“All knowledge, the totality of all questions and answers, is contained in the dog,” says the narrator of Franz Kafka’s short story “Investigations of a Dog.” As the narrator himself is a dog, he might be prone to exaggeration in behalf of his species. But many devoted dog people will tell you it’s just a slight stretch. Entire books have been written about what we can learn from dogs; Marley & Me was the most successful, but far from only, example.
In the Family Dog magazine stories I write about our AKC Humane Fund ACE winners, people regularly tell me of how their remarkable dogs teach them about courage, loyalty, and other virtues we admire in our leaders and seek within ourselves. It’s a sweet irony, then, to consider that one of our most popular canine teachers of life lessons is not a dog at all, but a pig who behaves like a dog.
The much-loved 1995 movie Babe is based on Dick King-Smith’s fable The Sheep-Pig. You remember the story: Babe is an orphan piglet on an Australian sheep farm. He’s adopted by a couple of working Border Collies, Rex and his mate, Fly, who raise their foster pig as a herding dog. Babe struggles to become a shepherd his folks can be proud of, and, after much tribulation, he triumphs against all odds at the National Sheep Dog Trials.
A turning point in this gentle tale comes when Fly is teaching Babe the tricks of the herder’s trade. Exasperated by Babe’s polite approach to the flock, Fly admonishes him: “Bite them! Do whatever it takes to bend them to your will!” Babe does as he’s told and bites a sheep on the leg. The sheep is deeply offended. “I’m sorry I bit you,” Babe says, overcome with remorse. “All you had to do was ask,” says Maa, the serene mother sheep. Babe comes to realize that his natural kindness isn’t a flaw but a positive force more powerful than violence.
At this time of year, when holidays of several faiths celebrate the better angels of our nature, it’s appropriate to recall what Babe learned. It was put succinctly by a wise old philosopher: “You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot do by force.” It was put even more succinctly by a wise old sheep: “All you had to do was ask.” If kindness can help a pig move sheep, it can help a person move mountains. Here’s hoping you enjoy the season to the fullest. And listen to your dog. He’s trying to tell you something.