I’ve been making my way through all the works of Elizabeth von Arnim, who wrote The Enchanted April. I can’t exactly say why I wanted to read all 21 of her books, as well as her biography, but I find E. (as I tend to call her) a kindred spirit in a lot of ways, and I am charmed by her curiosity, generosity and perspective.
So I wasn’t too surprised in her autobiographical study of dogs entitled (plainly enough) All The Dogs of My Life, to read that she opens with this sweeping introductory accolade:
I would like, to begin with, to say that though parents, husbands, children, lovers and friends are all very well, they are not dogs. In my day and turn having been each of the above — except that instead of husbands I was wives — I know what I am talking about, and am well acquainted with the ups and downs … which seem inevitably to accompany human loves.
Dogs are free from these fluctuations. Once they love, they love steadily, unchangingly, till their last breath.
That is how I like to be loved.
I think all that is true. Being pack animals, dogs look to their alpha dog for affirmation, information and direction. Lacking an alpha dog, God has ordained in His majesty that they look to a human and, if he or she is deemed the alpha, they extend that same level of intense connection.
I was the recipient of those great waves of trust and obedience from Clementine the Hound-dog, and I totally get the attractiveness of this bond. But I don’t understand why so many dog people have a blind spot where other pets, especially cats, are concerned.
In E’s book, she wrote of her childhood cats this way:
One likes response, and there is very little of that to be got out of them. Lofty and aloof, forever wrapped in remote, mysterious meditation, they allow themselves to be adored, and give hardly anything back. Except purrs. I admit purrs are enchanting, and I used to long to have one myself, but just purrs don’t nourish the hungry human heart in search of something to fill its emptiness, … Besides, how chilling, how snubbing, to be merely looked at when one calls. No blandishments could make those cats stir if they weren’t in the mood, and one does want whatever one is calling to come. More, one wants it to come enthusiastically, ready for any lark going. One wants, that is, a playfellow, a companion, a friend. One wants, in fact, a dog.
She doesn’t pretend that that’s anything but one woman’s opinion, but I’ve heard other feline-challenged people say things along those lines. Personally, I don’t get that whole “They’re so aloof” thing. I’m just as likely to be swamped in feline affection on a given day as I was in canine affection. But cats — and for that matter, birds — have a different way of showing it. Most cats are their own fur person, as opposed to looking to an alpha or the pack, and so they’re not likely to evince the kind of behavior that we interpret as unconditional love.
I think that E. gets to the bottom of the dog-lover’s reproof when she says that they don’t come when you call. But to me that’s like saying that cats don’t wag their tails enough. No, they don’t, because they’re working with a different set of instructions. But it doesn’t mean, as I heard one young Christian say it, that dogs are reminders of our beginnings in the Garden of Eden and cats are reminders of the pride that got us kicked out.
Dogs are what they are, and cats are what they are, and WE add the coloring. If we meet our pets in heaven, I wouldn’t be surprised if the first object of their affection isn’t their erstwhile master or mistress, or even another cat or dog, but their Creator. After all, it was from Him that all their instructions proceeded, except for those few additional ones that were channeled through their human.
We can learn a lot from either species, and from the many other animal friends we might meet. I intend to try and to add as little of my own head-trash to the lessons as I can.