Olli Has a Bird on His Back (Eva Meijer)
Olli has adapted well to his new life. Remarkably well, considering he is a five-year-old dog who never lived in this type of situation before. When he arrived, he preferred dog company to human company and would have chosen the former over the latter (although he would seek out contact with humans, he is especially fond of children). As we get to know each other better and build a stronger connection, I am not sure about that anymore. He enjoys having a place where he belongs, and it is important for him to belong to a group. He is much happier than he was before, much more relaxed and more present.46
Olli was not the only one who changed in the months after he came here. I also changed.47 The physical process was and is rather intense; we spend much time outside (walking, running, in rain and wind, through muddy fields), and we have much physical contact, both outside and inside the house. Pika and I often touch, but mostly in passing, small gestures. We like to sit next to each other quietly, she sometimes places her head on my lap. Olli needs more intense interaction. In The parrot who owns me, Joanna Burger writes about the preening rituals of parrot Tiko: “As he cared for my body, I felt myself transported into a much more physically attentive kind of life than we’re used to in this society” (107). Although Olli does not preen or groom me (he sometimes licks my foot), I experience something similar because touch is so important to him. He often asks me to rub his tummy – by lying next to me on his back and growling or barking – or just to pet him – by sitting next to me and taking my hand in his paws. This way of interacting connects me to him; being together is important to him and what he asks from me in that regard makes me feel more connected to the world around us. The connections I have with Pika and Putih are clear and strong; we belong to each other. Olli wants to belong and connect, but the precise meaning of this is still in question, and still growing.
On a more general level the perspective Olli offered me on our society reminded me of certain aspects of our society and human-animal relations, things I knew but that I experienced in a different way. His views on, for example, dog leashes, the amount of dogs in this city, cars, large machines, humans and houses made me experience these in a different way. Olli has very clear preferences regarding food, other dogs, when to walk, where to walk, when to cuddle, where to sleep and so on, and our discussions about these things help shape our life together. These experiences can function as the starting point for envisioning new ways of interacting and arranging public spaces.
In animal rights theories, there is a strong tendency to view animal freedom solely as negative freedom, as freedom from humans (see Donaldson and Kymlicka 2011 for an analysis). Although some animals of course prefer to have as little contact with humans as possible, Olli shows it is possible for a stray dog to change, to gain confidence and adapt to – or even embrace – new circumstances in such a way that freedom is gained. Not just freedom of movement in an anthropocentric world, also freedom in interaction with others, with the possibility of starting to love a human being. And he is not the only one affected: contact with animals of other species enriches my life. Olli and the others teach me not only about animals, they teach me about all things that really matter.