Experts debate whether animal thought and emotion are provable by science. Toddlers simply know on sight. “Nicky is scared, momma,” my own three-year-old son said at the sight of our dog with tail tucked between his legs and ears pressed to his head after the cast iron skillet clattered to the floor. Thank heaven no animal scientist was there to dispute what was so obvious, so intuitive.
The dog has no language, they would say, with which to understand or interpret his experience. Because the dog cannot describe emotions, they would say, the dog cannot experience them. Therefore, they would say, he cannot have the experience, or if he does, we cannot know it.
Language is a slippery thing. Though occasionally precise as a razor cut, words mostly fail to capture the deep interior of our human lives. At best, our words offer signposts along the route, give us clues about each other’s experiences, help us shape and categorize, and perhaps make sense of our lives. At worst, words are used to mislead, misrepresent, and outright deceive each other about the nature of our actions and experiences.
To love each other is to commit to making the words we use precise as razor cuts, to make our words a true match to our experience, in as much as words can accomplish the task. To love an animal is to operate outside the world of words and speech. It is to engage in a sensory experience of sight, smell, sound and feeling. To live with and love an animal is to be reminded of the primal— a time when we lived pure sensation, a time when we were wild.
In his book, Dog Years: A Memoir, Mark Doty wrote, “Love for a wordless creature, once it takes hold, is an enchantment.” Well, I have been enchanted. A human being who loves the art and craft of words, I find myself delighted by the wordless time I share with my dogs. Here in SPOT, I will lend verbal expression to my wonderful wordless friends, advocate for their health and social needs, and search for insight into the mysterious realm of my deep affection for these creatures.