For quite some time I have been thinking about the importance of my relationship with Happy-the-dog.
He has changed over time, I have changed because of knowing him and he has changed because of knowing me (and, so too, he has changed because of knowing my daughter Isobel, and she has changed because of knowing him.). Our relationships have changed over time.
I know this to be true because I am experiencing it, but the common categories or terms in my areas of study and practice for talking about the relationship between humans and other creatures are dissatisfying to me.
Happy isn't my "pet," nor my "animal child." He's not Isobel's "brother." I'm not his "owner," nor "master," nor "human parent." He's something beyond all of these categories and he's a singular being in my life. Our relationship is akin to the closest relationships I have with other humans (with my daughter, my mother, my brother, my partner, my best friend, treasured students and colleagues) but profoundly distinct, as well, because we don't communicate in the way I communicate with other humans or he with other canines, and because his consciousness and my consciousness have some significant differences (which I continue to discover).
As well, I struggle because I don't have language for what I mean by “changed” when I talk about all of this. Or, rather, I mean that I do have language to describe the nature of the changes I’m experiencing and that I witness in Happy (and I happily describe to anyone who will listen, including his Veterinarian), but all of my training as a life-span developmentalist and gerontologist is human-focused. I haven’t any explanatory frameworks – yet – for sussing what is going on, for making sense of the changes I’m experiencing over time in the quality of our relationship, Happy’s and mine. (I wonder—does Happy have an opinion of all of this? Does Happy experience our relationship as changing over time as we know each other more intimately?)
Thank goodness that I don’t need an official explanation to validate my experiences!
I am traveling through time and developing as a being. Happy is traveling through time and developing as a being. We are traveling through time together. We are developing together, and not just together but because of each other. But our creaturely life-spans, while over-lapping, differ in length. We are both middle-aged according to human time-keeping (though Happy is a bit older than I am, but not until recently). Baring any unforeseen circumstances, I will most likely outlive Happy; he will become an old dog before I become an old human. And I will definitely not get to spend my ancient years with Happy by my side.
As I write this essay I see that there are questions here about mortality, about the life-spans of human beings and other-than-human beings, about how these life-spans overlap and diverge, and about how as traveling companions across time and space we watch each other (sometimes Happy comes into my bedroom at night while I am asleep and stands at the side of the bed watching me until I wake up), figure each other out as best we can, and make a precious little life together.