A Dog's Story
by Terry Larson
One must forgive any glaring errors he or she might encounter in the reading of this, my first serious attempt at writing anything beyond a letter to my lawyer. Some compensation from any such disgruntlement resulting from my composition may be afforded from what I believe is the unique opportunity for my readers to read anything at all written by a dog.
Most of you readers are well acquainted with my identity, since I am the first genetically engineered canine. If you aren't, let me sketch my beginnings before I inform you of some of the things that are of a more caninal (is this a word?) nature.
Seven years ago, the famous geneticist Dr. Enrique Federez and the respected but unorthodox animal behaviorist Dr. Martha Bornwell proposed that the government conduct a program to produce superiorly intelligent animals by artificial reproductive methods employing genetic engineering. Several purposes were offered for the need of such a program, most which were for the benefit of homo sapiens. As is known, much success has resulted from this intelligence enhancement program. One of the resulting investigative programs of some of the altered individuals is to study and compare their behavior with ordinary ones of the same species in order to find if their altered minds result in behavioral difference from the animalistic characteristic behaviors of those of their lesser endowed members. The program was approved and, of course, although not under any security classification, was pretty much kept under wraps -- if I may use such a coarse expression. It is called the Smart Animal Program (SAP) and is headed by the two aforementioned scientists.
With that formality expressed of my beginnings, let me then introduce myself. Originally, I was named Whiz Dog. As a puppy I enjoyed that name immensely, once I realized that the word Whiz connotes extra-intelligence from its use with the old radio program named "Whiz Kids," in spite of the fact that the Webster Dictionary defines whiz merely as meaning one who is very good at something, as, for example, basketball. As I matured, however, I resented the name. It wasn't a given name, after all, I deduced; it was more like a nickname. Imagine -- Whiz Dog. So I was smart. Why should I be singled out as being smart? After all, my counterparts in this grand experiment were not called Whiz Snake or Whiz Parrot or Whiz Coyote and so forth. If Whiz Dog was supposed to connote superiority, I'm sure Curly the Snake and Polly the Parrot and Howler the Coyote must feel chagrined by not having been named Whiz like I was.
To dismiss my disappointment I had my name changed to Leonard Growler. Many persons have questioned me how I chose the name "Growler." I don't think I'll take the time to explain that now to the reader; I believe that the question will be answered before this composition is completed. Suffice to say here is that the name fits.
What kind of dog am I? Nothing so special as a Pekingese or a Chihuahua. At least I'm larger than those breeds; I'm a Labrador Retriever and proud of it. Naturally, I think that I should mention at this point that I find, however, much less prejudice among dogs about breeds than do homo sapiens have over ethnicities. I should also mention that I'm not a thoroughbred because of the genetic breeding that involved genes of other breeds as well as other species in order to produce the dog I am. I'm black with two tiny white spots above my eyes, giving me a sophisticated look, I'm told. One might wonder how in the world did the brilliant scientists that produced me were able to develop an anatomy that would allow me to talk? I refer you to the technical papers that describe the genetic procedure. I must admit, as smart as I am, the science required for the feat is beyond me.
Unfortunately, I don't remember my surrogate mother, Frisbee, who earned the name by her frisbee catching ability while a little pup. According to my assigned foster mother, whom I shall have much more to say about later, she was a good mother and treated me just as if I were one of her litter of five. In fact, at the time of my weaning I weighed more than did any of my pseudo-siblings.
I was told that as a little puppy I was extensively tested, but left alone with no attempt at any training until I was taken from my surrogate mother.
My first recollections of my own existence was after I was taken away from my mother. They were like movie previews of scenes flashing by with hints of the meanings and stories behind them. Most of mine had to do with being with my care keeper, Dr. Lannie Webb. He, of course, was more than that; he was my trainer, teacher, observer, mentor, playmate, and substitute parent. My initial memories included him scolding me about chewing up a paper towel; yelling at me to come home after I had chased a cat down the street; admonishing me for scratching the back door when I wanted to come back into the house; reading me a story called The Three Little Pups. I also remember some of our first walks together.
