Canine Themes

by

I wrote "perspective of a dog" in my notebook a while back, and I've just remembered why.

I've seen a few works of fiction recently—from books to poems to short shareable webcomics—that play on the inherent compassion we have for animals (or animal-like things) in a particular way: this, or this for example. This doesn't 100% fit into the same category but it's similar, I think. They're not a particularly unified set of works, but they all have something in common in the way they evoke sympathy for their subject1.

I remember when I was at school we went to a seminar with the media philosopher Julian Baggini where he talked about how animals were, lacking sentience in the human sense, quite pure in terms of how they should be thought of ethically2. This is part of it, I think. The animals are in a difficult position through no fault of their own. They have a simple, singular purpose that they want to fulfil. Either that purpose is somehow at odds with their nature3,4, or otherwise problematic, or (galaxy brain) they've completed it and don't know what to do next.

I think the reason dogs work well in this context is that they're simple and already well-understood. They want to fetch the stick. They want to be a good dog. If they're frustrated in that, it's inherently sympathetic. If they're being made to do something bad, that's a pure evil act on the part of their master. It's not the most complex thing in the world; almost seems a bit of a cheat, narratively, but it works—at least on me, but I'm awfully sentimental.

 


  1. NB: I haven't read the Adrian Tchaikovsky book, I was just struck by the blurb when I read it in Waterstones a while back. ↩︎

  2. NB the second: This is a barely-remembered gifted and talented session from my mid-teens, the details somewhat escape me so apologies to Dr Baggini for this gloss ↩︎

  3. The purpose can be internal or external, "natural" or "unnatural". Fill in your own Ribbonfarm 2x2. ↩︎

  4. Another example, because it's me, is Ivor the Engine. He's a railway engine who wants to sing in a choir. ↩︎