Whenever I try to leave my apartment, my dog will dart out of the closing door with alarming, Indiana Jonesesque speed. Nine times out of ten I won’t even notice it. I’ll be out in the hallway, fumbling through my pockets in the dark for my keys. (The hallway lights have been out in our building since September—I think our super is either dead or long since escaped to Tijuana with a suitcase full of lightbulbs.) At some point I’ll remember that I keep my keys in my jacket pocket, and have in fact done so for fifteen years. (It’s early, and I’m legally retarded before noon.) I’ll finally get the door locked and turn around, where I’ll find my dog sitting in the middle of the hallway with a pleased, curious look on his face—as if saying “Man, that took you some time, huh? Can we go now?”
My wife, who watched the dog escape when I left, will now be listening from the couch with (evil, small-minded) amusement as I try to re-find my keys in the dark (front jacket pocket again), unlock and open the door, then walk back in, grumbling and calling for the dog—who knows damn well that staying in the hallway equals Walk, and so sits motionless, staring at me like I’m some idiot who likes to stand in doorways shouting “Come!” for no reason.
“He’s so smart,” my wife will say, after my faux-enthusiastic shaking of a rubber dog toy eventually convinces him to pad his furry ass back into the apartment. To my mind, given the battle of wills that’s just taken place, this of course leaves hanging in the air the implied addendum He’s so much smarter than you.
“He’s not smart,” I’ll say. “He’s fast. Cars are fast. That doesn’t mean they understand algebra.” It’s not, in other words, like the dog has calculated his escape with flowcharts for when I open the front door. He has a brain the size of an under-ripe walnut. More likely he was just thinking OH BOY DOOR WALK GO POOP WALK DOOR OH BOY, his legs moving independently of his brain the second he heard the doorknob turn.
He’s a moron, is what I’m trying to say, because all dogs are morons. Sure, my wife and I enjoy swapping stories with other dog owners about how smart and observant our pets are, but all bullshit aside, of course they aren’t. In the context of pet ownership, having a smart dog means he can sit or poop when you tell him to. When you’re gauging the intelligence of a mammal on its ability to understand that it should walk towards you when you flail your arms and make noises, I’m sorry, but that’s a low-set bar. The buck-toothed Hispanic woman from the Subway near me with the horseshoe-shaped divot in her forehead can sit and poop on command, as well as punch up to five distinct sandwich-themed buttons on a cash register, but I don’t think anyone’s making any convincing arguments that she isn’t as fuck-dumb as a pile of sticks. The difference between the buck-toothed woman and a dog is that we’re disappointed when the woman forgets to shit in the right place, but astounded beyond belief when the dog manages to remember.
Compared to other dogs, sure, our dog is pretty sharp. But whatever. Compared to humans—meaning me—my dog is, I’m sorry, an idiot. I can poop in designated areas as well as he can or better. I’m also able to perform any number of simple tasks that, frankly, soar right over his tiny bullet head—and I don’t mean reading The Iliad or programming my VCR to tape 24 or what have you. I’m talking about basic survival instincts he should possess as a mammal but doesn’t, like how you shouldn’t decide to eat something based exclusively on the criteria that it’s directly in front of you and not on fire.
The Entirety of a Dog’s Thought Process
I have no idea what a festering pigeon carcass tastes like, but I can’t imagine “delicious” tops the list. If the only thing stopping my dog from gobbling broken glass or lapping up a puddle of bleach is me reefing like a crazy guy on his leash, I’m curious how dogs have lasted as a species all these millennia when I wasn’t around to yank rat poison, car keys or pinless grenades out of their mouths.
Another example: I stepped on my dog a dozen times yesterday, resulting in a high-pitched “YIP!” sound and a betrayed expression from floor level. It was accidental every time, and I do make an honest effort to feel guilty about it—but at the end of the day, one of us keeps veering into the path of the other before diving headfirst under their descending feet. As the latter person in this scenario, I put forward: seriously, what kind of idiot does this more than once? The first time I put my finger on a hot stove outlet, it resulted in a high-pitched “YIP!” sound and a betrayed expression from me level. The take-away point from this experience wasn’t “Next time I’d better try that with my face.” It was “Pain = Bad.” My dog’s cumulative experience from me stomping on him like a burning oven mitt, on the other hand, seems closer to something like “Pain = Dog Food” or “Pain = I Can See My Reflection in The Mirror, Hooray For Toys”.
