During a visit to Athens I was struck and dismayed by the many stray dogs wandering the streets, looking for leavings, handouts, or someone to follow home. I was so moved by the experience that I began the first draft of the introduction to what became my book, Willing Dogs & Reluctant Masters, with the following paragraphs.
Years ago I was walking in Athens with two friends when we noticed a dog following us. The streets were swarming with people but somehow he had chosen us. At first we enjoyed the honor, but as we weaved through the neighborhoods back to our hotel and the dog followed, we began to feel the nuisance of it, and the pity. Not wanting to give him the wrong idea, we ignored him. When finally we entered the hotel lobby and looked back out, he had laid down on the sidewalk facing the entrance, prepared, apparently, to wait as long as it took.
Feeling in turn the honor, the nuisance, the pity—these conflicting feelings express our perennial ambivalence towards dogs. In our myths they are as often hounds of hell and carriers of disease as they are loyal companions of the hunt and guides to the afterlife. The fact that they are everywhere makes it easy to forget just how complex their presence in our lives is. By nature dogs inhabit a liminal realm between the human civilized order and the wilderness.
It’s just as well these paragraphs didn’t make the final cut, but I was reminded of them by this touching video of a campaign called “I Am Here” undertaken in Santiago, Chile to encourage people to treat stray dogs better. (Santiago is home to hundreds of thousands of stray dogs.) The volunteers tie balloons onto strays. Each balloon contains phrases such as “Do not mistreat me,” “Scratch my neck” and “Give me love.” Enjoy.
Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Dish.