What would happen of dogs acquired the power of human thought? That is premise of André Alexis’s 2015 novel, Fifteen Dogs. A couple of Greek gods, Apollo and Hermes, are out on the town in Toronto when they decide to have a wager. Apollo bets that any group of animals given human consciousness would be even more unhappy than humans are. Hermes accepts on condition that if, at the end of its life, even one of the animals is happy, then he will win. Accordingly, the gods find a collection of 15 dogs awaiting treatment in a local veterinary clinic, then radically alter their minds and observe what ensues.
This new knowledge quickly alienates the dogs. Human awareness doesn’t fit in well into dog packs because it engenders independence and a notion of self-importance among the dogs. A pack also needed a hierarchy where every dog knows its place. The dogs befall ill fortune and tragedies so that it looks as if Apollo may win out, though nothing is certain. In some cases, it is difficult to determine whether a particular dog died happy.
Fifteen Dogs was the winner of the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2015 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Alexis’ novel’s strength is on an allegorical level. You immediately notice how similar Fifteen Dogs is to Animal Farm. But Fifteen Dogs is not about politics but about human consciousness and emotions such as happiness, and love. Like Orwell’s novel, we learn a lot about human nature but imposing human intelligence and consciousness on animals.