Posts Tagged ‘unconditional love’
A young woman dressed in men’s clothing swaggers into a room full of pets awaiting adoption. Her demeanor and appearance are quintessentially “butch”. A few minutes later, I am surprised to see her tough exterior morph into that of a sweet soft-spoken girl, as she attempts to befriend a scraggly misfit cat, I try to strike up a conversation with her, but it’s immediately apparent, she isn’t nearly as comfortable talking to me, as to the cat. She can relate to the cat in a way she can’t relate to me–perhaps because the cat won’t question her or make judgments. I’ve never seen this woman before, but she seems to be one, for whom, interpersonal relationships are difficult.
It’s possible my cynicism has made my interior as tough, as her exterior, but I am skeptical about the emotions pet-owners credit their animals as having–like that unconditional love thing. Dog owners are fond of talking about the unconditional love of dogs. Seriously?
Try not feeding a dog, or scold your dog regularly, then see how unconditional a dog’s love is. What passes as unconditional love is a cooperative partnership between a human and a canine. The dog allows you to be his proxy dog. You are a surrogate for his dog clan, but if you fail to properly motivate him, he’ll likely prove he’s not so loyal. If he were unconditionally loving, he’d spit polish your shoes, instead of chewing them.
It’s easy for us to project human emotions to animals. It’s how we think, but there is a limit to an animal’s capacity for emotional understanding. They may bond with us, be fond of us and even demonstrate sensitivity to our moods, but emotionally, they are not people. Looking into my own dog’s eyes, it would be easy to believe he’s smarter than he is. Like the eyes in one of those religious paintings that seem to follow you, his eyes have an amazing ability to look sad, compassionate, understanding, or contrite. Though his face is very compelling, there is no evidence he feels any of those things. It would be easy for me to believe he understands me, but he’s a dog. He’s barely smart enough to realize, my need to close the bathroom door, isn’t abandonment.
Over the years, I’ve seen many people who transferred excess emotions to a relationship with an animal. I’ve known women, for whom animals were surrogate children, surrogate family or surrogate men–as in companions or protectors. For a woman, the need to give and receive affection can be satisfied by an animal, but it’s not just women. Dogs can easily be man’s best friend because they are easy, low-maintenance buddies. They don’t have complicated displays of emotions, like crying; and their priorities, food, drink, play and sleep are right in line with those of men. For either gender an animal is an good receptacle for unspent passion, energy or friendship.
Nevertheless, the baby-talking girl with the buzz-cut is illustrative of how people often transfer their affections to noncombatant objects. There is little argument from a dog when you tell him he stinks. You can force a dog to wear silly clothing, travel in a handbag or talk to them long past the time when a spouse would have tuned out. A dog won’t roll his eyes if you insist on calling him your pookie-pookie-precious, and if you tell him he’s sleeping on the porch because you’re tired of having him in your bed, he might not like it, but he won’t be grumpy all the next day.
Perhaps this is why there are t-shirts and coffee mugs which say, “The more I know men, the better I like my dog.”
Though I understand that animals can meet needs when people fail, it’s sad when someone’s previous experiences or failure with relationships, causes them to swear-off people. I guess I should just be grateful. My dog is great, but I still like prefer the company of people. Getting close to people is risky, in a once-bitten, twice-shy kind of way.