Dog at fence.

Woof, et cetera, et cetera.

I consider bears, elk, and other animals like equals. We have different jobs as it were, but we live in the same community and what they are up to is at least as important as what I am doing or likely more so. . . I guess I am not that hung up on what people look like on the outside. It’s what’s inside that counts.  

-Charlie Russell [1]

During my first year in college I lived with my brother and another roommate. Our house was a small adobe style cottage nestled at the base of Santa Barbara’s stupendous Santa Ynez Mountains. As nearly everywhere in that lovely southern California town, the beach was in easy walking distance. There, the stretch of the Pacific Ocean is interrupted by another breath-taking sight: the Channel Islands. If you are lucky, you can see the trace and arc of migrating humpback and blue whales passing through.

We spent many days in the grassy backyard behind the cottage, studying or just lazing with friends. But one afternoon, sitting outside reading, we were startled to hear a loud “Woof! Woof!” The barking came from the other side of the six foot wooden fence. My brother and I looked up and stared, silent in disbelief. Then it came again “Woof! Woof!” Neither of us could stand it any longer. We burst out laughing until our eyes watered.

What, might you ask, was so funny about a dog barking in suburbia? The reason? It was no normal “woof”. The bark wasn’t a “Rrrrruuf! Rrrrruuf!” or even regular dog “Woof” but a fully articulated bark that sounded exactly how it is written here “Woof Woof Woof” – uttered with clipped elocution absent affect. A simple, flat-toned “Woof!” The dog sounded like just a man dressed in a dog suit, barking. Yes, he was a “real” dog, but it was impossible not to imagine him the way we did – a human in a dog’s body.

From that day onward, he became “Man Dog.” We pictured him coming home, throwing the car keys on the table, then slipping off his shirt and tie to change into a dog suit. We grew quite used to his “Woof’s” and we began to answer back, in a combination of woof’s that we tried to emulate and in our own words. A few weeks later, we moved and said good-bye to our over the fence friend.

Man Dog came to mind after all these years after reading the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness. Last summer, an international group of neuroscientists proclaimed that all animals, including non-mammals such as octopi, have what we have: brains and neural functions that allow us to experience consciousness and all the wonders that this beautiful planet offers. [2] Science says that all animals, including humans, are made up very much how my brother and I pictured Man Dog. We are basically the same inside wearing different (zipperless) suits or costumes – bear, human, cat, elephant, rabbit, chicken, snake, or dog.

Of course, this is a line of reasoning that Buddhists have pursued for two and a half millenia. Beneath this corporeal shell – beyond our mortal coils - lies a common connected consciousness. [3] We are rays emanating from the common beam of life. Differences in what we think and how we act do not come from differences in the starting material; rather, various shades of thoughts and behavior result from differences in the lens through which the beam of life shines. Now, scientists have uncovered something else – other animals have language like we do.

Prairie dog.

I talk, you listen.

While language has always been touted as hard evidence for our species’ superiority over all others, biologists have found hard evidence showing otherwise. Prairie dogs are talking about us in the same way we do about them including gossip about size, shape and color of their human observers.[4] It’s predicted that within ten years, there will be human-animal simultaneous translators like the United Nations employs.

Sadly, these innovations come too late for us to converse with Man Dog. But, like many other people, we didn’t need fancy technology to connect with another species, nor did Man Dog. Looking back at what first seemed so odd and “un-canine like” was perhaps Man Dog’s skill and gift – and dedication- to speak human so as to reach even the most unenlightened – and he did. We shared a short time of life together, shared a part of our hearts, despite the physical barrier. As those who live closely with other animals know, no linguistic decoder rings are needed when there is love. Man, Dog, Woman, Bear, Bird – the outer package doesn’t matter but what’s inside.

(Dedicated to Ty)

Literature Cited

[1] Bradshaw, G.A., Borchers, J.G. & V. Muller-Paisner. 2012. Caring for the Caregiver: Analysis and Assessment of Animal Care Professional and Organizational Wellbeing. The Kerulos Center.

[2] Cambridge Declaration. 2012. The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness.

[3] Shakespeare, W. [or E. DeVere, b. 1550]. Hamlet, Act II Scene I          

[4] CBCNews. 2013. Prairie dogs' language decoded by scientists. June 2013.

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