I must confess; I have an obsession. Ok, fine, I have a number of obsessions, but there is a particular one that sits on a pedestal. This obsession creates endless cycles of haunting dreams and stares right through me with fearsome intensity. This obsession leaves me helplessly reduced to a puddle of baby voiced weakness, a whimpering mess only able to vocalize ‘ooohhhhhh’ and ‘awwwww’, like my life depends on it. It is relentlessly irresistible. It is too much for me to bear. Yet I cannot get enough. When I knew things were getting serious I decided to get help. Turns out, my obsession is actually a diagnosed condition. I am a little nervous to admit it in public so please, bear with me…

My name is Njeri Mathu, and I am a dogler. Yes, I heard you laugh and no, I did not just make up that word. This is a very real condition.

And what on earth, say you, is a dogler? This condition is defined as a “dogless dog lover who ogles other people’s pooches” (cited from the authoritative medical dictionary: The Internet). Symptoms of dogleritis include, but are not limited to:

• Uncontrollable swooning and squealing at the sight of a canine. Usually heightened when the canine is small and very furry.

• The automatic switch to baby talk with a distinct falsetto upon close contact with a canine. Examples of speech expression include: ‘Awwwwww, LOOOOK at that doooggiiee!!!’; ‘I want a puuuppiiieee, sooo bad!’; ‘She’s such a Cuuutttiiieee Pie!’

• The urge to lay hands on every canine one meets. Advanced doglers usually exhibit the need to ruff le the canine’s ears and rub it’s tummy. Those with incurable dogleritis may even attempt to kiss a strangers’ canine.

• Obsessive viewing of dog videos online often accompanied by the feeling that one’s heart will explode due to an overdose of cuteness.

• Thoughts of and/or latent plans to kidnap another person’s canine.

• I could go on listing even more disheartening symptoms, but I think you get the point.

So, how exactly does one become a dogler, you ask? Well like any other condition, it is a complicated combination of various elements. However two key aspects of becoming a dogler are a) obviously the overwhelming love of dogs, and b) the inability, for whatever reason, to currently own one, such as financial or space limitations, overly hectic schedule or being unable to take on the responsibility.

My disposition to dogler-itis isn’t surprising. At the tender age of ten I instantly fell in love with a Doberman-mutt puppy and proceeded to bring him home, much to the shock of my parents. Let’s just say this caused a little havoc in the household. When I was told I couldn’t sleep with the crying pup, I threw a hissy fit. When forced to go to school the next day and leave my new baby howling for me to cuddle him, I cried so hard and felt so much anguish, I believe I was howling in unison with the mutt. Finally my mother, near tears herself looking at her ridiculously despondent, howling child, agreed to cuddle and feed my puppy on my behalf. Let’s all take a second to picture that, shall we?

There is something about man’s best friend that no other animals can compete with. Sure, cats may be smarter, more self-reliant, easier to keep around, and pretty darn cute on occasion. But let’s put it this way; proclaim yourself a cat lover and proudly admit to owning more than one charming kitty and you will be deemed a sad, lonely, perhaps psychotic spinster. It is worse when you are male. Now proclaim yourself a dog lover and proudly exhibit your drooling specimen and you will be absolutely revered. And if you happen to be male you might suddenly find yourself fighting off f locks of sighing females, particularly if the said dog is small in stature (a subtle hint for those currently struggling in the attraction department).

But why all the adulation? What makes so many of us go all googoo, ga-ga over a speechless, often brainless, eternally dependent four-legged creature? Sure, they can be mighty cute and hilarious. And of course, it feels lovely to pet their soft fur, and feel their warm cuddly bodies. But, they are animals. Domesticated maybe, but nevertheless animals. While we certainly are able to train even the most aggressive ones, at the end of the day we only have an impression of truly understanding their behavior.

The obvious answer to this question is that dogs give us unconditional love, are always happy to see you and are always eager to please. Who else could be so excited when you come home every single day? Who else will harbor zero judgment whatsoever for that terrible thing you did? As Aldous Huxley wrote, “To his dog, every man is Napoleon.” On top of this, various studies show that people with pets live longer, have lower blood pressure and have elevated levels of serotonin and dopamine – nerve transmitters that are known to have pleasurable and calming properties. What more could one want?

