Essay: What Makes Dogs Different

Written by: Jenna Woginrich

Photo by Tim Bronson

[Editor’s note: Jenna Woginrich, one of our former colleagues, is now a homesteader and an author. She shares her life with Siberian huskies Jazz and Annie, as well as Gibson, a border collie. Here’s a wonderful essay Jenna published on her blog, Cold Antler Farm.

No animal even remotely compares in import to the dog here at Cold Antler Farm. Dogs get the lion’s share of attention, love, and care. They live in the house with me. They share my bed and furniture. They get the best medical attention, food, and effort I can afford. Dogs are not livestock to me. They are not children, siblings, or any other simulacrum of human interaction. They are my dogs. That is enough.

I am a dog person. When I say that, I do not mean that as a subculture identifier. I do not spend my evenings in paw-print embroidered sweatshirts scouring to foster homeless canines or sifting through breed-specific email lists. Dogs are not my hobby, occupation, or entertainment. When I say “I am a dog person,” I mean that my personhood is intensely connected to, and made better through, my life with dogs.

They are my partners in living in this world. And I don’t mean “partners” as a replacement for a human spouse or family, not at all. I mean partners in the most basic way possible. They are my wingmen, staff, and teammates. We exist in a primal partnership that has sung the same long howl since before any human beings had surnames or used complex tools. We ran beside each other long before memory-foam dog beds and Nylabones. This partnership is ancient and ceremonial. It is the combination of two amazing stories, shared over meat and firelight. It is our legacy and privilege to share our lives with another beast so in tune and useful to us.

Dogs chose us. Unlike cats, horses, or other domestic animals, they became a part of our lives by their own volition. They didn’t do it because of some cosmic wanderlust to serve man, but because we kept some mighty tasty scrap piles at the edge of our camp. So they became comfortable with our campfires and voices, and over the centuries have co-habitated with man in a pact of mutual benefit and success. Dogs, like man, are predators that live in groups and hunt by daylight. Their skills in running down prey far exceed our own. When the spoils were shared, pups raised with humans, and generations of selective breeding and adaptation were put in effect, we were gifted the company of an amazing and multi-talented animal. We now have dogs to aid people in every civilization in the world. No other domesticated species has become so useful in so many ways. So adaptable and integral to our own civilization.

Jenna and her working dog, Gibson, when he was a puppy.
Photo by Tim Bronson

Dogs protect our livestock, homes, and children. They detect bombs, lead the blind, and track criminals and the stranded alike. Some tow boats to shore. Others race across fields in search of game. Some dogs flush, retrieve, or point. Others herd, gather, drive, or drove. Some dogs pull sleds, taking us where we could never go alone. Others sniff out drugs, detect heart attacks, or listen to sounds in the forest we could never hear. Some dogs fill stewpots while luckier ones sit on cushions in royal halls. Look at any picture or literature of any class in the history of Man, and there is a dog. They are heroes and villains. They are lab rats and show stock. Some dogs go off to war for us, while others simply let us hold them until we can’t cry anymore. They have helped us live, work, and eat, and in this relationship both of our species have exploded in populations and prominence. While such population explosions come with their problems, the numbers don’t lie.

I refuse to see all animals as equals. Call me a speciesist all you like. Livestock raised for our plate are not on the same emotional, societal, or cultural plane as dogs. Certainly not to me, or to our history as co-dependent species. If you have the audacity to compare my working dogs to my edible livestock, I have already stopped listening to you. Dogs are not dinner, they are home. And even if some dogs are raised as food by other cultures, it doesn’t diminish the story of Dog, or negate the work they have done and continue to do with us humans. They have been watching over us, protecting us, hunting with us, carrying us, and sharing our lives since the story of modern man began. Don’t you dare compare them to a pig.

I could live the rest of my life in peace without another person, but would collapse in spirit without a dog. This, I am certain. For those who don’t like dogs, my heart goes out to you.

It must be hard going through life all alone like that.

2 thoughts on “Essay: What Makes Dogs Different”

  1. Love the essay Jenna, especially the part where you said, ‘I could live the rest of my life in peace without another person, but would collapse in spirit without a dog.’ may have to use this for my Facebook status. Theres a page that posts a lot of dog essays that you may enjoy reading. I’ll post is for you here: Dog Essay

  2. “Don’t you dare compare them to a pig.”

    I instantly disliked you and tuned out all your other interesting points when I read that.

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