To the Dogs
It's not like I want to keep writing about how rich people spend their money, but they just keep doing such (sorry, can't resist) doggone things with it. First Bill Gates decides to donate fifty of his billions to the cause of saving humanity. (Thank you, Bill, that was very nice of you.) Now Leona Helmsley has given a fortune estimated by this Times article at between $5 billion and $8 billion to the cause of saving . . . dogs!
Maybe if somebody else had done it, this bequest would have provoked less dismayed tittering. But let's face it, Leona hated people, and she let everybody know it. She was a greedy bee-yatch who bilked contractors and refused to pay her taxes. Taxes were for the little people, she said, before promptly getting convicted of tax evasion on a massive scale. She was famously cruel and abusive to her employees. As for how she treated her family -- well, she left $12 million to her dog, $10 million each to two of her grandchildren, and nothing, a big fat zero, to two others. Nuff said.
And that's exactly what fascinates me about this story. It's not just that Leona wanted to save dogs instead of saving humanity, it's that she loved the dog in her life better than she loved her family. This I do not understand, but I have to confess, I've missed out on a singular human experience, folks. I've never had a serious relationship with an animal. In other words, I've never had a pet.
I'm starting to think this is kinda like never having had kids, or parents, or never having gotten married. Yes, it's a valid choice, but since I'm missing a basic experience that most other people have, some human actions just won't make sense to me.
If I had to throw in my lot with one camp or another, I'd join the dog people. There are many animals I admire, but the only animal I can imagine cohabiting with is a dog. Cats don't have a fair shot with me because I'm horribly allergic to them and I can't help blaming them for this. Besides, they're so haughty and independent that I don't see the point of trying to love one. It's like having a kid that wants nothing to do with you -- a recipe for heartbreak. I know this must sound outrageous to cat people, so feel free to tell me to shove off. (No profanity please, it's a Monday!)
Dogs, on the other hand, seem just human enough but not too human, if you know what I mean. They'd interact with you, give you love, but never try to take your place. I can't help thinking of the sequel to Planet of the Apes in which we finally learn how the apes took over. All the dogs and cats got killed off by a virus. People turned to monkeys as pets. Surprise -- monkeys are a lot smarter than dogs and cats. People made a critical mistake, and started training them to do more and more things. Pretty soon we're talking HAL in 2001:A Space Odyssey territory. Bye-bye people. Dogs would never do that, they'd never want the responsibility.
But just because I can imagine living with a dog doesn't mean that I think dogs need billions of dollars. If I had billions, and I somehow decided to leave my fortune to animals instead of humans, I'd pick animals that are in greater need, like all the wild ones whose habitats we've destroyed. That incredibly cool show on The History channel about life after people (check out this trailer) made pretty clear that dogs would do well on their own. They don't need coddling. They're good predators, and not picky about what they eat when they're hungry. They could survive without us, and who knows, maybe they'd be happier. Maybe they don't like wearing Burberry raincoats and ribbons on their ears.
Me, I think I'd leave my money to the birds. Has anybody noticed how many fewer birds there are than when we were kids? I've read about this, and it's scientifically true that the birds are disappearing all over the earth. Their numbers are down catastrophically. But lately I've been noticing it with my own eyes and ears. Dogs don't need our help. Birds do. One can only hope there's some reclusive billionaire out there with a pet canary.