An age-old Cheyenne proverb teaches, “Do not judge your neighbor until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” Until we step in another’s shoes and truly get the feel of them, we can only imagine the world as they see it. Yet with feet in lieu of paws and hooves, how can we walk in an animal’s shoes? In spite of our kinship and depth of connection, we are aliens to their world.
On walks through the neighborhood with our dog, Katie, I scratch my head and watch in wonder as she is drawn to lampposts one after another and sniffs at each with new-found fascination. While I stand by and cluelessly watch her, as much as I try to understand (and many times wish that we’d just move on), she is lost in a world I can only imagine. I envision a dog’s world with clouds of aromas—some muted pastels, some lusciously brilliant, painted on tree trunks, seeping from crevices, and wafting aimlessly in the breeze. Enthralling. Alluring. Beguiling. Seductive.
If for just one day we could smell as a dog does, in what ways would that day differ from others? And how might we be changed afterward? Could we go on with our lives as before, ignoring all that our senses miss? Or would we then dare to look at the world from a fresh perspective?
Imagine, for a moment, walking into a large gathering at a friend’s house, hotel ballroom, or perhaps a restaurant and instantly, with just a sniff or two, knowing more about the people around you. Who is nervous? Who’s afraid? Whois excited and happy to greet you?
Moving beyond a dog’s perspective, how would it feel to surge through the waves and leap through the air with the ease of a dolphin? What would it be like to lope through the savannah, grasses billow- ing in your wake, in a coalition of cheetahs, moving toward a nearby grazing herd of impala? Or to swiftly glide through the cold autumn air as silently as a great horned owl, having spotted through the blackness of night the stripe of a skunk on the forest floor below you?
How, then, is it possible to step into the shoes of an animal? Simply put, as humans, we can’t. But we can acknowledge our human condition and our remarkable differences as species. We begin to open to a new perspective by recognizing that we perceive only a fraction of all that surrounds us. Though we never see the atoms that make up our own fingertips, we know, nonetheless, that they exist, and our lives are intrinsically based on them. With electron microscopes, we can even manage to peek at them, to see the matter that we are made of. Likewise, knowing there are sounds beyond our range of hearing, colors and details our eyes simply miss, and aromas we breathe to which we are oblivious, we can turn to animals for fresh, new perspectives by envisioning the world as if we stood in their footsteps.