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Encounters: Take Two

Leigh Alexander's picture

When I was previously asked to write about an encounter I’d had with another “organism,” I’ll be honest, the first thing that crossed my mind wasn’t my dog.  But as that seemed to be the logical progression from Anne’s post, I rolled with it, and spoke about how my dog Max and I communicate our feelings to each other without the use of words (because, obviously, he’s a dog, and doesn’t speak English very well).

After our next class discussion, I began to reconsider my feelings about this: our dog-human partnership, and the bond I believe we share. In class we spoke about how dogs do as they are trained to do; as domesticated animals, they no longer do the things they previously did, and have fallen privy to the laws of man.  I believe this is true, but by the same token, we should remember that we are domesticated now too. The years of us humans being a nomadic species have long since gone, but what of the dogs?  Are they more confined by our walls and roofs than we are?

The true turning point came when I reanalyzed my paragraph post with Octavia E. Butler‘s Bloodchild in mind, aligning the plight of the house dog with that of the Terrans from Butler’s story.  In my webpost from last week I commented that my dog “always knows when someone is upset” and runs over to them “and plops on top of their lap …” (Alexander).  This same physical connection between beings can be found in Butler’s short story when the narrator explains that his owner “climbed onto one of her special couches, and called me over to keep her warm,” (Butler).  Both Gan’s owner, T’Gatoi, and I seem to share that same comfort in being close to another, despite our different races compared to each other, and how we differ in race from the organism that we are cuddling up with. In Bloodchild, the narrator, Gan, is obedient out of duty and respect, not his own free will; who is to say that this is any different from how my dog Max feels?

Moreover, Gan speaks of his species being “sold to the rich…[as]…necessities, [and] status symbols…” (Butler) Is that any different than my family purchasing an enormously priced, purebred Golden Retriever? Though I can hardly say that our motive of purchasing a dog was to appear wealthier than we truly are, in essence, our puppy’s pedigree does that whether we had considered it or not.  Gan also narrates that he is often caged by T’Gatoi, further leading the reader to believe that he is treated less like a human, and much more like we’d associate with the treatment of an animal.  Likewise, Gan states that “T’Gatoi liked the idea of choosing [him] as an infant and watching and taking part in all the phases of development,” (Butler).  How does that differ from the fact that, my dog, without his consent, was chosen from a kennel right after his birth, brought into our home, and raised as our own?

The one difference in our stories, T’Gatoi’s relationship with Gan and mine with my dog, is of course the fact that I’m not using my dog as a surrogate to breed slimy maggot babies, which is admittedly a fairly poignant difference.  However, I do think it is important to note that many of the other parallels between our relationships are very thought-provoking. 

In Butler’s story there was undoubtedly a huge power differential between Gan’s species and T’Gatoi’s, yet they purported to live in harmony.  Given my strong alignment with their way of life, how can I assume that the relationship I, as the one who is seemingly on top of our dog-human power-differential, view as harmonious truly is?

When I think about it, what will have I ever given my dog? He eats when I fed him and goes to the bathroom when I let him out—what space does that leave for independent thought or action? It could be argued, of course, that Max wouldn’t need someone to let him out if he didn’t live confined to a house, nor would Gan need someone to take care of him if he weren’t confided to planet where he was not the dominant species, but would they be able to survive independently having been raised in confinement? Maybe? Probably? I don’t know.  As far as I can tell, Max never expresses discontent with his life in my family, but that could just be because he has never been exposed to anything else. Gan expressed discontent with his life, and even considered trying to kill himself, what of Max? Does he feel like nothing but property, only owned, only loved because he belongs to us?

I wish I could ask him.  It seems to me he doesn’t have to run over to me on the couch and snuggle up beside me.  I never ask him to.  In fact, my mom specifically tells him not to go on the couch, so in disregarding the rules of one owner to show affection (I, at least, assume that’s what it is) to another, does that make his actions more genuine, less forced, or less expected? Or is Max still only trained to care about me.  Am I just trained to care about him?

I feel as though looking at this situation through the lens of Butler’s short story has brought up more questions than answers, but it at least has given me another perspective, and another series of things to wonder about myself and my relationships with those around me.  I guess I’ll really never be able to ask my dog how he feels about his life, but I can draw on his actions and body language, make biased assumptions, and open up the gate for someone to argue that he’s only trained to be that way.    The conflicting viewpoints that have arisen from our discussions in class, our readings and my personal connections, only establish possibilities, none of which can be considered answers until we are able to ask the dog himself. There’s no true answer except the one buried in Max’s fluffy little brain and until we figure out how to get dogs to talk, any ideas we have about his happiness or unhappiness will be tainted with our own personal biases and lack the primary evidence we would need: real, honest human words coming out of his slobbery, toothy mouth.



Works Cited

Alexander, Leigh. "Non-Verbal Communication." Serendip. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2014. </oneworld/changing-our-story-shifting-identities-altering-environments/non-verbal-communication>.

Butler, Olivia E.. "Bloodchild and Other Stories." Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2014. <>.