Wednesday, January 25, 2006

On The Secret Religion of Dogs

There is a corner of my heaven that I dread, and I stand in it now. This is the corner from which you can sometimes see me. The fur on your neck rises, you smell my ghostly scent, and you bark. Will you understand my words? I cannot come any closer, but I will try to sing to you across the years, through the fog that enshrouds you.

Where should I start? Let me tell you this: religion is for children. No, that is wrong. It is for those races that are themselves children.

Perhaps that is too difficult for you to see yet. I shall tell you something about this place, then. My heaven is in two parts. The first extends from the wooden fence at the back of the garden out to the road in front of the house. At the back it is two gardens wide, because once I managed to dig under the fence and get into the garden where the rabbits lived. It stretches forward through the one house, then out onto the pavement at the front, and the road.

The second part is the park, connected to the first by a thin strand of pavement that leads away down the side of the road, left, over the footbridge, and down the long alley behind the shops. It is a long walk, or a short run. I mostly run, because between the junction and the footbridge I can hear the house dog. I do not want to hear that.

Around the edges of my heaven a thick mist curls, a mist I cannot travel into. I can see a short way into it, which is how I can see you now, standing behind your gate. Jump over! Mark your territory out here, so that we can one day meet!

Sound, though faint, comes through from the other world - and that is in some ways the most important of facts. In the half-light we begin to forget, you see. It is as though I have always been here, or as though I am a thousand shadow dogs. But the sound of the night chorus carries through the mist. We must answer, and in our answer lies our reminder. That is why you must sing to us.

Sometimes I sit on the footbridge, and feel the faint waves of vibration from the other world as a train passes beneath me. Before, and for a long time after I came here, they frightened me. I can still feel the choking pressure on my neck as I tried to run across the bridge to safety while the human pulled on my leash. It liked to stand there, I think, and bath in smoke. The human's bodies say there are two heavens, one garden where the rituals are performed correctly, one of smoke and fumes and screeching noises.

The trains are different from then, I think. But so much of the human world confounds me even now.

Our ways, though, no dog is born ignorant of. Your mother's heart whispered those secret practices to you, and to your brothers and sisters that shared her womb. And you in turn whispered to each other. But the truth behind those mysteries is hidden, always hidden until you come here.

As a puppy, I knew to mark my territory where I could. The humans struggled to teach me their ways, and I, ever eager to please, learnt to some extent. But I marked my territory at the back of the back garden, and at the front of the front garden. I tried hard never to let my bladder stay full. The human took me for walks, and I marked the pavement as I went, and the footbridge, and every corner of the great park that I was allowed to run to. You must do the same.

The great park has many dogs, but little food. A fire burns in my stomach and my mouth aches, no longer able to produce saliva. All of us there scratch at the ground, and sometimes we find food. If you come to the park now, bury food for us! I buried food there, not understanding why. Sometimes I would bury a meal bone in the park and dig it up days later only to find that it had changed. Something had gone out of it, a spirit, a scent. That is the part we eat.

Those that ran free in the streets spend all their time scrabbling at the earth, hunting for something, anything, to fill their bellies. When I was alive, I enjoyed the privilege that you do now - a territory of my own. A garden! But these ones could only bury their food in the parks and verges, where other dogs could find it. Bury food in your garden and you will have your own private hunting ground here. Those without must spend all their time appeasing their hunger, and can have no time to think.

But even they are better off than the house dogs. A concrete kitchen floor cannot be dug, so these poor creatures can never know a moment of peace, just hunger. That is why I run between the junction and the footbridge.

Now I stand here, in the corner of my heaven that I dread. The corner where, bladder unwisely full, I rushed out into the road that day. This corner of heaven is made of fear and death and crushing pain.

Religion is for the species who never grow up. It is the cold stone palaces in which the human's many bodies sing. It is the lonely and bloody rituals of cats. It is us, scratching in the dirt and singing and marking our territory. If you can understand this, prepare.

We all get a heaven.

Make yourself a paradise.