November 2, 2012
Recently London’s Telegraph newspaper published a list of fifty things every dog should do in its lifetime. The first thing I thought was, wait a minute, since when did dogs start reading the Telegraph? But then I thought I was being too hasty. You know how sometimes you hear about something and you think it’s idiotic and then you look into it more deeply and it turns out to be more complicated and not nearly as stupid as you originally thought? Well, this is not one of those times. And the more I thought about it the stupider it seemed, not just because dogs can’t read the list or understand the concept behind it but because of what it says about us as humans.
To be fair I do get that the article was tongue-in-cheek, and that it’s really aimed at people who live with dogs, and that the message is, "Here are fifty things you should allow your dog to do." Such as: play in the snow, play frisbee on the beach, eat dog ice cream (yes, there is such a thing), and have a special spot on the sofa. These are things that are going to enrich the life of any dog who gets to experience them. Although in an apparently desperate attempt to pad out the list they included some things no dog is going to care about, such as: meet a famous dog, be a ring bearer at a wedding, and receive your own personal birthday card. And in an even more desperate attempt to pad out the list they included some things no dog really should do, including "Create a diversion and steal another dog’s dinner". That’s not cute or funny. That’s a recipe for a dog fight, and even if it weren’t it’s like telling a teenager, "Try heroin just once in your life."
Although the Telegraph didn’t call it a "bucket list for dogs" that’s how I originally heard it described, and that’s basically what it is. Maybe they didn’t call it that because the title of the movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman is proprietary, or maybe just because bucket lists have been around a long time but most people didn’t call them that before the release of The Bucket List. And I’ve gotta say I have a real problem with the bucket list concept. Don’t get me wrong. I think having plans and hopes and dreams for the future is a wonderful thing. There are a lot of things I’d like to do before I die. But assuming that I’m still conscious on my deathbed, or wherever I happen to be spending my final moments on this planet, I want to reflect on happy memories rather than sighing and saying, "I guess I’ll never see Venice", even though if I’m facing a firing squad that would be a pretty funny last line. And, like I said, I have nothing against plans, hopes, and dreams for the future, but instead of encouraging our dogs to be like us I think the Telegraph should have taken the opposite tack and encouraged us to be more like our dogs. Anyone who’s ever lived with and really loved a dog knows they take pleasure in the moment, enjoying happiness as it comes and not worrying about the future. Yes, we should worry about the future, unless some peoples’ beliefs about the Mayan calendar turn out to be right and we only have a little less than two months of the future left, but that’s another story. But anyone who really is keeping a detailed list of things they feel they must accomplish before they die needs to get over it. And possibly get a dog. My wife trains and runs our dogs in the sport of dog agility. One of them, our girl Boo, was the first female Dalmatian to ever earn three Masters Agility Championship titles. Since agility is a team sport my wife tells Boo when to go over a jump, when to go through a tunnel, and when to knock with two clubs and take the trick, but part of Boo’s success was a result of her love of running, jumping, and occasionally doing what she’s told. Even though agility is a competitive sport she wasn’t competing. There was no Cocker Spaniel Chris Everett pushing her to excel. She was just having a good time, which I’m sure made the cake and ice cream she got after winning each of her titles that much sweeter. Although on her way out of the ring after her third title I did hear her mutter something about booking a flight to Venice.