Sunday, October 7, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Discovery Dogs

Lascaux Cave was discovered by a dog named Robot while out roaming the woods with his boys.

Mary Leakey had her dogs with her when she found the skull that made her family's name world-famous.

Not too long ago, a Russian boy walking his dogs found a frozen mammoth carcass.

I'm sure if you put the right terms into the search engine, you'd come up with a lot of other good examples of discoveries mediated by dogs.

This is partly because dogs are so good at finding things. Unlike most social animals, they aren't interested in following the beaten path. They want to go exploring, following the scent trails of the less-social animals into the depths of the landscape. You'll never catch them hanging out under the street lamp looking for something that got lost in the field, just because the light is better under the lamp.

It's partly because people and dogs go together, far back into prehistory. The date, like most dates, gets pushed back periodically. But dogs and humans have lived in close proximity for tens of thousands of years, training each other, relying on each other. Dogs were probably hanging around, unnoticed by the record, for lots and lots of discoveries that changed the world, or at least (as in the above examples) how we think and feel about our places in it.

Any fantasy spun about dogs ruling the world would have to deal with the incredible amount of misery that dogs have had to cope with at the hands of their human masters - cruelty, neglect, abandonment, puppy farms, breeding for extreme traits to produce breeds with congenital health problems.

But some sort of canine scientific network, the members of which guide their humans to make discoveries in the field in which they happen to be interested, has possibilities.

So does the New Agey notion that dogs are earthly manifestations of some spiritual agency, dedicated to bringing out our true moral - and immoral - natures. How you behave to those who love and depend on you, after all, has huge implications for your personal development.

And don't tell me Hitler loved dogs, as if that proved something. There's no reason to think Hitler ever loved anyone or anything particularly, and in any case, if we, for fictional purposes, grant dogs a degree of moral agency which real dogs lack, we have to grant them the capacity for evil as well as good.

I, of course, am a cat person. A cat organization would have different goals and manifestations entirely than a dog organization. Though a cat could easily become packmaster to a bunch of dogs and organize them to do something. (Any cat worth its salt an in possession of a set of claws can easily dominate any dog, not actually trained to attack cats, with a soft and tender nose. Mostly, they don't even have to deploy the claws.)

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