One day, he took me across town to a large two-storied house with a big picture window in front. I could see a large man with curly black hair standing in front of it looking out at us with a big smile. A dog was barking in the back. The man came out to greet us, and the three of us then walked around the side of the house and entered the back yard through a big iron gate. A dog that looked like a big me met us with a frenzy. She licked me and cried at the same time. Before Dr. Webb told me the dog was my mother, I knew it was, even though I could no longer remember her. We both were so happy that we ran around the yard for the next several minutes playing what can be called "dog tag" and "who can run the fastest?" We had a wonderful time. That was the first and last day that I ever saw my mother.
My relationships with other dogs were nil. Even though I had many occasions to meet with them on my daily walks with Dr. Webb, I guess the word got out soon after I moved in with him that I was anything other than an ordinary dog. Perhaps it was my own undoing. I tried to impress the first dog stranger I met by showing off how I could talk, even though at the time my words and phrases, such as "doggie," "bone," "kitty cat," and "you smell funny" were limited. At any rate, it wasn't long before any dog I met on the street would have nothing to do with me.
Later on, I found that indeed I was not an ordinary dog. I spent hours learning how to count, say the letters of the alphabet, enunciate multi-syllable words, say complete sentences, learn the many special rules that Dr. Webb made for me. It was strange how the curricular things I had to learn were much easier than to learn to obey these rules, even though all of them were reasonable. They included: eating was allowed at or near my food dish (I could chew bones next to it); no excessive barking, the amount dependent on the circumstances (barking allowed only at trespassers, persons and animals threatening bodily harm or at stray dogs and cats), and then only normally between 8:00 A.M. and 8:00 P.M.; sleeping and napping only in the laundry room on my blanket in the summer and in my doghouse in the winter; no jumping on persons unless invited; no begging for food, chasing dogs or cats, leaving the yard unattended; only using my special dog toilet for elimination purposes. Then, of course, I had to learn a few tricks, which because of my intelligence was easy for me.
One of the things I enjoyed was my unique dog computer. It was much like a regular iMac, but because of my inability to use a keyboard with any skill, it had none. All the commands were done by my voice; the computer would respond to no other voice than to my own. All I had to do was to say the words to it and they would appear on the screen of the monitor. Quite slick. I would have to punctuate by saying the appropriate word, such as comma, period, left bracket, and so forth. Instead of clicking on commands, I would say the commands. For example for writing a letter I would say "Documents," and then "Word Processing." After writing my program I would say "File," "Save," "Close" and "End," Marvelous. For playing games wherein the curser is needed, all I had to do was to look at a particular spot on the screen and the curser would go there following the path of my gaze if I were first looking somewhere else on the screen. I have no idea how it works. The new science is something else.
By the time I was a little over two, I was taking regular classes from exceptional instructors in English, history, biology, math, philosophy and even history of religion. I was not alone. The genetically engineered, beautiful, female Labrador also attended. Although no one in the beginning told me why the two of us were brought together in this manner, I suspected it was for two reasons: one, to get us to know each other for later breeding purposes and two, to give the both of us some competition in the performance of our studies. It turned out I was correct. Elaine was the prettiest dog I had ever seen. An ebony black coat, sparkling eyes, a tail that enticingly wagged at the right times, beautiful white teeth never used menacingly, she was what every male Labrador dreamed of. My one problem with her was that she got better grades on her tests than I did.
When I was going on three, Dr. Webb informed us that it was the program's desire that the both of us mate and have puppies. I'm sure he used what he thought might be necessary psychology on us to entice us to fall in love. Believe me, it wasn't necessary. I was already madly in love with this queen and, not to brag, I knew that she wanted me more than does a puppy want to play. The one catch was that the SAP scientists wanted to complete the first phase of their studies before we were to get together for this serious business. Even though it would just be a month wait for this completion, my grades suffered during that month, as I could no longer concentrate on my studies with Elaine goggling at me with her tongue hanging out during our classes. It would be another long six weeks after that before Elaine had her next estrus.
During our intense studies, on occasion the scientists arranged meetings for all the smart animals, except for the snakes, to get together. The reason the snakes were not invited was because the anatomy for speech had not been developed for them. We all had a good time entertaining each other and swapping stories. The two mice, Tom and Geraldine, were entertaining as they were masters at playing games and doing tricks. They could also dance together with skill. They were cute in their little outfits as they swirled and dipped and curtsied and pranced, keeping perfect time to the taped music. I must admit that I had to remind myself to keep under control during some of their performances; it would have been so natural to lunge and engulf one of them with my eager mouth.
The two rabbits, Hoppy and Floppy, were able to keep up a continual chatter, wisecracking and telling hilarious jokes they got in their e-mail. At times they got a little disgusting, talking about their sex lives, or partial control of it by use of special pills they were given by their care keeper. At first, I thought they were bragging about some of their exploits until I did a little research about rabbits. "Prolific" I think is the new word I learned when reading about them.
The coyotes, Howler and Hunter, were rather quiet and, at least to me, seemed unfriendly. Maybe it was because they were similar to dogs, but, of course, being undomesticated, they didn't have the charisma and charm that we dogs have.
Paul and Polly seemed similar to typical parrots. The difference was that they had an almost unlimited vocabulary and spent much of their time squabbling between themselves.
Sometimes our meetings had a serious bent. At our care keepers' suggestion, we met one time to discuss the merits of wearing clothing. If we desired to do so, our keepers would arrange to have clothes provided for us. I remember how Howler howled when Hoppy pointed out how difficult or impossible it would be when it was imperative for us males to either unzip or unbutton our trousers. "I would even have a time lifting my dress and pulling down my panties" screamed Floppy in agreement."
"We could always go to our care keepers for those times," I said.
"I think that would be most embarrassing," Polly said. "No, it would be much too inconvenient. And what would the purpose of wearing clothes be anyway?"
"The idea is that we would appear to be more sophisticated and intelligent," Elaine offered.
"You mean it would make us look as if we're putting on airs," Paul shot back.
The bantering continued for a few more minutes before I said, "You know, I think Polly and Paul are right. It would be insane. The other animals don't like us already. They would laugh at us if we started wearing clothes. I think it's fine that Tom and Geraldine have their dancing clothes for entertainment purposes. But for normal circumstances, I think it's crazy and vain for any of us to think of wearing clothes." And so ended the debate.
Talk about embarrassment. The day arrived when Elaine's and my care keepers decided it was time for us to mate. Without any consultation about the subject, other than about what the bare purpose (pardon the pun) of my transport was, Dr. Webb brought me to the yard of Elaine's care keeper, Melvin Waterman. Dr. Webb's last words were, as he closed the gate with smiling Waterman behind him, "You two behave yourselves now."
Turning my head slightly, I could see Elaine's head peeking out of her doghouse. Sniffing the air, I knew she was ready. The thing was she didn't come rushing out to greet me. I knew that we might have a problem.
"Hi, Elaine, nice day, isn't it," I yelled over to her with my throaty voice. I had enough schooling even without any practical experience to know that females of most species of animals have different temperaments than do males. Often they are downright unpredictable. I knew I had to be cautious in how I approached her at this critical time.
Instead of answering, she waddled out of her doghouse and walked over to her water bowl to take a few laps of water. Then she looked up at me and said in anything other than in a seductive tone, "Well, let's get it over with."
When Elaine was pregnant, the two of us continued our schooling. We soon mastered the basic courses in English, mathematics, and human history. These courses were objective and required memorization and, in the case of mathematics, some reasoning ability. The courses in philosophy and religion were a little more difficult for me, as they seemed to raise many more questions than what they could answer. Helpfully, Elaine and I were encouraged to ask questions and have debates with our instructors. We soon came to the realization that often concrete answers were not possible for many of our questions.
I remember one of our debates we had with Dr. Nesbitz, our teacher of religion. It went something like this: "Why is it, Mr. Nesbitz, that God hasn't included we animals in the web of his mystical plans that he has for humans?" Elaine asked.
Mr. Nesbitz, hesitating a few thoughtful seconds as he often did before answering our questions, said, "Animals are not the same as humans, Leonard. They don't have souls."
"What do you mean by souls, Mr. Nesbitz?" I asked.
"It is a separate component of humans. You see they are constituted of both bodies and a spiritual part separate from the body that is referred to as the soul. When the human body dies, the soul lives on in another world."
"Why don't animals have souls?" Mr. Nesbitz, Elaine asked.
"It just wasn't in God's plan, you see. I guess it's because God didn't make animals capable of thinking, determining, for example, the difference between right and wrong."
At this point I was getting a little confused. "What that sounds like, Mr. Nesbitz, is that God has a different set of rules for animals than he does for humans. Is it fair that when their bodies die, animals don't have souls as humans have for the continuation of existence?" I asked.
"I don't think it's a question of fairness, Leonard. Also, you must realize that the human might end up in another terrible existence, a place that as you have learned is called hell. Animals don't have to experience that threat."
