Ellen Langer

More Like Dogs ·

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Listen to Counterclockwise

Someone decided that dogs are a lower species than humans. He clearly didn’t consider emotional well being—things like blame, regret, being evaluative — when coming to that conclusion. There are so many ways dogs seem superior to me, but the one I wanted to mention was their approach to “disability.”

Gus, my twelve year old Westie recently went blind all of a sudden. It doesn’t seem to stop him from running around and enjoying himself fully, however. He was never conforatable with being on a leash and so he’s not on one now. On walks, I try to direct him with my voice, and he mostly listens and I mostly remember to stop him from walking into trees. The thing that is noteworthy is when we both miss. He hits the tree, regains his composure and is ready to strut his stuff again. No wallowing, no helplessness, no apparent regret. All that seems to matter to him is the moment.

When Gus first went blind I brought him to a specialist who said it was not retinal and may be indicative of a brain tumor. She suggested a battery of intrusive tests. Having just published Counterclockwise, in which I discuss the inherent limits to medical knowledge, it felt like the same must be even more true for vetinerary medicine since they get even less feedback from their patients than human doctors. Since the vet can’t know for sure, I’m letting Gus take care of himself for as long as he can. He doesn’t know he’s supposed to be stressed while he’s waiting to see if he does indeed have a brain tumor.

The vet says the blindness is permanent. We’ll just have to wait and see.