African Women Voices
Last week Sharon died. She was 11 years old and had been part of the family since little. One year ago she would have run towards me, moving her tail because she was happy to see me: the person who used to sleep under the blanket with her when she was 20 days old and shuddering.
Sharon was energetic and playful. But lately she spent all her time between the vase of roses and the one with hydrangea, in the garden. She wouldn’t look at me when I called her. Only with her nickname, Sharon-village, she would weakly move her bony tail. A severe alimentary intoxication and a cancer have made her skinny. Her dorsal spine was visible and holding her ribs. She wasn’t barking anymore.
Other dogs are barking in the neighbourhood, and for every sound I feel like is Sharon warning us about something. But she’s not here. She arrived one day in November 2000, lived with us for 11 years and left.
The space between the roses and the hydrangea is now silent and empty, just filled with memories.
Sharon was our dog. And she was part of the family. I will not say “it” was part of it, though it would more correct. She, as a person, sounds more appropriate since the love for her was comparable to the love for a human.
But, how can we direct so much affection towards animals?
In her book “A Field Guide to the British”, Sara Lyall says the Britons find it easier to get affectionate to animals. That is because love towards them somehow demands less emotional commitment but still fulfil the human need to love and show affection. Since dogs do not require interpersonal relationships, for the Brits it’s apparently easier to relate to them.
It’s sad and wrong to substitute human affection with dogs’. Also, it is wrong to humanize animals. I stand against movies where dogs can talk, act or think like human beings. Moreover I look with suspicion to phenomenon like Mishka, the American dog that can say “I love you.” It feels like every living being should be transformed in the image of humans, like we were the perfect prototype to replicate.
Also, this human-dog bond is exploited by industries. The Harvard Crimson writes:
“Most dog owners bought presents for their canine companions this holiday season, churning $5 billion into the American economy. For those with dogs wanting to bring in the New Year in style, the Ritzy Canine Carriage House in Manhattan offered a “Presidential Suite” for dogs at a cool $175 per night.”
This tendency to treat dogs like people led a dog trainer to ask on the Los Angeles Times:
“What is going on here? Have we humanized dogs so much that we’ve forgotten they are canines?”
It appears so.
We have never bought Sharon any dog clothes or paid a fortune for a hotel suite. She wasn’t talking to us or learning any languages she could interact with. However, her joyful jumps as she saw one member of the family, her protective instinct when an intruder was approaching to the house, created a bond between us. Someone might say it is caused by the domestication of dogs, which got used to live with humans and see themselves as part of a pack.
This is because dogs are not humans. And we on the other hand, are not their pack mates. Despite the different prospective we can have towards one another, we still create a bond that sometimes last after death.
“Those of us who love dogs, and choose to share our lives with them, must face the unfortunate fact that a dog’s life span is shorter than a human’s. Loss is an inevitable part of the human-dog relationship,” says Evelyn Lee Barney from the University of Massachusetts.
As for when you lose a person near to you, that loss leaves you numb, surprised, and empty.