They pretend to be our friends but they are not our friends. That's the judgment Stephen Budiansky makes about canis familiaris in his book The Truth About Dogs (2000). "Dogs," he wrote first in The Atlantic, "belong to that select group of con artists at the very top of the profession, the ones who pick our pockets clean and leave us smiling about it."
He continues, "Biologists, if they weren't victims of the same blindness that afflicts us all, wouldn't hesitate to classify dogs as social parasites."
So much for best in show.
Budiansky goes on to impeach centuries' worth of assumptions about how dogs first came into our company and why we let them stay there, feasting on our table scraps and skulking at the edges of our campfires. They weren't useful as sentinels or shepherds, Budiansky concludes. In fact, genetic data tell us that dogs split off from wolves nearly 100,000 years ago, well before humans had domesticated sheep or cattle. And their storied protectiveness is less the bravery of a loyal ally than the reflex behavior of a yappy underling. "Rather than protecting us, the dog feels protected by us," Budiansky writes. The alpha dog--that's you--emboldens Button the Chihuahua to pick a fight.
Left to their own kind, dogs devote a lot of energy to establishing their place in the pack. It can be unseemly to see a stray hound rolling submissively on its back, exposing its private parts in the most vulnerable fashion. You don't have to be a behavioral biologist to realize that there's another pack animal that is obsessed with status and social hierarchy. One creature gets to be top dog and by definition the others don't.
The same rule goes for the winners of this year's Best of the Twin Cities: the top sushi palace and the top tattoo parlor, the top library and the tip-top hip-hop DJ. Our writers dug up the backyard to find their favorite places and deliver them to your feet. And though the canine kingdom may be a ruthless dictatorship, we've embraced the democracy of good taste by publishing your own picks in our readers' poll.
While we were stepping out for a while, we invited a few four-footed friends--make that social parasites--to come along. You can find them in the photos at the beginning of each section, a boxer with a Bud at the bar, a saluki at the hair salon. The plain truth is that we want our dogs with us everywhere and all the time.
Dogs count on that fact. "They lie on top of the air-conditioning vent in the summer," Budiansky writes. "They curl up by the fireplace in the winter; they commit outrages against our property too varied and unspeakable to name."
Dogs, being who they are, take advantage of our humanity. For our part, we forgive them everything.