"It is still difficult for me to understand why just because humans are a little smarter than are the most intelligent animals why there is this basic difference, supposedly, when the components of animal bodies can be so similar to those of humans. And from what I've read, many species of the monkey family have intelligence equivalent to three-year old human children. And then if you look at evolution . . ." Elaine said.
Mr. Nesbitz, beginning to look a little uneasy, interrupted, "I know, as an animal this must be a little difficult for you to understand. But according to our basic religions . . ."
Now it was my turn. "One thing that disturbs me, Mr. Nesbitz, from my understanding, the soul is just a concept, not something that has been proven one way or another."
"Well, by definition, I think it is difficult to prove the existence of the soul since it is a spiritual thing, something that can't be detected and -- something that must be taken on faith."
Elaine's tail wagged nervously. "But from my understanding, faith is just a belief that is not based on proof. If humans are so intelligent, why would they have beliefs that are not based on fact?"
Mr. Nesbitz by now was on his feet nervously pacing back and forth. My dear, some things in this world or universe cannot be known with certainty. But by straight thinking and reasoning we can reach conclusions that are . . . are logical."
Elaine and I looked at each other in disbelief. "I have another question for you, Mr. Nesbitz," I said. "What about us? Wouldn't you say we are intelligent and capable of making judgments as to what is right and wrong? What is God's plan for us?"
"I don't know, I'm not God."
"It seems to me, Mr. Nesbitz, if what you say is true about only man having a soul, then man has created quite a dilemma for God by modifying creatures to allow them more intelligence as well as the ability to debate with man. Do you think that with our increased brain power, Leonard and I as well as the rest of our smart animals now somehow have souls?"
Mr. Nesbitz looked at his watch and declared that our hour was up and that we should all think about that question. It was the last time that the subject of the soul was discussed.
A happier day followed some weeks later when Elaine had three puppies, two males and one female. I don't know how much money the government spent for that birth but it must have been over $100,000. Elaine told me that she had three veterinarians, four gynecologists, a genealogist and several nurses visit her during the birthing. Finally, Elaine and I got some animal rights: After much hassling with our care keepers, we were allowed to name our own puppies. I even talked Elaine into the two of us and our puppies using the same surname of Growler. Nadine, Wallace, and Jed were healthy and the cutest Growlers alive. I was even able to negotiate two-hour visitation rights at Elaine's three times a week. Of course, the pups would not be ours to raise; they would be trained, tested and educated by humans in even a more intense manner than what we were.
With our formal fundamental education complete, we now had more time on our paws. I spent many hours reading all kinds of books about human rights, philosophy, government and psychology. I was becoming more and more disgruntled about the second-world status of even we smart animals. I was becoming determined to do something about it. I soon decided that I was going to become an animal rights activist. First, I needed some more education about the real world and what social changes could be expected of intelligent animals.
Hesitant at first, I thought it best to talk to Webb. Although he had complete authority over me, I wasn't awed by him as much as I was by some of the formal instructors, most of whom had doctorate degrees. Even though he wasn't over-friendly, he had never mistreated me in any physical way and, I have to admit, he always responded to all my problems. I guess I could regard him as my best friend, as he should be. As the delicate subject of religion still bothered me, I broached him about it on a few occasions. I was most interested in how he thought whether or not an intelligent animal should be religious, believing in God, for example. If God could help, what a boon it would be for us second-rate citizens.
"I'm not a minister with any expertise in cosmology, so I cannot answer your question, Leonard," he answered to my first question. "I am a Christian myself because I am interested in saving my soul. . ."
Back on the old soul business again, I thought.
"I say that it would not hurt you to have some religion. Since you are intelligent and can differentiate between right and wrong, it might be a good gamble for you to become a Christian. It wouldn't hurt. I can ask my minister if that sounds plausible." Later he informed me that when his minister got an answer from God he would have the both of us informed. I never did hear about the question again.
Another question I asked was why there was so much misery in the world if there were a God. "I suppose God wants to put us to tests to see if we are worthy of going to heaven. Also, some of these miseries can be alleviated through our asking Him for help through prayer."
