I read frequently in the newspaper sad stories about dogs who are killed in the street by motor vehicles. In one story, a police dog, a German Shephard, saw his master on the other side of the street and ran across it toward him. Wham. Dead. Many dogs are killed in the streets, because they escape from their yards and wander into the street, perhaps following the scents of their human family. Males dogs are frequently killed in street accidents, because they are following the scent of female dogs in heat and are unaware of their surrounding. We have had five dogs, all of whom I walked. I have pulled all of them by the leash, in many occasions, out of the street away from on-rushing cars or trucks. Clearly dogs don't have street smarts. But what are street smarts? I think, to answer like Piaget, the dogs, like babies, don't know physics.
Of course, ignorance of physics is not really the reason the dogs are killed. It is an explanation of how they are killed, some calculation of mass, momentum, impact, compression of tissue, difficulty of breath, heart smashed. I wonder whether there might not be more to dogs' deaths in the street. What about their motivations? Are we certain that all street deaths are accidental? Are we certain dogs don't have motives?
Perhaps the dogs are committing suicide. It would be difficult for a dog to kill itself, except by starving itself or exposing itself to attack by, say, as in our neighborhood, coyotes. I have seen what coyotes do to cats they capture and devour. It's not pretty and the cats' demise could not be pleasant. A dog would presumably be aware that death by coyote would involve prolonged suffering--basically being eaten alive--and it would seek to avoid such a death. Other than those instruments, what would a dog have available to end its life? Why do we assume that dogs could not formulate such a plan? Or, at least, have such an impulse? Why do we assume they do not occasionally suffer from despair and want "to end it all"?
One of our dogs died of cancer. After her death (the dog was a female), I reflected upon its last few weeks with us, its eating pattern and how it behaved in the home, at the stable where it accompanied my wife, on walks with me. I now think our beloved pet had a foreboding, for a month, of its end. We were unaware of its condition, I remember with guilt. It must have felt physically uncomfortable or some pain in its stomach (it died of stomach cancer) for weeks. In its last day, when it could no longer keep water in its stomach and could hardly crawl, I lay down on the floor with it for an hour or so, before my wife took it to the vet where it was put down. I held my dog, who relaxed into my arms. Who am I to say it did not foresee its end. She knew something was up. Other dogs might similarly sense their end and seek to shorten their terminal suffering by a quick death in front of a speeding car. Perhaps, trapped alone in their back yard, left unloved by their family, neglected in their health, they fill with despair. I can feel a dog's angst. Seeing, in the distant street, freedom from its isolation and loneliness, a canine existentialist, it digs a hole under a fence, rushes to the asphalt, and dies quickly, stunned by a speeding car's bumper, crushed by a destiny of its choosing.