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Thank goodness for our killer-app canine pals

As our ancestors realized about 100,000 years ago, there are good reasons to have a dog. The big bonus for ancient humans was probably that dogs freed them up from having to listen for or smell their prey—or, even more important, their predators—because, yea!, now they had a sidekick who was all over that.

Scientists think that our killer-app canine pals were instrumental in liberating large chunks of our primate brains for other tasks, like developing language and agriculture, writing sonnets or blogging about American Idol, depending on one's exact location in the trajectory of human development.

So because of dogs, we got to lose the big ears and snout, and, frankly, who wants a snout? (Sorry, Fu. It looks good on you. See the photo.)

But there's so much more that your dog does for you. There's the cuddling, the empathy and the ecstatic greeting each and every time you return home. Plus, there's the inexhaustible family amusement of making up what your dog would say if he could talk. (This entertainment is best practiced in private. I've gotten some odd looks from visitors when I've thoughtlessly switched without explanation into my dog's persona. Hey, my husband gets it.)

And at this point in our long, mutually satisfying inter-species history, one of the biggest pluses of having a dog is that he makes you walk. These animals want a lot of things—they're our closest connection to pure, unapologetic desire—but what they want most fervently, day in and day out, is to get that leash on and tow you out the door.

This is a huge benefit, because, left to ourselves, most of us would never move at all. And since we devote roughly 80 percent of our ingenuity to ensuring that we need to exert ourselves less every day, our dogs' intense and urgently expressed longing to get out and walk protects us against terrible things.

You know those blimp people in WALL-E, the helpless lumps motoring around the space ship in pneumatic beds? No dogs.

There are different approaches to dog-walking, of course. Lai Fu and I pretty much amble—with occasional accelerations for thrilling discoveries like burger wrappers and cats—but we cover much of the neighborhood every day I'm off work. This allows him to stay informed about what goes on in the largish swath of midtown he regards as his territory—terrain that includes the beguiling interior of the Petco at Broadway Boulevard and Craycroft Road, a long stretch of arroyo and a selection of neighborhood alleys—where he enjoys swanning past the furious nonwalking dogs behind the gates. But the centerpiece of the walk is always Highland Vista Park, where he rejoices in the grass—God, do dogs love grass—and I get to keep up with what goes on in the hood: the big Sunday-morning soccer game, the firemen's Frisbee football matches, the doings at the pool, the community garden startup. A pair of vermillion flycatchers raises a family each year in one of the big Aleppo pines around the perimeter, and pretty often, you can spot an American kestrel there, and once in while, a peregrine falcon.

And at the park, we say hey to the other dogs and the other dog-walkers we know, and chat about the weather and what's up. This is another good thing about owning dogs: They connect us to other people.

Here's where I'm going with this. Last week, Ed and I went to a play (The Clean House) at Live Theatre Workshop—directed by my best friend at work, Leslie J. Miller—along with some other folks from the office. The house lights went down and, after a minute or two, out walked Rhonda Hallquist, who I know from the park as just Rhonda, the owner of Jupiter the Jack Russell, the Cutest Little Dog in the World. (I knew Jupiter's name for a year, probably, before I knew hers. Same on her side.) I didn't know that she was in the play, or that she was an actor, or anything else about her except that she owns Jupe, is funny and nice, and lives in my neighborhood. But there she was, and she and the whole thing rocked.

If Tucson still feels like a small town to me, it's because of my dog.

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