Dahlia is a mutt of epic proportions. We’ve done a DNA test on her. Just under fifteen percent shar pei, less than five percent of chow chow & bernese mountain dog. The rest of her is thousands of other breeds with such a small percentage that it could not be discerned what they were.
She is incredibly healthy at nearly 6.5 years old and still learning new things. Many dog owners will say this about their own, and I am no different; she is the smartest dog I know.
Sometimes I feel like animals are not given enough credit just because they don’t speak our language.
For one, from what I know about history and the evolution of human bone structure over many thousands of years — we are animals. We are a part of the animal kingdom just the same.
We wear clothing and create machines while drinking roasted and distilled beans. We have also selectively bred a common ancestor of the gray wolf so that we can have these creatures by our side. However all the empirical evidence standing in front of us says we came from the Earth just as naked, just as in-eloquent, and just as naive.
That is why my dog understanding what “fifteen minutes” means is so fascinating to me.
Make no mistake, it’s not that she understands exactly what “fifteen minutes” is, but her response is extraordinary just the same.
One of the things that sticks out to me is how she listens. Like with human beings she makes a connection via looking dominantly at the eye of her right. I am not sure if you have noticed this, we do it quite subconsciously — but this is how one human looks properly in another’s eyes. We use our right eye and focus on the other’s left — it creates cohesive eye to eye contact.
Dogs having this ability really floors me every now and again. It is part of what I understand makes them “man’s best friend”. As you can see in the featured photo above — she’s known how to look at a camera from very early on as well. It’s clear cats have this ability too, they just don’t care to do it often, or at all, depending.
When I call her name calmly, “Dahlia” — the reaction is just the same as a human. Instant response in the direction of the utterance.
She will come up to me sometimes, just after having been brought inside or after dinner looking for something. It will not be time for what it is she is asking for — which could be an entire rundown from getting a duck treat, or checking the window to let her know I am aware of what she needs to tell me about.
We will make eye contact, just the same as I would with you, reading this writing. I say to her “fifteen minutes”, with love — and a touch of sternness. She will typically (though not always) immediately drop eye contact with a high-pitched “hmph” — as much as a dog can manage anyhow. She likes to talk like us, a lot. She just isn’t capable of the same sounds.
Then it will be anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, but she comes back looking for the same exact thing she was asking for — and I give it to her. Satisfied she will then lie down for a nap.
This is just one of the many things she is capable of understanding. Dahlia’s ears will often pick up when the word “she” is used around her. Megan and I have also noticed that she is regularly able to tell the difference between “she” when we are talking about the cat, and “she” when we are talking about her. We noticed this based on how invested her ears are in what we are talking about.
When we drive to Niwot and roll down the windows on 63rd St. — she starts to go crazy whining, wagging, and sniffing up a storm.
She knows exactly where we are going, and who we are going to see. It’s so touching when Megan and I take her to the empty house for our own getaway weekend. She will grab a bone from the basket, run a full circle around the first floor, run up the stairs — and then stop. Dahlia will then realize her plight and ask to go outside. Where she would ask to go if they were home, too — because she is a dog.
Dahlia creates attachments to stuffed animals that she is not ready to fully disembowel yet. She has a pig almost five years old that my brother gave her. We legitimately have to hide it when other dogs come over because she is possessive of it. She won’t get snippy right away, but she gets very upset and doesn’t want to share. She will share all the rest of the toys however begrudgingly, but nobody touches the pig. I would hazard to say at request — considering the eyes Megan and I have both gotten about that thing.
We both believe the attachment to the pig comes from it being given to her by Alan. She sees him but maybe twice a year and it’s the most excited we see her in that timeframe — when he first walks through the door.
Dahlia is happy, healthy, inquisitive, and aware.
It’s the awareness I want to focus in on as I close out this piece. Dahlia is not the first of her species, or the only species that I have seen an awareness of some kind in. Plenty of them may not have the same level of awareness as a dog, but it is awareness — and thoughts just the same. Plenty have more awareness than a dog, just not the the same strength of connection with us.
There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance I have to have when I think and feel these things. Because I very much love to eat meat and I have no intention of stopping. Cows have been bred to have much less awareness, and chickens really don’t have much to begin with. Though I do know what goes on and I just have to live with that as something that happens in nature. Nature is unforgiving and cutthroat.
So it’s just something I like to appreciate when I can. That we share this planet with all sorts of animals that there is a connection with. An awareness and sense of some kind. Maybe not the most provoking of thought — but it is life that can feel pain, loss, happiness, fear, comfort, and plenty other emotions.
It makes our connection with Dahlia just that much more special. Plenty of people call themselves “Mom” or “Dad” when they have pets, and it really isn’t off. Dahlia looks to us as her protectors and defers to us as her parents. She doesn’t understand this world without us. The three of us have developed a language where she understands us and we understand her.
I feel pretty lucky to have that connection with a completely different species.
Thank you for reading.