I don’t know what motivates people. I can’t imagine it’s a simple matter of “self interest,” as Utilitarians believe. Sometimes, I think we just do what we feel moved to do.
While driving back from the dog park with Barkley, I saw a black dog wandering on the sidewalk without anyone nearby. I pulled over and walked up to him. He was shy at first, but soon he sat down and started leaning into my petting.
It was a large, black Labrador. He didn’t have a collar. The fur was worn off his knees. He smelled awful. The dog got up and began to wander, crossing the street. He was skinny, and walked like he was drunk, swaying a bit as he went.
My car was parked haphazardly, so I moved it to a more permanent spot and got Barkley’s leash. The dog walked into the courtyard of a Catholic grade school. Some nuns watched as I approached the dog.
“Is this your dog,” I felt obliged to call out, knowing the answer before they even shook their heads.
I rigged the leash into a loose collar to lead him back to my car. I lifted him up into the trunk of my hatchback, and we drove home with Barkley trying desperately to get some good sniffs in on the dog through the back seat.
My wife had just told me the day before that someone in the area had lost a black Lab, so I was excited to be reuniting this dog with its owner. When I got home, my wife informed me the missing dog was a recently neutered female, not the intact male I had found.
So, we called up the local SPCA, got the location of a drop-off center, and brought him in. While my wife was organizing this, I tried to feed him, and when he wouldn’t eat, I took him on a walk around outside in order to minimize the stress on our dog and three cats (not to mention lower the risk of transmitting anything the stray may have gotten).
We brought the dog to the drop-off, signed some papers, and out the door we went. On the way home, my wife and I talked about how long the dog may have been on the street. It must have either been neglected by its owner for a while then dumped, or it was dumped a long time ago. The dog was too skinny and beat up to have been recently abandoned.
Which got me thinking: how many people passed by that dog without doing anything? My wife made the comment that the nuns should have done something. Maybe…
But what motivated me to stop? I guess initially I felt it was the dog that my wife had mentioned. Maybe if I hadn’t heard about that dog, then saw a dog that matched the description, I would have just driven by. I can’t remember ever seeing a stray dog before, so I don’t know what I would have done in another situation. Perhaps I would have ignored it and forgotten about it completely because I was in such a hurry.
It makes me glad I have so much time on my hands. I have the luxury of being able to do good things I would have hoped most people were doing. I have a car that allowed me to drive this animal thirty minutes away to safety.
What if there’s not enough good in the world because people simply don’t have the time or means? I don’t think bringing a dog to a shelter should qualify as a good deed; it should be expected.
As for the dog, I have high hopes. He’s so gentle and friendly. I know he’ll be adopted as long as his health holds out. He’s even leash trained better than my own dog. I look forward to checking up on him in the next week or so and seeing how he’s doing.
Maybe I did gain something from doing this: a feeling of satisfaction. Did I do it out of self-interest after all? Only in the sense that it’s in my self-interest to live in a place where people do good things, and the only contribution towards that goal which I can make is to do good… but I certainly don’t expect the dog to return the favor.
If my dog was lost, I would hope someone would take the trouble to get him. I love him very much, and maybe what motivated me to rescue the black Lab was knowing that if it was my dog, I would have run into highway traffic to save him. I’m sure whoever adopts him will be glad I did what I did, even though they will probably never know what happened.