SUMMARY: Who would you save, and at what risk?Many years ago--many many many years ago--I was in maybe 8th or 9th grade--I liked to hang out at the planetarium at the local Junior College. The people there were fun to be around, the planetarium gear always fascinated, and I loved sitting back in the chairs as the Cove Blue faded and the sky darkened and a few meteors shot by overhead. Spent quite a bit of time down there with all the regular planetarium crew.
The Boss, however, was seldom seen. I didn't know him well at all. He was much older than everyone else there, and definitely more Grown Up. Here's what I don't remember about this particular evening: How on earth we got onto this subject.
Here's what I do remember: I said that, if my dog were drowning and a human who was a complete stranger was drowning at the same time, I was pretty sure that I'd save the dog because she meant so much more to me. I couldn't be completely positive, but I was pretty sure. And the end of the conversation was that he told me to never show my face in his planetarium again until I had straightened out my priorities in terms of whether a human's life or a dog's life was more important.
For some reason this came to mind tonight, as I listened to the news tell of a house fire last night, in which the mother and child escaped safely but separately, but the father went back into the house after he had been outside safely. They don't know why; the speculation is that he didn't know that his daughter had gotten out onto the roof and had been rescued. He never came out again.
I started thinking, what if I were safely out of the house, and realized that my dogs were still in there. What would I do? I know--I KNOW--that it is extreme folly and incredibly dangerous to return to a burning house. Firefighters with all the proper equipment avoid doing it if they can possibly do so. And yet, my dogs are so important to me that it would be agony to think of them being trapped in the house and unable to get out. I would live with the guilt of not saving them and the pain of their absence probably for the rest of my life. I think I can imagine what the man must have been feeling.
This led back down the circle of: If my dogs are so important to me that I might actually think about risking my life to save them, are they also so important to me that, if one of them were drowning at the same time as a human who was a perfect stranger was drowning, I would first rescue my dog?
I don't think that most people understand that relationship. Even people who have dogs, or have had dogs, but haven't become a team with them, felt like part of their family, can quite understand. One gentleman I recently met, who is a former dog owner, expressed surprise when I said that an agility friend's dog had just died and I had sent a sympathy note. "You'd send someone a sympathy card because their *dog* died?" he asked. Not in disgust at all, just pure amazement in that it was something it would never have occurred to him to do, nor understood why it might be important enough to do.
I've worked so closely with my dogs, lived so closely with them, developed a teamwork and understanding so far beyond what I ever had with my family's dog or even with my first dog of my own, with whom I was very close and whose death devastated me. Competition and training agility and tricks and everything else has built this relationship; we've learned how each other thinks and reacts and what we like and dislike and what motivates us and how to communicate, and I've learned how to appreciate what my dogs do and how. (Some people say their kids make them laugh every day; my dogs make me smile or laugh sometimes many times a day.)
Sure, they're just dogs. They're not human. They're not like having a significant other, or children of one's own. They're a different species. We anthropomorphize them, but I know that they think and act differently from humans and have different motivations and needs.
And still: Would I go into a burning building to save my dog's life? Would I rescue my drowning dog before a drowning stranger?
How about you?