Sometimes I wish I were a dog, or a pig, or some other simple creature. They are so charmed by the immediate. The fear they experience is temporary: a blare of noise; they cower – then all is safety and joy and tail-wagging again. They revel in each new day despite it being the same as all the days they’ve ever known. Which of us can claim that kind of happiness as our own?
My dogs are outstanding examples of minds entirely enraptured by the present. If our little dog, who is two years old (or fourteen in dog years) could speak, you get the sense that she would be calling out something like this. ‘You’ve come to get me from my kennel! This is great! Look! The grass! It smells so great- and the flowers- and the soil- and the bench! This is so great! I’m so pleased to see you! Hey, there’s your hand! Hey, I’ve just jumped up so I can see you better! And again! Hey, there’s your hand! Hey, there’s the grass again! I think I’ll wee on it! (brief pause.) Hey, we’re going inside! I love being inside! I love you guys! This is great!’
But it’s our older dog, now twelve years old (or eighty-four in dog years), who really takes the biscuit, as it were. About a month ago we learned that she was in a fairly advanced stage of kidney failure. She spends the vast majority of her time sleeping, and a few days every fortnight with her tummy rumbling like a volcano, emitting terrible odours and not eating anything. But whenever I come downstairs in the morning, she sits up, wagging her tail and generally behaving as if she has been looking forward to this for weeks. The slightest show of affection produces in her the kind of excitement warranted by a trip to the Seychelles, or perhaps a new series of Doctor Who. In moments like that, I think more than ever how I might benefit from being a dog. Her brightened face gives me some hope for joy in suffering.