Eulogy for an Old Friend

So long, puppy. You had a good run. It was your lot to have to depend on us, a bunch of smelly primates with barely any hair at all and an unbearable knack for destruction, to provide for your well-being. Sorry about that.

If I could speak your language, or teach you more than 165 words of mine, I’d tell you that after having lived with your kind for over 14 millennia now, many of us humans agree: You are better than us.

Goodbye, puppy. I regret the rough treatment you probably had. We call you our best friends, but we ignore you, curse you, kick at you and worse. All for the same behaviors our own programming so acutely desires: Eating all the junk food you can, humping legs, shitting on rugs, scratching yourself in public, getting so excited you spin in circles when someone you love comes home. You do all this without shame, which I suppose we greater primates resent. We’d like to do all those naughty things, too.

And so many of your species have it even worse than just getting kicked at. That’s mostly the fault of us, your ancient companions, who rescued you from the trappings of the wild and taught you to trust us. We dump you on the side of the road for convenience, break your bones for science, make you fight each other for sport, put chemicals in your eyes that blind you for vanity, or hurt you just for fun.

Sorry about all that, too. I have no excuses, only educated guesses as to what motivates these unforgivable actions. Maybe we are hard-wired to abuse other living critters who depend on us. Maybe we need a foil to make us feel superior to something, anything, on a scary, unpredictable planet that we say we’re in charge of. But I think the real truth is: We wish we were more like you. You have always been so cheerful about everything nature throws at you; a state that, for all our ambition, we have been unable to achieve. Anyway, it’s a rotten way to repay you for serving as our alarm systems, our therapists, our fluffy security blankets, even our eyes and ears.

Farewell, puppy. If it’s any consolation, as badly as we treat you, we are even worse to ourselves. We’ve come a long way together since we each ventured out of our caves and joined forces to find food. We grew up; you stayed the same. And what creatures we grew up to be! The kind who could make an unremarkable square of land into a paradise if we wanted, only we don’t want to, and even if we did, the very next day we would invade it, pick it clean, torture and murder all the inhabitants and burn it to the ground. It is perplexing to have evolved this way, and I’m certain many of us wish we had just stuck to hunting with you and yours.

In the end, we stick a needle in your paw and shoot you full of aquamarine liquid that makes you go to sleep. Sometimes you get this when you’re old, and sometimes when you are very young. It seems like a final insult, but it’s much more humane than most of the ways we big-brained apes end each other. Did you know that when a person gives a shot like that to another person, they don’t just go to sleep? We make them writhe in pain for a while first. It’s just the way we do things. See, I told you. You’re better than us.

Au revoir, puppy, if there is a revoir. The best we can do is to fire missiles and hope for the best. I don’t mean real missiles, though some of us do that, too. For the rest of us, to feel better about the lack of useful information available as to why we are here and what we are supposed to be doing, we have to launch our own little packages into the world and hope that they will somehow make things slightly better. Our ideas, our art, our bodies, our children, we put them out there just to see how other upright mammals with prefrontal cortices might react. That’s how we know we are good. It’s the only measure we’ve been able to come up with so far.

But you didn’t need any of that to be good, did you? Maybe you had special instructions. Maybe you had a voice in your head that told you when to jump, who to bark at and what kind of spaceship you get on after they shoot you full of the blue stuff. Maybe, by wanting only food and companionship, you retained a connection with something we lost in our exasperating hunt for anything and everything. Whatever it was, you were a good girl. Goodness came naturally to you, and all you needed was a scratch behind the ears every once in a while.

So long, puppy. Time to lay down now. You earned your rest. •

Dan Canon is a civil rights lawyer and law professor. “Midwesticism”is his short-documentary series about Midwesterners who are making the world a better place. Watch it at: