Maverick (see photo above) lives at an animal shelter in Omegna. He is a passionated snake-hunter, so he has a distinct personality. For this and other reasons it isn’t easy to find a place for him. He has attracted me inwardly – at least that’s how it feels – to start some kind of observation project at the shelter this summer. My hunch is that animals are ” more intelligent” in certain respects than we think. Of course they can’t construct computers, but still, there is something, a kind of immediate knowledge, a communication too, that goes deeper, is more subtle and comprehensive than we think. That, at least, is my impression.
There are about 40 dogs living in the shelter at the moment, 19 of which spend several hours every day living together freely within a large area without being observed. I would be interested to know what this coexistence of the dogs actually looks like. Are there any meaningful social forms, or is it just the law of the strongest and otherwise chaos?
During walks with my own dogs in the park bordering the shelter, I had already noticed several times that the dogs from the shelter – when we met them – usually behaved remarkably calm and balanced. My interest was awakened, because I was used to something different from other animal shelters. Dogs in shelters are usually in a state of mind that can only be described as “being out of sorts”, the opposite of being balanced and “at peace”. These dogs, however, seemed remarkably calm and balanced, even more so than some of their colleagues who have a “home” and were also out in the park with their owner.
Is there a social order in freely cohabiting dogs that is based on more than just “the law of the strongest”? How does this affect the inner condition of the individual members? And last but not least, I am interested in what role humans play in this. There in the shelter, it is not left to coincidence which dogs run in the group and which don’t. There is somebody there who guides and accompanies the whole situation, even if the dogs are left on their own most of the time.
On my first visit, Maverick greeted me with an unexpected mock attack from the semi-darkness of his spacious kennel with noticeable aggression, dashing forward and jumping against the bars, only to immediately disappear into the darkness again… I was told he was suspicious of all strangers. On the second visit, he acknowledged the tasty treat I held out with a lightning attack on my ear. I only heard his teeth clench in front of my face, that’s how fast it happened. I should not have leaned forward towards him from above, I was told. I realised that and from then on I held back. He was muzzled so that we could meet in a reasonably relaxed way. This was the beginning of a friendship that should be based on mutual respect and also the knowledge of the difference in our nature. At least that is my idea. In the meantime, Maverick gave me a (for me clear) sign of his agreement for joint actions when we went for a walk in the park to hunt lizards…
I will be delighted to tell you what happens next.
Erika Stolze, Diplom Biologin
Translated with the help of www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)