Me vs. a Dog: Dumb Shit We Did Yesterday
To summarize, I’m way fucking smarter than a dog. The reason? Unless you do something a thousand times in a row for their benefit, dogs don’t have the capacity for pattern recall. Their inability to remember basic cause-and-effect lessons makes them, as a species, ridiculously easy to outsmart. If I tried distracting my wife with a rubber ball every time she complained that I never listen to her, I realistically couldn’t see it working past the seventh or eighth time. But when the dog annoys me, the rubber ball trick’s worked consistently now for something like three months, with no indication he’ll catch on any time soon. There’s something touching about the naked trust my dog has that when I throw a ball for him to fetch, I’m not suddenly going to leave the apartment and lock the door behind me once he runs after it—and I receive immense satisfaction from abusing this trust on a daily basis without any consequences at all.
Last week I lopped his balls off—not personally, I just took him to a place where someone else did—and the poor little guy trusted me every step of the way to the animal hospital. The only one of us feeling anxious about the future was me, as I’d been quoted a price of $200 over the phone. This struck me as high, since I knew from the research I’d done that most animal shelters would neuter my dog for $75. But the pet store we’d bought him from had given us a deal for a year’s worth of free vet visits (operations not included) if we went to a specific animal hospital for the entire year. Going elsewhere would annul this deal, so $200 now meant free visits for the next six months.
Once I got there with the dog, the receptionist handed me a list of “optional” services I could purchase, including an IV and pain medication for the dog. Under the IV description, the list made a point of explaining that, in the event of a complication during surgery, this option could mean the difference between life and death. Under the description for pain medication, the text stressed that “if YOU were getting neutered, wouldn’t YOU want pain medication?” Never mind that if I was getting neutered, I wouldn’t want pain medication so much as a pistol, six bullets and five surgeons. But come on. Since when are IV stands and medication considered optional for surgery? I’m surprised they didn’t try to rent me the pillow or charge me extra for the scalpels.
Since the list was phrased in such a way that refusing any of the not-really-optional “optional” perks inferred you’d be about to wave your dog off to a painful, drawn-out death, the price tag for the operation was now up to $300. So imagine my dubious look when the pet surgeon introduced herself to me soon after, then asked me if I’d be purchasing a pet ID microchip for an additional $50 that would be implanted in my dog during surgery.
“I’m not sure I understand,” I said, although in fact I did understand: my bill was now $350 and climbing steadily with no end in sight. “If I lose the dog, this will find the dog?” I asked, looking behind the kiosk for radar equipment.
“No, not exactly,” she said.
“Because we live in New York City,” I clarified. “It’s bumper-to-bumper traffic outside of our apartment all day and night. If our dog escapes, he’s dead in five minutes. I’m not sure if it’s worth $50 to help find his corpse.”
Apparently this little piece of logic came off a little coldhearted, if the looks of shock and horror on everyone around me were any indication. I might have imagined it, but I think the surgeon, who was holding my dog, tightened her grip a little.
“No, it’s if your dog goes to an animal shelter,” she explained. In my mind, I imagined someone from the shelter taking dogs out of a box and running them over one of those check-out counter lasers like at the supermarket. It all struck me as ludicrous, but realizing that I’d already come off a bit troll-like, and aware that the unfairness of life dictated that I’d probably need this thing some day only if I decided not to get it now, I agreed to the microchip. After this I kept glancing at the door, waiting for another in a series of dog specialists to come in and coax money out of me for another twelve optional choices that my dog would die during surgery without. But apparently I’d reached the cap-off point, and managed to walk out of the place minus $350 and a pair of dog testicles.
The whole affair was incredibly depressing, in the end. At no point did my dog really understand what was happening, what he’d lost or my involvement in the transaction. As a proud owner of my own pair of testicles, part of me wanted him to be angry at me—to cast me immeasurably betrayed looks for robbing him of his manhood, to look down at his poor shriveled little nutsack, then stare me in the eyes as if to say, “I know what you’ve done, and frankly, sir, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
But nothing like that happened. He jumped around beforehand, thinking we were going for a walk. He had no idea I was leaving him at the vet until I actually left. He was oblivious to what was coming next when they put him under. Afterwards, snoozing on the couch with his swollen crotch, he never connected me to the pain. He was just happy to be home and snoozing on the couch. I’m not sure how I expected it would play out—possibly with him getting drunk and taking a swing at me—so the fact that he doesn’t blame me for, or is even remotely aware of, his own castration means I don’t have any option but to shoulder the guilt for it until one of us dies.
Maybe he’s not as stupid as he looks.