"Dogs are the best people,” sang The Fauves, and 22 years later we’re being encouraged to try to live up to their standards.
That’s the message of US cartoonist Liza Donnelly’s new book Be The Person Your Dog Thinks You Are.
Donnelly started drawing dogs as a way of dealing with the current mess the world is in.
“I feel like dogs help keep us sincere and positive, they bring out the best in us,” said Donnelly who is best known for her work in The New Yorker and is resident cartoonist of CBS News.
“And with the world so fractured and angry at this time, I felt like this book could help us focus on what is important. And maybe help us treat one another better.”
Donnelly’s illustrations capture the uncomplicated and unconditional love that dogs offer us, and their equally disarming expectation that their affection will be returned.
Dogs don’t care about the size of our thighs, the lines on our face, the colour of our skin, where we came from, our social status or our past mistakes. They just wag their tails and welcome us into their lives and space.
“Be the best part of someone’s day,” is the heart-melting caption to Donnelly’s illustration of a man dropping his shopping at the front door of his house to cuddle his pup.
As any dog owner knows, to be greeted with such an enthusiastic display of affection makes a bad day tolerable and a good day even better.
Donnelly’s art was inspired by the dogs in her life, past and present, each of them offering a unique perspective on humanity and life in general.
Dogs are so upbeat, honest, enthusiastic, playful and fun to be around.
“Dogs are so upbeat, honest, enthusiastic, playful and fun to be around. The world would be a better place if we all strived to be as good human beings as our dogs think we are,” she said.
Other perceptions our dogs have of us that come though Donnell’s work are: our capacity to walk away from conflict (by avoiding the big dog on the street), making time for what’s really important (snuggling with our dog), and teaching with patience (house training).
Dogs’ lack of prejudice and their willingness to give us the benefit of the doubt is humbling, but for me at least, the biggest lesson in Donnelly’s dog book is about forgiveness.
If we’re grumpy and distracted with our furry friends, rather than thinking what a terrible person we are, or harboring resentment and point scoring, dogs forgive whole-heartedly. Tomorrow is another day.
They also have such a high opinion of us that they fully expect that we have the strength, humility and heart to forgive them — even if it was our favourite pair of shoes we were planning to wear to a function tomorrow night, or the new rug we just bought.
Imagine if we could forgive others — and ourselves — the way our dogs forgive us?
Instantly and unconditionally. Run out of dog treats? No problem, let’s have a pat instead. Don’t have time to go for a walk? Take me tomorrow and I’ll love you just as much.
Some scientists now claim that our love of dogs is genetic, that dogs and humans have evolved to be best friends. This may explain the difference between dog people and those poor sods who travel through life without understanding or experiencing the beautiful connection between a dog and their person. Maybe these non-dog people just lucked out in the genetic lottery.
But as Donnelly’s book makes clear, one of the most compelling reasons we love dogs is that they love us more than we love ourselves.
It’s not that they are deluded, or manipulating us for a treat (okay, maybe they are a little), it’s that they see our best selves rather than searching for or dwelling on our worst characteristics.
As author Mary Ann Evans, better known by her pen name George Eliot put it, "We long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in the uncritical canine attachment."