Do All Dogs Go to Heaven?
The Westminster Dog Show is coming up and it always weirds me out. Actually, dogs today weird me out. I am going to try to explain what it is about today’s dogs that has my fur ruffled. I hope I’m not digging myself into a hole, but I have a bone to pick, or maybe a flea to scratch. In New York City, designer dogs are as common as they are absurd. Some can’t touch pavement; some won’t walk on grass. They quiver in purses beside their owners in cabs and subways, and recover in puppy spas after surgeries that allow them to do things like breath and see. Our canine companions have been reimagined as something un-dogish; distilled from their original lupine forms into pure breeds then adapted to suit their new functions as sculptures, stuffed animals, accessories, or punch lines.
The fetishizing of the pure-breed is a failing eugenics experiment that is ruining man’s best friend and turning him into something he is not. When we think of good dogs, we think of proud purebred dogs like Golden Retrievers or an American foxhound. The irony of purebred dogs is that they are assumed to be pure and defect free, but, as products of inbreeding, congenital diseases run rampant among them. Designer and journalist Kat Bauman evaluated dog breeds from an industrial designers perspective: “Many purebred dogs are the product of idiotic aestheticized design sense, and engineered to fail”. Interestingly, the proudest dogs in the American mind, Lassie and Old Yeller, were mutts. Lassie was a rough Collie and Old Yeller was a Labrador Retriever/Mastiff mix. Mixed breeds are simply more robust — and — more dog.
While NYC is at the forepaw of puppy perversions, I can also look back at my Mid-Western childhood and see that my family’s dogs all bore the scratch marks of pure breeding. While we didn’t have designer dogs, we did have purebred dogs: a Weimaraner, a German Shepard and two Standard Poodles; proud German breeds intended for hunting and shepherding. Sadly, they all suffered some sort of condition associated with purebreds. While we don’t know what happened to the Weimaraner after he bit the paperboy and was sent to the farm (according to my parents), the German Shepard had hip dysplasia and died of bone cancer. One of the poodles had an undeveloped optical nerve resulting in blindness in one eye and later died from some type of cancer. The last poodle is still alive but was rescued from a puppy mill where he lived in a small, filthy cage and “worked” as a stud for three years. They were all beautiful and smart, and had kind demeanors, but each one’s “Quality, usability [or] durability” was compromised.
Mankind has been making dogs for a while now, but at this point we are kinda’ wandering away from camp, and have started chasing our tails. When man hunted for food, dogs served as tools that extended his physical capabilities. In this modern era where man no longer hunts, dogs have become something else — something less hound and more dodgy. I get the argument that dogs evolved in tandem with humans and that dogs’ current forms are a result of that. Around primitive human camps, the dogs with the gentlest demeanor and cutest appearance got the most scraps and had a higher rate of survival. Then man taught them to track game, retrieve dead animals, and protect the camp. For their service, he protected and fed the dogs. Therefore, dog breeding simply continues this preternatural union. This gives extra credence to the truism that dogs reflect their owners. If man has shaped dogs and dogs reflect their owners, then dogs have been made in man’s image; or rather his mirror image.
What role do dogs fill now? Dogs, since becoming obsolete as tools, were repurposed and reinvented. In a self-reflexive projection man redesigned dogs to meet new needs. Dogs love unconditionally and are subservient — sating man’s need to be loved and to feel powerful. You can hug ’em or hit ’em as much as you want, and they keep coming back. In this redesign, dogs lost something. Bauman says in the article, “The purebred dog [is] a heritage brand product that has lost hold of the function side of the scales and any vision of the object as a whole”. Man bypassed nature’s quality control mechanisms, and at the cost of his steadfast companion’s health and wellness has made dogs into something new and completely un-doggly. If every dog has his day, and dogs have reached their final dialectical stage relative to man, then we have reached the Hegelian end of dog history and are living off-leash in a post-dog-post-modern world.
The re-invention of dogs to satisfy selfish and shortsighted whims left the animals in a twisted caricature of their past forms — too frail to live and too stupid to love. In our post-dog age we are left with expensive animals that require tremendous maintenance and can’t do what they are supposed to, and yet, despite dogs’ flagrant disregard for duty, people still keep them around no matter how much they cost, shit on the floor, and fail to fetch. At some point recently, dogs stopped being man’s emotional counterpart and, unbeknownst to them, lost birthright and were thrust onto the Internet and fashion runways. They became Instagram one-liners and oblivious actors in highlight reels. In homes and fashionable places, dogs sleep on cushions, and sit in purses like living statuary — dogs as art.
No, this isn’t a Full House episode where a golden retriever drags its tail through the paint and Jackson Pollocks the wall. This is dogs looking exotic and being expensive. Congrats. Dogs suck now. Fuck you.
So, if the condition of dogs is on the decline and dogs were created in man’s image then what does that say about the state of man? New York, what do your dogs say about you?
Not all dogs go to heaven. Hey Upper East Side, yours don’t. If a candidate said that they would make American dogs great again, I’d vote for them.
Ted Scoufis attends Columbia University, and is a former U.S. Army Ranger.
This essay was originally published on Ted’s Medium page.