I nearly went to a circus once. It was one of those circuses from Russia or the Ukraine or Middle Earth or something. Somewhere they don’t give a whistling shit about animals. I was in a beach town in France, during a balmy summer of warm pastry and cheap beer which made for sluggishly blissful afternoon surfs.
I had never been to a circus (for I am a poor boy from a wee village at the arse end of no-where) but my girlfriend had when she was a little girl and had enjoyed it very much.
In the end, we threw our tickets away before it even started.
You see, we had the misfortune to walk by the site in the daytime as they were setting up for the evening ahead. There was a goat, slowly winding and unwinding himself round a tree in the baking hot sun, dejected. There was a camel, emaciated and fly-bitten, its collapsed hump a sorry symbol. And there was something that used to be a lion. The lion was worst of all. He was in a cage, pacing back and forth like a junkie. Lank, greasy-looking fur wrapped round a ghost of the creature he should have been. The whole place reeked of piss and desperation.
We’d never even consider going to a circus now.
So just because dogs are our pets, just because they aren’t kept against their will, and just because they suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, does that make it acceptable to treat them like circus animals by holding dog surfing competitions?
I love surfing. I love dogs. If I had to maintain a relationship with one of them for the rest of my life, dogs would win every time. But I am not remotely interested in meshing the two together for the sole purpose of human entertainment.
What makes us think that dogs have any desire to stand, knock-kneed and shaking on a bloody surfboard? There’s research that suggests dogs don’t like being hugged, they merely tolerate it as a slightly distasteful and highly irritating habit that we force upon them.
I’m no dog psychologist, but I’m fairly sure that if dogs don’t enjoy cuddling on a sofa, they definitely don’t enjoy being rag-dolled in the whitewash for our titillation.
There’s a sad truth about dogs and humans. Not all dogs are good judges of character. They’re too forgiving. Dogs will do anything to please or obey us. Their desire to love you and show utter devotion will always win out, no matter what a horrible bastard you are…
The sad proof of this is the antiquated and barbaric methods of dog training that have never quite vanished. Hitting a dog will teach it not to do something again. Rubbing a puppy’s face in piss and shit will teach it to go outside when it needs to. But that doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways of achieving the same thing.
I listened, open-mouthed and speechless, as my uncle (from old-school farming stock) advised me that the best way to get a dog to stop chasing sheep was to put it in a pen with a ram and tie the two of them together. “Sometimes the dog dies,” he said, matter-of-factly. “But it won’t chase a sheep again if it lives.”
These are extreme examples of the mistreatment of dogs, and I’m sure the people who take their dogs surfing don’t think they’re being cruel. Quite the opposite. But it’s a bit like people with obese dogs who think they’re being kind by feeding them whenever they beg. Or by giving them ice cream and chocolate because “they like it.”
It’s hard not to anthropomorphize our dogs. They are our companions, they are our confidantes, and they are our friends. But they are not people, and they are not our toys.
Don’t take your dog surfing just because that’s what you’re into. Don’t presume that they like it just because they’re doing what you want them to. Take them out to play with a ball instead. Let them run about daft in the woods. By all means, take them swimming if they love the water. But please, no more dog surfing competitions or pimping them out for likes and entertainment. Dogs don’t belong in the circus.
Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.