves and make them into pets. The most my mother ever recognized was that the dog had a better sense of time and place than she. It did not endear the dog to her. It generated resentment, even as it made her feel more secure — like having to get buckled into the car.
    When I forget to fill the bird feeder with seed, the red wing blackbirds sit in the trees and screech. You’d think this time of year they wouldn’t be dependent on what people put out. The fields are full of seed, before and after the hay is cut. But, what the red wings and cardinals and sparrows are doing is teaching their young by luring them to the feeder and feeding them the seed they’ve spilled on the ground. Soon enough, before the fledglings are able to sit on the perch of the feeder itself, they learn to glean seed from the ground and feed themselves. Presumably that saves the parents some energy they’d otherwise expend catching bugs. Indeed, I suspect it lets them go about starting another brood and accounts for why our population of mosquitoes has been reduced to next to nothing. Before the various birds leave the nest, what the parents can catch on the fly is what they’re fed. Of course, fish in the ponds eating mosquito larvae help keep the biting population in check.

  2. Thanks for your insights Monica. My ponderings are not really about finding reasons, they are just as I said: “Flights of fancy”. I did find your comments interesting, however.

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