The price of freedom


Continuing 'Life of a Beachdog' (previous article):

Ay amigo,

Yesterday, I was told you had been hit by a car and were killed by it. No one seems to know exactly when this happened, or how, or whether you suffered or died instantly. What happened to your remains, I do not know.

Another dog lost in traffic, some might say, but to me, your life was worth no less than a child's. My own kind often thinks I'm crazy for it, but it's all a matter of perspective. See, in my own turn, I regret ignorance concerning your learning abilities, personality traits, communication skills and emotional development, including the ability to love and care for. There's no need to pretend otherwise: your life was unique and valuable.

Your passing made me feel guilty at first. I left you there. I left you to wander in complete freedom, trusting local caretakers to keep an eye on you. A life of freedom contains risks, of course, but I figured you were happier than most dogs I meet, so it would have been cruel to lock you up or convince your owners to allow you to hop on a plane with me to crowded Europe.

Then, I spent the night considering the advantages and disadvantages of free range dogs in different parts of the world, and it left me with this question: for all the natural aspects of free range dogs, is there still room for them within our ever increasingly overpopulated society?

Population brings traffic. Increasing population in areas like Tulum, means an increase in tourism, and even more traffic. As the species that created dependency in dogs, isn't it our responsibility to keep them safe within this development? And what does it say about our society, if keeping them safe means constantly limiting their freedom?

How often do I warn my clients for the dangers of letting dogs off leash? And how persistantly do I encourage them to keep them on long leads, even if it strokes against my gutt feeling that dogs, just like any other creature, value freedom?

And, more directly: how can we offer our dogs the happiness that a sense of freedom brings, in combination with keeping them safe from the dangers that come with overpopulation?

We could compromise by offering our dogs a freedom of choice. A choice between a walk or a lazy evening. A choice between a chew bone or a cookie. A choice of direction during walks. A choice of sniffing spots during walks. A choice of speed during walks, at least for a little while until we're out of breath. A choice of affection or me-time.

And maybe we could compromise by offering our dogs a freedom of movement. To potty train them and teach them to be safely alone, so they don't have to spend any time cooped up in some kennel. Or maybe we should take it a step further, and avoid for them to be alone most of the time, because frankly, I'm sure most dogs merely tolerate being alone.

Maybe we could offer more freedom of communication, when allowing our dogs to display signs of discomfort, and respecting their boundaries. Even if it means that, yes, growling would be allowed, because it is a clear sign that our dogs attempt to communicate and avoid escalations of conflicts.

Maybe we could offer them a sense of adventure, by taking them out to explore new territory once in a while. Get into the car (how ironic) and leave for a day: wander the woods or walk Flander's Fields together. And maybe it wouldn't be so bad to practice on calling our dogs to return on request and contain their prey drive, so we can allow them to run off leash safely now and again.

What do you think?

Should I have taken you with me to Belgium, Rex? You'd be out here, silently eyeing my chickens, I'm sure. You'd have your belly full with kibble, and would have grown into a goofy old dog, ever at my side. But you wouldn't have been the way I will always remember you now: with your paws in the ocean, and your nose in the air, slowly trotting off into freedom, until you next chose to come nuzzle me.

I'm grateful you passed through my life, baby Rex, mi amigo Mex.

(Originally published in august 2017.)