Why dogs don’t feel cheated.


For the umpteenth time, Felix was walking down to school wishing he was the dog.

The dog gets to leave him at the school gate and go romping in the forest. Not so, Felix.

Jacques was not so far off the mark in As You Like It:

And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school…”

It is a stage, a scene in a life, and most boys must creep to school.

But it doesn’t stop them wishing fervently that they were the family cat, or dog. Or even gerbil. For surely such freedom is infinitely preferable to reeling, writhing, laughing and grief?

My answer to his wishing is always the same. “But Macaulay only gets twenty years, tops, on this planet, Felix,” I advise sagely. “Would you like a lifespan of only twenty years?”

For most of his life this has, if not convinced him, at least launched him into a reverie of consideration. Twenty years of romping in the forest and freedom from responsibility; of being endless;y loved and cuddled; a life of bones to chew and squirrels to chase, ย always with watchful human guardians filling the doggie chow bowl.

Might that be fair exchange for sixty fewer years of life?

It took some thought.

But the other day, as we pottered down the road, Felix had a new rejoinder.

“But Mum, ” he said earnestly, “Macaulay doesn’t think he’s living for only twenty years. To him, it’s a lifetime, and time travels differently for dogs. To him, one day is like seven of ours.

‘That,” he continued, warming nicely to his subject,”is why cats and dogs sleep a lot. Their days end way before ours and so they have to fit all their sleeps in.”

We paused to think about this, pottering along in the wake of the small dog’s behind. Macaulay is eight years old: which we are informed is about 56 in doggie years. That’s a lot of doggie sleeps. But he’s happy, alleges Felix, because time simply passes much slower for him, so that a whole lifetime can be lived. Just on a different temporal scale to ours.

And then, Felix weighed in with the killer argument.

You see,” he informed me sagely, “you have to think about sea turtles.”

I thought about sea turtles for a moment solemnly. But I got nothing, so I waited for my son to elucidate.

“They can live for more than 100 years,” Felix said. “If they looked at our lives as they were walking down to turtle school the turtle mum would say, you don’t want to be like those humans, do you? They only live seventy years.”

“But we’re happy because time passes exactly the right speed for us.”

My son, I thought, had a point. Is that how it is? Does each creature simply experience time at its temporal scale? It would make the plight of the butterfly a little easier for me to bear if that were the case. It is true that some live for up to ย year but there are others which have only a few precious days. But what if a day was 70 years to ย butterfly?

And look at the dragonfly. A year of being a horrendous carnivorous monster lurking in the shadows of pond water, followed by an all-too-short glorious finale when the cantankerous nymph scales a stem into the sunlight and warmth of clement weather. The dragonfly mates on the wing. How long can it take in its temporal scale, if a dragonfly lives for only a year?

We reached the school gate and tied up the dog. Befor he came into view of all his friends, Felix turned round and gave me a great big bear hug suffused with reluctance.

And then he turned and ran, shouting and laughing, into the playground.


51 thoughts on “Why dogs don’t feel cheated.

    1. Probably best they don’t have any idea of the day or the hour, Gabrielle. They’re such happy creatures. Hope your two are keeping well? Enjoying the new place?

  1. โ€œBut weโ€™re happy because time passes exactly the right speed for us.โ€ Felix

    I am always in awe of your children, Kate, and in you: the time you take to listen and ponder and wonder along with Felix and Maddie, the room you give them to grow in mind and spirit as they travel through their own young lives at just the right speed for them.

    I’ve put Felix’s quote in my Commonplace Book, where his words sit next to all my favorite quotes, and off I go now, rather more like the speed of a turtle.

    1. Wow, Penny, I’m so pleased that set of words jumped out at you! It struck me at the time as being well thought out. All children are full of surprises, as I’m sure Kezzie is beginning to prove. Now there’s one very special young lady.

  2. Something to ponder. Felix has made some excellent points. I’m glad that his parent (you) is wise enough to let him consider and expand on these thoughts. For myself, I’d prefer to have the 70+ years to share my children’s and grandchildren’s lives.

    I feel sad for children that I see in stores who try in vain to get their parent’s attention. But their parents are consumed by electronic gadgets or their own musings and appear to not even hear. Sad. Just think what they miss.

    1. I know, Judy. I live in a part of the world where working mums are the norm, but I am lucky enough to have a job which means I still get to be with my kids in all their spare time. This kind of thinking only really comes when you stop doing and let your mind ‘bibble’, and it is not valued much here. Me: I wouldn’t be sane without it.

  3. Wise beyond his years, he is — or? I expect he’s exactly where he should be, given the span of his life, which fortunately no one knows. And I can quite see his point, about the dog…

  4. What a wonderfully wise son you have. How lucky you and he and Mac are to have each other. And how lucky we are to be invited into your world.

  5. My goodness, Kate, please tell me you are writing these “wisdoms” down and preserving them in an easily accessible format. I think Felix’s wit and wisdom could be published! He has hit upon something brilliant I think. And you’ve fleshed it out for us. I will be contemplating Darwin with new eyes, too. It already kind of disturbs me that he will more than likely outlive me! I did laugh at one line. “I thought about sea turtles for a moment solemnly. But I got nothing…” Felix would stump me all the time! ๐Ÿ™‚

    When you have the time, Kate, I’d love to share a video I put on my blog today with Felix. I actually thought of him when I posted last night–truly. I hope it isn’t blocked.

    1. Debra, alas, I write stuff down here and only here! There is no time for anything else. I must get the blog made into a set of bound books to read when I am old and grey.
      So sorry not to go and look at the video before now – I’ll show it to him this evening :-0

  6. It reminds me of my cousin – all of ten at the time that pointed out that time was like your hand. The dinosaurs lived for the length of the nail on your finger. All of time til our birth is from the nail to the first bend and we’re that groove on the first knuckle. The rest of time is everything else: your finger, hand, wrist, arm…

  7. Profundity, indeed, to which may be added that every minute in school drags like an hour and every minute of holidays fleets like a minute? Time to exterminate schools.

  8. I loved it Kate. Especially the quote from my Uncle Fred – “reeling and writhing, laughing and grief” So nice to know these things pass down the generations!!

  9. Great post Kate. In my view, jaundiced as it may be, Budgies live a period of 7 years on average as pets. Just like humans they mix the need of finding food, a partner and avoiding trouble with the timescales available to them when in the wild. We provide the food but often restrict execise when we hold them in captivity. As pets their opportunities of finding partners are limited for them by our choices on their behalf so their world is less than realistic compared with their wild colleagues whose average life is more varied but shorter at around 4 years. Are we doing right by them? I really don’t know…

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