By Chris Carroll
My father-in-law is a veritable font of colorful sayings. One of my favorites frequently finds its way into my tours as I describe one aspect of Western’s approach to striking a balance between freedom and responsibility: “Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.”Another of Dad’s gems has come to mind recently during my Natural History classes. “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” In a less literal way, we’ve been trying to get inside of a dog; more specifically, inside of the friendship between dogs and humans.
I have had a dog in my house since my earliest memories. Cinnamon Bun, named after her toasted brown coat decorated with a creamy “frosting,” was a medium sized mutt with a good slug of collie in her. My folks bought her as a pup shortly before I was born and we had her until I was in eighth grade. While my general recollection of Cinnamon was that she was a friendly, loyal dog, I do have one memory that taught me that she still harbored a wild side. When I was about three years old, I found a rabbit in my backyard that Cinnamon had just killed. I picked up the broken critter, carried it to out back door, and asked my mom through my tears, “Fix it.” At that young age I was lead to wonder at the connection between my “tame” Cinnamon and her wild ancestors.
Over the years I have drawn many of your sons into a deeper consideration of the whole idea of domestication. A couple years ago I found a fascinating documentary on the subject called Dogs Decoded. The film points to a variety of studies which all highlight the amazing relationship between humans and dogs. From the way dogs can read our emotions to our dependence on them to help us work and play, it almost seems that our friendship with these four-legged creatures was intended from the beginning; perhaps something intended by God when He said “cultivate the earth and subdue it.”
Yet as over the years I have gotten “inside” of one dog after another, I find that often what really happens, in this master/pet relationship, is that I have an opportunity to become more human. So many times when I come home after a long day at Western, I find the first one to greet me at the door is my German Shepherd, Lina. To my usual irritation, she will not leave me alone until I stop and give her a good, long scratch. The regular surprise to me is this: when I finally decide that I can’t ignore her, putting down my bags and taking a knee to give her the rub she wants, I find the burdens of the day lighten, and my ability to be cheerful towards Sarah and the kids rises. Some may say it is simply endorphins being released. Perhaps that is part of it. Yet more so, I am convinced that I need reminding that no matter what has happened during my day, Lina needs me to scratch her. Somehow, when I decide to give her that time, a truer perspective comes into focus, one that is more open to the questions of my eight-year-old daughter and the smile of my bride.
So am I saying that a dog is the solution to stopping Mr. Grumpy Pants or other family woes? Maybe. You might just find that inside of a dog…there is light after all.