I thought about all of this for a great while. Maybe I could become the first Christian dog. Webb had told me that the best way to determine if I should pursue religion is to pray to God for an answer. I tried this several times with great difficulty. I would begin with something like, "Dear God, I hope I am not offending you by praying for your guidance, since I am just a dog. Maybe you know all about the program I'm in, but then maybe I had better explain . . ." By the time I was finished with these preliminaries, I would become impatient and perhaps over-demanding. I remember asking why would He have the audacity to create such nasty things as flies and fleas and would He at least keep the damn things off me. At the time, I was scratching the hell out of myself as some damn flea was biting me in the groin. As you might guess, I've pretty much ended up as an agnostic, as most of my other smart animal friends have.
The person whom I felt most comfortable with and who always had the patience to give me a good, honest answer was Webb's wife Laura. She visited the dog care facility I was in every day when she brought lunch to her husband (who was also my care keeper). At first I thought she brought his lunch because she was a devoted wife, but in the end I knew differently. It was just an excuse to see me. She often brought me a couple of dog biscuits, to the protest of Lannie. She was everything I expect of a human: considerate, kind, sympathetic, expressive of her feelings. Above all, she listened to me, often stroking my head as she did so. When Lannie saw her petting me, he would say something like, "Why do you do that, Laura? He's not an ordinary dog. I'm sure he's just letting you do that because he wants to be polite."
Of course I would deny it. I might be intelligent, but by this time I was learning that it's difficult to change the instincts of a dog, especially the need of approval from the species that had spent eons breeding and caring for him.
One day during this time, I was visited by one of the primary smart animal investigators, a Mr. Robert Picante. A little man with large ears, he reminded me of a poodle with a bulldog disposition. Not a man to mince words, after he sat down and I stretched out with my front legs straight and together, he said, "Okay, Growler, let's get right with it. I'm here to discuss your performance in our Phase I studies. To summarize, your performance was at the bottom of the canine list." With an evil laugh, he joked, "Of course the one other canine evaluated besides you is your mate, Mrs. Growler. I must admit though that you were close to her in your performance. In general your academic grades were excellent. You had a little problem with your speech, tending to slur some of the vowels and drooling at times on your esses." Again an evil laugh.
"Now let's look at your social performance. Again, you came in second. Mrs. Growler came in spotless. Very creditable. You, on the other paw -- again a disgusting sneering laugh -- failed to follow some of the basic rules you were taught by your care keeper as a young pup. According to our records, you were caught in some lies, cheated on a math test, buried several bones in your care keeper's vegetable garden, and mounted a visitor's leg when you were going through puberty. These are all serious offenses. Somewhat to your credit, Growler, your deportment has been much better during the last year."
Needless to say, I was embarrassed. What is a dog to do when he is so chastised? I did remember some of the incidents he mentioned, but they all occurred when I was just a small pup. The math cheating test entailed basic arithmetic wherein I included using my toes on my hind paws for counting purposes. As far as the leg-mounting incident, I'm certain it was just a nervous reaction.
But I wasn't going to take this criticism lying down. Here was an opening I had been waiting for. "Does this mean that I as a dog am not much different than is a human? I asked Picante. After all, humans are born sinners according to the Christian dogma. Maybe dogs also have the same dogma," I said, realizing the unintentional play on words.
"Not funny, Mr. Growler," Picante said, scowling.
I wanted to continue my questioning to embarrass Picante, asking him if my question were answered in the affirmative that also meant dogs might have souls? But my disenchantment with my dog's life had not reached the pinnacle it was destined to attain to make too many waves.
One day soon after my performance review, while I was engrossed in doing a crossword puzzle with Webb, I could sense that something was very wrong. Call it a dog's seventh sense (I postulate that dogs have one more sense than what man has), call it intuition -- I don't care -- but I knew that Webb was keeping something from me. "Absolute," I said.
"Good, it fits," Webb said, as he penciled in the word that was supposed to be a synonym for ‘steadfast.' The poor man was efficient with his work with dogs and he was bright enough, but his crossword puzzle skills were minimal.
"By the way, I said, are you keeping something from me?"
A worrisome look spread across his face and he peered with a vacant stare out the closest window. "Damn you," he said. "I wanted to tell you sooner, but I guess I just didn't have the guts. You see, the steering committee came up with a little plan that involves Elaine. They want her to live off the land, so to speak. She's already been transported to some place in Alberta, Canada to fend for her own."
"I felt like biting his leg or even worse. How can they do that to her? What about our pups? What about me?"
"The pups have been assigned to a permanent care keeper. They're the same age as you were when you were weaned from your surrogate mother and assigned to me."
