Don’t Discount Affection Just Because it is Freely Given: An Open Letter to My Dog

Dear June,

I haven’t had the chance to go home yet this summer, and I can’t help but feel just a bit lonely living in an apartment without you. I miss having you curled up next to me while I mess with my phone on the couch. I miss walking through the door and being greeted by a sleepily wagging tail. You wouldn’t like it here in the apartment; there’s no backyard for you to explore or dog-door for you to go through anytime you want, so it’s good that you’re back at home where you have these amenities and more. Still, I miss you.

These, unfortunately, aren’t the only reasons I’ve been thinking about you lately. If they were, then I could be content knowing that we’re both happy where we are, even if I do wish you were nearby. Instead, I am writing this letter to you, trying to reach through space to let you know how much I care. And it’s all thanks to a single post on Instagram.

I don’t remember the exact wording of this post, but I can still feel the indignation it sparked in me. It claimed that people who liked dogs liked a submissive love, and should be ashamed of themselves. That a dog person is controlling and takes great pleasure in being a master over another being. Something along those lines, at least.

My initial outrage sparked not from being personally accused, but rather from the slander that you were put through from one small post. You, submissive? Had the author actually met a dog before? I can’t count the number of times I’ve yelled at you to stop barking. Has that changed anything? My parents finally gave up on trying to get you to stop lying on the back of the couch, and now just let you use their necks as back support so you don’t just fall off. You are as stubborn as the rest of the family, and once you set your mind to something, there is no stopping you. Does that sound submissive?

Sure, I’ll readily admit that dogs can be more obedient than certain other animals. (I’m sure the author had cats in mind when they wrote their post.) And let me tell you, there are an extraordinary number of rabbit holes to fall through on the internet for those brave enough to try to look up the difference between obedient and submissive. Eventually, I did find what I was looking for, what was really bothering me about the use of the word “submissive”. (Other than just the highly accusatory nature of the author, of course.) I found as a general consensus that obedience involves choice. An obedient individual chooses to follow a direction; a submissive person blindly follows.

I suppose I should clarify that neither of these options is inherently good or bad. In fact, one of the first things that the Wikipedia article on obedience brought up was Nazism and the Holocaust. Still, obedience seems like the more fitting word. I’ve seen the look on your face when you’ve decided to wander off, looked back at your family who’s calling for you to come back, and just kept walking. The truth is, you want people to be happy. Making them happy makes you happy as well. That’s why you try to lick my face when I’m crying over a sad movie, and eventually do let us catch up with you when you decide to go exploring. Following commands (occasionally) doesn’t make you submissive. Wanting people to be happy doesn’t either. And it certainly doesn’t make the affection that you show insincere.

I think that may be part of the reason why the author made the post in the first place. Dogs tend to freely express their emotions, unlike many other animals and people. For some reason, this is often perceived as a bad thing in today’s society. Sure, it’s fine to be reserved. I certainly am in most situations. But suppressing emotion just leads to a lonely and sullen existence. And it really shouldn’t be a scandal for anyone to show some affection for their friends and family. We could all take some inspiration from dogs and be just a bit more open and caring.

June, consider this letter to be a sign of your good influence on me. I hope you can tell how much I love and miss you. I’m excited to be back home to give you all the belly scratches you want. Until then, keep holding down the fort, and I’ll see you soon.


Your Human Sis


Images: Cover; Images within the body of the article are credited to the author