When he was ready to return from exile, dog would lead man back.
I keep thinking about that wolf documentary, “True Wolf,” that I wrote about in my last post. It made me wonder if we yet know how the dog evolved from this species.
Koani in the documentary was bottle-fed, and when he opened his eyes for the first time, he saw a human face. Nevertheless, it was very difficult for him to adapt to a life in captivity with his loving owners. There seems to be a quantum leap from wildness to domestication for this creature, and it is very hard to imagine the wolf choosing the latter.
By coincidence, I had heard a story a couple of weeks before I saw the documentary that seemed to put the difference between the spirit of wolf and dog in high relief. It appeared in a book called Strays by Jeanne Webster, which I haven’t read yet. I think the author made it up, but again the story reminds me of that quote I already mentioned by Black Elk: “I don’t know whether it happened or not, but we all know it’s true.”
The tale begins with the Council of All assembling in distress about the way man had begun to “manipulate the Earth to suit his desires alone,” taking more than he needed without thanks or consideration. It was decided that he must suffer separation until he could understand and rectify the error of his ways.
Man was forthwith deprived of the ability to understand the language of the creatures and the plant kingdom. Great White Bear slapped the ground with his paw, the land cracked, and the Grand Canyon imposing man’s separation from nature began to form.
Man watched unperturbed as the breach widened, but at the last moment a dog leapt the span and sat down beside him. Dumbfounded, the Council wanted to know why. Dog responded that he had chosen to stand by man to remind him of the love he had lost that day. When he was ready to return from exile, dog would lead man back.
I think anyone who has enjoyed a deep bond with a dog, and I certainly have, can name moments when the animal seemed to act out of something akin to compassion. Sometimes it seems to surface even at first meeting, and I have an example.
I lost my beautiful white Samoyed, Cassie, at age 14 about two years ago. The sense of loss goes on and on, of course, and there are moments when it is suddenly acute. I was loading something into the trunk of my car one afternoon when a young man passed by on the sidewalk with his own dog, a spaniel mix of some kind, and I paused and stared, remembering.
The dog looked back at me, turned, and insisted on coming up beside me. I kneeled down to pat it for a moment, tears welling up in my eyes. I told the young man that I had recently lost my dog, and he nodded understandingly.
“That sucks,” he said.
As they went on their way, I felt absolutely sure that the dog had somehow registered my grief and had come up to offer me a moment of patting therapy.
There are theories about how dogs evolved from wolves that began to hunt with humans, hung around camps looking for scraps, were kidnapped as puppies and trained, etc. I have wondered if healers had intervened with injured animals, and I imagined a scenario where the gentle and skillful touch of the human hand played a major role in forming the best-friend bond.
Humans like to think that we are at the top of an imaginary hierarchy of life on this planet. However, when you look at the story of dog a question arises about which of us has evolved the most, which of us is capable of the greatest charity and forgiveness. There was something in Cassie, for example, that caused me to believe that she was a better dog than I was a person.
Anyway, I like the tale of dog committing to lead us back to oneness with the natural world, so I have decided to believe it’s true. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there is something ineffable about that evolutionary leap from wolf.
This essay is dedicated to Shelley Wolf, who departed this life on October 26, 2012. A beautiful person, she was full of love for her family, for life, and for a blessed number of wonderful dogs.