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Stray Philosophy: Human-Dog Observations on Language, Freedom and Politics
Abstract: The paper draws on the author’s personal experiences with stray dog Olli to explore philosophical concepts around three themes: language, freedom, and politics. The paper focuses on the first three months with Olli, in which a common language and habits were created and a certain level of freedom for Olli was established. The first section shows how this language and these habits came into existence and argues this created a common world as well as a way to express that world, which changed both dog and human. The second section discusses learning to walk on the leash in relation to freedom and oppression in interspecies communities. The last section focuses on Olli’s political agency as a former stray dog, both on the micro- and macro level. By emphasizing Olli’s perspective and actions, the paper also aims to explore ways to move beyond anthropocentrism in philosophy.
Keywords: animal languages, human-animal intersubjectivity, political animal agency, political animal voice, animal freedom
In the early evening of November 17, 2013, Olli arrived at Schiphol Airport. By that time he had been travelling for over twenty-four hours. He had left Pascani in the North of Romania on Saturday afternoon, arrived in Bucharest early Sunday morning, waited at the airport for several hours and then flew to the Netherlands, where I was waiting for him. I was not the only nervous person at Arrivals. Olli was one of ten dogs who travelled to The Netherlands that evening, accompanied by two volunteers of a small Dutch animal welfare organization, “Dierenhulp Orfa”.26 My aunt had offered to drive us home and she chatted cheerfully to the other waiting humans while I was watching the door.
The first dogs who arrived were young and very good-looking, with long hair and fluffy ears. Olli was the last dog to come out of the door and I recognized his black and white fur immediately. Before I saw him, I had already heard him wagging his tail to the sides of his crate loudly. The volunteers put the crate down in front of me and I sat down on the floor to speak to Olli. He was panting because he was nervous, his eyes were red and he smelled really bad, but above all he was extremely enthusiastic about all this human attention. He was also quite a bit larger than I expected. One of the volunteers opened the door of his crate and put a collar and a harness on him. She gave me two leashes and Olli stepped out of the crate. Overwhelmed by lights and people, he lay down on the floor instantly. I sat down next to him and told him how happy I was that he was here. He stood up, greeted some of the other dogs, then lay down again, still wagging his tail.
When most of the other dogs had left, I told Olli we were going home. He refused to get up. My aunt’s car was parked in front of the airport and we needed to cross the main hall to get there. I tried to seduce Olli with food, but he was far too nervous to eat. So I picked him up, waved to the humans and off we went. Olli was not only quite a bit larger than expected, he was also rather heavy; I had to put him down a few times, where he again made himself as flat and small as possible (all the time still wagging his tail as if his life depended on it). It took us about fifteen minutes to get to the car. By the time we got there, we had already both decided to trust the other, because we needed to.
This paper is a philosophical exploration of the experiences Olli and I had in the first three months we spent together. In this time period, we created the beginnings of a common language, we developed habits and we established a certain degree of freedom for Olli, who learned to deal with living in a city. Both of us put a lot of effort into this; although I am the one who writes down what happened, Olli’s voice is as important as mine. The paper is divided in three sections: language and habits, freedom and walking on the leash, and politics. I could have also written about other things (love, belonging, play, fear) but these were the topics we discussed most explicitly. I end with some remarks about Olli’s influence on me, and about how these experiences can shed light on new forms of living together.