Crikey that was fun
Thursday, November 12, 2020, 5:11 pm
Lee Duffield wrote this “small tribute to all creatures” on the death of Crikey the Dog, his long-term writing companion, reasoning that something should now be written about him.
It was circulated among family and friends, several suggesting wider circulation – now posted on Subtropic.
A Small Tribute to All Creatures …
A French philosophe, gentleman scientist of the18th Century, looked across the room at his dog and wrote that it appeared to him animals had consciousness. That proposition broke with Renee Descartes in the previous century who saw animal behaviour as mostly reflexive. The new idea, which also challenged the assumption of centuries that animals were a kind of object, was of course part of the same great Enlightenment that “invented” human rights. Some saw that being a humanist did not require a closed mind against other creatures. The movement’s interest in animals has passed on to the present time where science has inched towards a conclusion in favour of the thinking beast.
For example the Paris based National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (INRAE), especially interested in farm animals, made a review of studies and concluded: “Animals of diverse species display a diversity of various abilities in terms of consciousness. This multidisciplinary scientific assessment does not equate the contents of consciousness described in humans with those occurring in animals. However, the overall picture provided by this collection of behavioural, cognitive and neurobiological studies supports the notion that, high content of consciousness does occur in some of the species studied so far.” (https://www.inrae.fr/sites/default/files/pdf/esco-conscience-animale-resume-anglais-8-pages.doc.pdf – 28.3.20)
The INRA quoted the “Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness”, work done with a concern for animals’ experience of pain, which said: “Convergent evidence indicates non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviours.”
None of this would surprise my friend Crikey who has shown no end of conscious realisation of things around him throughout a long dog’s life, at this date 15 years and counting. You can register faith in the idea of animal consciousness also by thinking of them as having ‘personality’. That was the expression adopted by Robert Steel, the Sydney veterinarian who treated our earlier dog Strawberry, a beautiful red coloured Labrador cross.
We are speaking here of Crikey the Dog, a black and tan Chihuahua cross (probably with a terrier, or even a Pomeranian, even a smaller Kelpie), usually 4.5 kilograms in weight, a creature of enthusiasm, gaiety and charm. He is often made the subject of conversation among humans of his acquaintance with no prompting from his owner. He was whelped on 31 October 2004 at Redcliffe in Brisbane, and acquired from a shelter there by Ena Duffield, an elderly lady who otherwise lived alone, and named him Pepe. She told people he came to her as a pup after being found abandoned on a mud spit under a bridge in a canal estate. Some people in the Duffield family think he might have jumped or fallen off a houseboat, or might have been thrown overboard. He has always shown a tendency to cower when faced with some eruption of noise or big movement, prudent enough for such a small creature but maybe coming from a memory of being frightened — treated too robustly like a bush dog or some-such. He was taken to a vet surgery where they ascribed the birth date and set him up for adoption.
In 2009 after Ena went into a nursing home he spent some months in care of Ena’s cousin, Myrna Levick and her husband Bob, then went to live with the present writer, Lee Duffield, another cousin. He moved in at Lee’s place, my place in Paddington, Brisbane, on 26 March 2010, where he was re-named Crikey. He did not give any indication of caring what he was called. I had been planning to get a dog to be called Crikey when this one came along. We’d become well acquainted while I provided help to Ena. A joke was made that the prescriptive ethics of my then employer, QUT university, could not have accommodated the ethnic stereotype of a Mexican breed of dog being called Pepe. He had visits, even overnight stays with Ena for nearly three years before she died; throughout his life he has liked “ladies”, running up to greet any who might look like an Ena or Myrna. From his time living with a sole, kindly human owner he naturally developed a strong attachment to another one. He is always with me as much as can be, about as attentive and loyal as anybody could hope from a companion animal.
Like most of his species Crikey is extremely anthropomorphised. I think that being from a species happy in a pack, he has always studied his closest associates. As it happened these have all been human, so he habituated his behaviours to theirs. For example he joins in humans’ parties, getting excited in the group, greeting people, begging of course, and petting individuals – periodically returning to Lee to show he still likes him best. A dinner guest, David Haig, remarked on the “very intense little dog”. “Where is Crikey?”, I wondered. “Under the table with his head in my hand”, I was told. He appears appreciative if during such proceedings he is brought up to table level for a short lap-sit, set back a bit, making him feel one of the gang. However some of his empathetic behaviour I will interpret below as different to his being just a kind of anthropomorphised genetic pack-wolf.
He is definitely a dog, for example very content, pacified for the day if able to sniff and mark out territory on a walk. He avoids fights but self-protectively may snap at inquisitive big dogs, puppies, over-boisterous big puppies in particular. With dogs generally kept in captivity they appear to have lost most of their greeting rituals. Very little is left of complicated walking in circles while bum sniffing, but Crikey is as adept as any in the dog world at what does remain of such conduct. He is very interested in exercising his ‘right’ as listed in the RSPCA’s ‘Five Freedoms’ for animals, to associate with his own kind. Before going stone deaf around 2016 he was an effective mini-watchdog, the kind of watchdog that raises the alarm but does not frighten intruders. He has been known to attack some men walking into a picnic circle or entering the yard, very fierce and determined, although ineffectual; he was never big enough to grab an ankle, even before having most of his teeth extracted, about the same time as losing his hearing. Most doglike he has always seen the world from ground level, never carried in arms like a ‘Chihuahua’ unless exhausted during a long walk. Slowing down into an old dog since 2018 he often lags behind asking for a carry, sometimes given.
