It has been very cold here recently. Logan and I were discussing this the other day as we were strolling around our yard. Cold can be hard on our humans, but is generally not a problem for us. As Australian Shepherds, we naturally have two coats of fur: a longer outer layer that is like any other dog’s and that keeps dirt and moisture off our skin, and an inner layer of short, thick fur close to our body that provides us extra warmth in cold weather (humans call this our “undercoat;” it also helps keep us cool when the weather gets warmer). Plus, we are lucky to be able to go in and out of a big, heated room in our humans’ house they call the “garr-adjj” whenever we please. It’s actually a pretty sweet arrangement for us.
As we nonchalantly circumnavigated the perimeter of our yard looking for something interesting for Logan to bark at, I made the observation that humans seem to have to go to considerable lengths to keep themselves warm in cold weather. They put on layers of what they call “clothing,” which they seem to change constantly. They place big, heavy coverings on their feet and wear thick, puffy coverings over their bodies which often make them appear to be much wider than they really are. They cover their hands with strange materials and place hats on their heads that cover their ears, making them look like altogether different animals, after which they wrap a long piece of cloth or wool around their necks, for what purpose I simply cannot fathom. And then they have to take all of it off when they get back in the house! What a lot of work for them that would have been unnecessary if they had fur like us.
This got me wondering: why is it that humans are so ill-prepared to handle the elements? I posed that question to Logan. He replied: “Fascinating question, Cadbury. I hadn’t really thought about that before.”
“Here’s my best guess. Some time ago, I was laying, half asleep, at our humans’ feet as they were watching a program on something they called “the history channel” about a male human named Charles Darwin who traveled around the world on a boat called the Beagle (I always thought that funny – a boat that looks like a dog!). He apparently came up with the idea that all species of life descended from a common ancestor (when I heard that, I started paying attention) through a process called “evolution” which is driven by something called “natural selection.” As best I can understand it, the idea is that living in and adapting to the natural world around us can, over time, cause physical changes such that an animal today could look quite different than it did long, long ago.”
“This may be what happened to the humans. Perhaps in the beginning they had fur or hair all over their bodies like us. Then they started wearing clothing, possibly to differentiate themselves or attract mates. Over time, either the clothing made their natural covering unnecessary, or rubbed it off, to the point where it all mostly disappeared, except on the tops of their heads. But even that isn’t necessarily permanent – haven’t you noticed that many of the male humans start off with full heads of hair and then lose it? That may be because they wear hats a lot, especially at sporting events.”
“This might explain some other unusual things about humans. First, they have no tails. My guess is that is because they sit on their rear ends so much – most of the day for some of them – that the tails either wore off or never had the chance to get started. And, they have no paws or claws. Part of the answer for that, I think, is that when the humans started walking upright, their front paws no longer touched the ground, so they evolved into soft, delicate “hands” which they then taught to perform more specialized tasks. And once they started putting coverings on their back paws, they became soft and delicate “feet.”
“I always thought that last bit strange; now that their feet are so soft and delicate, they can’t go anywhere or do anything without having them covered! As for claws, since their hands don’t touch the ground anymore there is no need for sharp, sturdy nails like we have (their hand nails are now merely decorative), and it’s likely that those foot coverings stunted the growth of claws on their feet. So now, when the humans go outside in wintertime, they sometimes have to add metal spikes to their foot coverings so that they don’t slip and fall on the ice. Crazy!”
“So, what did we dogs get out of this evolution?” I asked. Logan replied, “Ah, we were very smart. We evolved from scavenging wolves that threatened and were hunted by the humans, into what we are today -- their most beloved companions. And now they take care of all our needs in exchange for our unconditional love, which is the easiest thing for us to give. I’d say that is a pretty good deal. And I’ll bet Darwin would agree.”