I was in total shock. "How can you humans be so cruel? Did she agree to this, and why wasn't I foretold?"
Webb was now emitting an odor denoting fear, shame, and embarrassment. "Look, Leonard, this wasn't my idea, after all. The study of you dogs is deemed to be of utmost importance to the understanding of life, and so our project sometimes entails a little woe for you dogs. At least we're not doing harmful lab tests on you."
I had heard of the various tests humans performed on animals in the interest in finding new medicinal cures for humans and so forth.
"I can't believe this. You say Elaine is going to fend for herself in Alberta? Winter is coming on up there and there's all kinds of wild animals. Why in the world was such an uncaring decision made by you guys?"
"They want to test if enhanced intelligence of dogs will increase their survival performance in the wilds, I guess."
"How can such a study of just one dog be statistically significant?"
A defensive and arrogant odor was now emanating from Webb's skin. "Hey, I'm not a scientist or statistician. I'm just a dog care person. Don't ask me. I'm sorry about this, but there's nothing I can do."
Standing up suddenly, he rushed from the room, leaving me alone, feeling helpless, and ushering in a vast change in my outlook on life.
For the next several months I was one depressed dog. I couldn't eat, had trouble sleeping, was cranky, depressed, and very uncooperative with any human being. Webb could do nothing with me. I was a total loss to the Smart Animal Program, other than if the scientists were interested in studying depression of dogs, which they were not. It got so bad that Lannie Webb was taken away as my care keeper and assigned to another dog, perhaps to one of my own pups. I was never told, of course. A couple days after that, I was dismissed from the program and put into an animal pound. That is when my life got turned around again.
I was told that soon a nice person would be found for my ownership. Yeah, sure, my dog's uncle, I thought. At least it gave me something to think about instead of my lost pups who now would be grown but never seen by me again. I think it must have been for my punishment at being such an obstinate, cantankerous dog, or why would SAP have me put into the pound? Here I am a talking dog, one of a few, and they put me into the pound? Probably the dog keepers would inform any potential owner what a hateful dog I was. And what if no one claimed me for ownership. Would I be gassed, as dogs were every day? There was no question about it, I now was a confirmed human hater and an atheist besides. I had hit rock bottom.
On the third day I was at the point that I was wishing they would gas me -- it had gotten that bad. As I was lying in the back of my small cage trying to somehow shut out the pitiful noise of the howling and crying dogs, I opened my eyes when I heard the clattering of the cage gate. Instantly, I saw Laura standing by an attendant. I thought she had forsaken me.
"You poor dog," she moaned as she took me into her arms and lifted me to her breasts. "I would have been here sooner, but they just informed me that you were here. You know how that government red tape is."
My life had indeed changed: my attitude improved, I was loved, and I was given a chance to contribute to the betterment of animals. No longer am I a human hater, no longer am I an atheist -- an agnostic, almost a deist perhaps. I have Laura to thank for that. She not only became my care person, she became my inspiration, human representative, agent, promoter -- all of this in spite of her anguish over her recent divorce from Lannie. She did everything that I could imagine to reach my dreams. First, she concentrated on finding my family and news about Elaine. Finding the whereabouts of my children -- notice I no longer call them pups -- was not easy, as the SAP people did their best to keep their whereabouts unknown to the public, but by persistence and clever detective work she found all three of them. Even though they live separate lives as part of SAP, I see them often. Unfortunately, we don't often see eye-to-eye on the conduct of SAP, but we still love each other. Of course, they have their own puppies now, which makes me a doting grandfather.
Laura also found out about my beloved Elaine. I almost wish she hadn't. At first the officials of SAP were not going to tell her anything, but she promised to not divulge what they would tell her other than to me. Poor Elaine, poor, poor Elaine had been killed by a pack of coyotes up in Alberta a week after she was put there. What cowards those animals I thought for weeks on end. At that time I would not talk to either Howler or Hunter. Despicable, barbaric, heathenish animals. Thanks to Laura's help, I regained my reasoning. What the coyotes did was natural. They did not hate or despise Elaine; Those emotions are limited to just to very intelligent animals such as man. And I'm one of them, a hating, remembering animal, one capable of keeping such thoughts in my head for long periods of time, amplifying and distorting them. Being that kind of animal, I could not ever forgive SAP. The loss of Elaine focused my thoughts on the ridiculousness of the entire program.