Crikey is an argument on four legs, inconclusive though it may be, for the idea that animals have a kind of true consciousness. We are persuaded to agree with the INRAE: “high content of consciousness does occur”. We can think of the signs in terms of the factors mentioned, of personality and intentional thinking on their part. Some of his joy and confidence in life might be cultivated by the petting he receives wherever he goes. He is after all attractive, with the diminutive size and sweet face – small lively eyes and large upright soft ears. Everybody around the parks, streets and cafes wants to pat Crikey, especially groups of children drawn in as if transfixed by his bright prettiness. He has always been a big hit with old people like the residents at Ena’s retirement home who would get a bit dangerous – much over-feeding while unable to hold him steady in their laps. It is all an indicator of ‘personality’ in that, while all dogs share broadly the same characteristics, it comes together with individual ones. If it is accepted that a human personality, within its categories, will be unique, the combined unique behaviours and demonstrations of feeling of this dog look like a personality.
Intention is harder to make an argument for. Very small and evidently trivial examples can carry some weight and ‘drive-butting’ comes to mind. If given the occasional privilege of sitting in the car passenger seat, Crikey will get a few head rubs along the way, and often campaigns to get more. I believe the constant head butting on the underside of your arm reaching the steering wheel indicates intentional communication and maybe also sense of humour. There is sense of humour evident during a game of fetch, in snatching the toy, dodging away with it, being deceptive about where he intends to move.
There is a notion of consciousness also in communication. An animal attuned to a pack life will show what it wants, for example asking for food, and unlike a cat, a dog has eyebrows enabling appropriate expressions. Yet beyond that a thought of consciousness arises when the communication is peculiar to this one individual and applies to specific appeals, which may be a little abstract, not strictly practical. The aforementioned Strawberry when very ill with arthritis would give a private and empathetic look if being asked to walk too much, inquiring if you could give a pain relief tablet or do something again about the horde of fleas in the backyard. Offering food in a bowl spoiled by snail trails I was given a look that clearly appealed to reason and compassion: “you can see this, you should see I want the food, and cannot touch it, you are my friend, please realise and help”. Crikey being highly communicative can provide many examples. Mostly you can say he is able to draw a clear line, among, simple requests; then small grabs for power, like how long to spend sniffing during a walk, recognised as “his time”; or gestures to show he likes your company. His morning wake-up ritual includes a “face rub” against your thigh, a greeting explicitly affectionate. Individualised grades of intelligence also may be some kind of indicator of consciousness. Ena used to say, a few dogs she had owned were “there and yet not there”, whereas her Pepe, aka Crikey, was “always there”. As Brigitte Duffield observed: “he is interested in what you are doing”.
Probably there is a counter-argument available at every step to show we are dealing with essentially a warm-blooded organism with refined skill in looking after its interests – beginning with attachment to a prime feeder. That would not involve consciousness. Some systematic work by animal psychologists or very experienced animal carers might want to qualify that.
The main thing is we have a creature – however ‘conscious’ or otherwise — who has endeared himself to every human he has met, while keeping up respectful, generally good relations with other animals. He has always been recognised as consistently friendly with never a trace of meanness, an example to the human race. He has always been gracious.
Crikey began ageing rapidly with various ailments some time in 2018 and started to get seriously frail and debilitated here on Magnetic Island in March 2020, a bad time for the human population as well. Given he still has occasional bouts of high spirits and energetic behaviour, and has revived under treatment, vets have held out hope he might live on well under medication. Since I do much writing, and have been ruminating on this subject; and since he is my mate; and seeing the decline, it seemed he deserved to have something written about him that could be shared with his many friends.
Postscript – true story: In 1987 after the death of my father, called Arnold, or Pop, and also Strawberry, not far apart, I had a comforting dream, which gave a vision of what I knew to be Heaven. It was actually a sunny avenue of flowering trees at Eimeo beach, facing a white strip of beach, then blue water, then blue sky. Arnold was accompanying me on a walk and he had Strawberry on a lead. It shows how the imagination can come to our help. Without Crikey, I will look forward to a dream. Maybe it will be the same one with Crikey in it, racing around taking part in the walk.
This is the last day.
On attachment, maybe dogs’ idea of love, Myrna recalls Crikey, not allowed to go out in the sailing boat on Magnetic Island, waiting to greet us when finally making landfall, in the meantime racing along the shore, following the sail: “One of the most memorable images I have of him is on the beach watching your every movement as you sailed to and fro across the bay.”
Crikey fell ill on Magnetic Island and blood tests confirmed on 23 October he had terminal kidney failure and pancreatic failure, adding to some other serious ailments. Given supportive medication he had a placid weekend, exchanging nods with a few dogs, ate and drank well, enjoyed visits to beaches and had tail-wagging encounters with some humans. He woke up today still in a comfortable state, and attended by his friend Lee Duffield was euthanised in the afternoon – to find a good resting place for his mortal remains on the island as a place he enjoyed.
Some of the messages received:
Vale Crikey Duffield. Below is an eloquent dissertation of life lived well, in Crikey’s relationship with Lee Duffield. A gift of ultimate trust between them … Bill McDonald, Helen and Bridget at the Magnetic Island Veterinary Clinic, posting “A Small Tribute …” on the waiting room walls.
Really sorry to hear this … Michael’s little dog Atticus also died recently. They both leave me with a vivid feeling of their reality, and some sadness. Dan O’Neill.
The mighty Crikey was part of my life there … As you know, in my correspondence with you I always asked about Crikey as well. Alphonse Aime, PNG.
He had a good brain. Gale Duffield.
We’ve just come back from a walk around the old Catalina race track in Katoomba – dedicated the walk to Crikey. You’ll remember doing a circuit with Crikey … As dogs go (and I’m not really a dog person) I thought Crikey was the perfect guest … I thought you did a great job capturing his spirit (having read your thoughts on dog consciousness I think I’m pretty safe in saying he had a spirit) … Nick Franklin.