There is however, something perplexing about this co-dependant relationship between man and dog that has evolved over thousands of years. John Archer, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire, argues that being attached to animals actually “poses a problem” to human welfare, from an evolutionary perspective. Archer states that the root of this problem is the ability pets have to manipulate the same instincts and responses that have evolved to facilitate human relationships, “primarily (but not exclusively) those between parent and child.” Thus making them the equivalent of social parasites; species that inject themselves into the social systems of other species and thrive there. And apparently dogs are kings of the parasite jungle, as they are able to show a range of emotions – love, anxiety, curiosity – and thus trick us into thinking they possess the full range of human feelings.

So basically little Max over there with his sad puppy dog face and heart melting eyes is actually a sly, conniving, evil monster!?! I don’t know whether to be impressed by this genius or sob over this stunning treachery.

Thinking about it deeper, there is no place more evident of how deep this heinous canine manipulation runs than here in America. The relationship Americans have with their pets is very different, and may seem very peculiar to most of us Kenyans. When it comes to dogs. they are most often purchased to become part of the family, not to be delegated as guard dogs. Here it is not unusual to bring these furry beings to work or to the bar, to spend more money grooming them than you do grooming yourself, to let them eat with you in your kitchen and allow them to sleep next to you in your own bed. Here you may find with increasing regularity, news segments (yes, news) devoted to clips of dogs being dogs:

Anchorman: And now we have a clip of a YouTube video that has garnered over thirty million views.

This is Mishka, the talking husky………ohhh my goodness, I can’t believe it! Mishka just barked ‘I love you!’ AhhhhMAAZINGG!!!

(Ed. Note: Actually Mishka is indeed amazing, see end of article.)

Now in populated urban dwellings, where encounters with strangers are plentiful yet companionship is f leeting, it is no wonder that pets can morph into ostensibly human versions of best friends, sons or daughters. But there is another side to being a dog owner or dogler in a densely populated area that creates a very fascinating conundrum.

Clearly there are those who simply aren’t too fond of cute lil’ Max and his kind. And there are many who maybe petrified of any type of dog, regardless of how small, endearing or harmless. Then there are those who are simply allergic to the animals. Add to this equation the upper-middle class privilege of owning a high maintenance pet amidst the absurdly high cost of living in New York. And finally just for good measure, throw in the famously outspoken NYC individuals, many of whom are infected with a sense of entitlement. Suddenly you have yourself some very interesting scenarios.

There is the man who can be heard yelling at a store clerk: “Whaddya mean I can’t bring MY dog in here? Absurd!” and then later overheard mumbling at how annoying those little kids in the restaurant are. There is the young couple complaining about overregulation from the government and the continuous undermining of individual liberties, all because their dog isn’t allowed to enter their happy hour destination. On the other hand, there is the jogger who curses humanity every time she accidently steps on dog excrement and passionately petitions for dog regulation enforcement. Or the boy who thinks your poodle is actually a wolf and creates a huge commotion on the subway. And then there is the gentleman who really does like dogs, but would rather your dog not jump on his legs and beg for his hotdog, please.

Finally, there is the young female who throws the sharpest daggers at anyone who dares try to touch or even come close to her precious, who by the way is carried around in a bag worth more than three months of your rent. (As an over-eager dogler, that one stung quite a bit when I experienced it.)

Because these animals cannot speak, defend, argue or protest for themselves, it is up to their handlers and those around them to speak on their behalf. Which is why when you see two grown men arguing over what the dog did or didn’t do, can or cannot do, is or is not enlightened to, all while the lil’ mutt is sitting there proudly wagging his tail with a huge dopey smile on his face, you really do come to understand how thoroughly cunning these wicked animals are.

But I don’t care. Devil’s spawn they maybe, I will forever be a dogler until the day I become a dog owner. After all, it is a condition.

Visit www.parentsafrica.com to view my picks for the top five cutest dog videos. If neither of those make you smile / laugh / experience a cuteness overload, I hereby, non judgmentally of course, declare you non-human.

njeri@parents.co.ke