And Laura agreed with me wholeheartedly. Was I any happier being intelligent? Not really. And what was so good about SAP? Had it found out anything significant? Perhaps. According to what Laura could learn from a friend she had who had contacts with SAP personnel, the significant thing it had concluded was that smart animals' behaviors were not that much different than those of normal ones. Of course, they could do many more things and even compete with humans, but their basic instinctive behaviors hadn't changed.
My own thoughts on that matter convinced me they were correct. I still liked to run through the neighborhood sniffing the myriads of delicious odors, whether they are dog or food related; check out all the fire hydrants; lie in front of a warm fire on a cold winter night; know when all the female bitches in the neighborhood are in heat; play frisbee and catch balls before they bounce more than once; have my ears and head stroked by a thoughtful hand; gobble down a plate full of meat and then lick the last remaining juice molecule; even sometimes tearing up an old blanket. These are things that dogs enjoy.
Smart or not, trained or not, given rules that forbid some of these things or not, SAP found that smart animals did not behave much differently than do normal dogs. What this reveals is that man's intelligence has not changed his animalistic instincts and behaviors. No wonder the human world is so filled with behavior that artificial man has deemed to be forbidden and sinful. The scary thought is what if man decides to somehow breed animals so they no longer have their instincts and traits. They would no longer be the same species they are. Maybe man should try to rid himself of these animalistic instincts within himself to minimize conflict with what he thinks is his rational mind. But then he would no longer be man.
Because of our disgruntlements, Laura and I got our heads together to see what we would like to legislate in two areas. One was to enhance efforts for animal rights, an effort that had been going on for years, but without a lot of success. The other was to terminate SAP, that is the genetic engineering of intelligent animals. We both agreed that the government should start with improving the lot of pets. In particular, special breeding of dogs that has resulted in so many diverse and contorted dogs, from blubbering Boxers to petite Pomeranians, should be forbidden. Laura, bless her heart, began campaigning to accomplish this goal. Fortunately, she had many opportunities to do this, as every reporter in town seeked (this word seems wrong, although it follows all the rules I have learned) interviews with the lady that now "owned" the original smart dog. Soon, she was asked to be the special guest on a couple of national television shows to give her thoughts about SAP and the handling of ordinary pets. Because of her wonderful personality, natural charm and persuasiveness, she was asked after these appearances to tour the nation giving talks on the subjects.
At my suggestion she called for a bill forbidding the word "ownership" in any document referring to the possession of pets, whether in the licensing or any formal contract involving pets. The word would be replaced by such words or phrases as care taker, provider, assistant, and maintainer. Included in this bill was the forbiddance of mercy killing, just as human mercy killing is forbidden.
To my chagrin, Laura disagreed with me that all dogs should be given their freedom and provided special parks to live in, even though she agreed that dogs and all pets were in reality slaves in some sense. "Someday, that might be possible, but not until man has decreased the human population so that adequate land would be available for such a purpose," she said. "I also think that we would have a great fight on our hands to get such a bill passed in this still unenlightened age. I think we better leave that one alone for a time."
We are just beginning to think what it will take to terminate SAP. So far, Laura has received lukewarm support from the public for any serious effort to banish their work. In general the public thinks that man is transgressing his moral rights in grossly modifying animals to give them intellectual and linguistic abilities heretofore just experienced by man. The religious generally think that man is acting as God. Any program, such as SAP, however, that has the purpose of improving or understanding the behavior of man is difficult if not impossible to thwart. Laura thinks that my rather desperate plan of having all of our smart animals go on a hunger strike until the program is terminated might work, but she doesn't advise it. "Humans have tried this tactic, often with little success. It is a primitive way to accomplish things. I don't know why man thinks he has to sacrifice his body to accomplish things when they can be done more intelligently."
As she said this, while I was enjoying her gentle stroking of my head, I began wondering if man were much smarter than even the brightest speechless animals. From what I have seen, the evidence is not there.
© 2008 Terry Larson
Bio: Terry Larson is a retired NASA aeronautical space engineer, now busily engaged in mostly sci-fi writing. He has self-published two novels ("House of Parrotise" and "Trail Angels and Devils") through Xlibris.com and is now beginning to try to publish short sci-fi stories from the 80 he has written.
E-mail: Terry Larson
Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum
Return to Aphelion's Index page.