I am crestfallen. Dispirited. Sad. Dejected. Although in this matter, I prefer crestfallen to the other synonyms since the origin of the word has to do with animals. And my current unhappy mood has everything to do with an animal. And with an article I recently read concerning research into the emotional life of dogs.
If you’ve been following my blog for a period of time, then you’ve come to understand that I’m a dog lover. When I first started writing, my husband and I cohabitated with two beautiful Labrador retrievers, Bette and Davis. They were central to my essay about Bagel Sunday, and the inspiration for my first book, How Old Am I in Dog Years? I believe we made them very happy, and they both lived to a ripe old age. I also believed that they loved us.
Fast forward to Sam, the cutest dog in the world. He’s a 17-pound rough coat Russell Terrier, and the first small dog I’ve ever shared my home with. I’ve discovered that having a small dog is a very different kind of experience. First of all, I can lift him. Which I do, frequently. And while he’s in my arms, I plant kisses on his head. And he, in turn, licks me. It’s all very affectionate.
Sam sleeps in our bed. Sam likes to cuddle. Sam follows me around the house. He is independent, but also likes attention, and at those attention-seeking moments, appears jealous if my focus is elsewhere. I am his primary caregiver and he is clearly very attached to me. He even forgives me for giving him sink baths.
I adore Sam, and was convinced the feeling was reciprocal. Until now.
I thought he loved me for who I am. Because he senses that I’m a good person. Because I occasionally feed him table scraps, and take him to the dog park. Because I rub his belly and tickle him under his chin, and tell him he’s a very good dog. And that the love was so unconditional that I am quickly forgiven for occasionally stepping on him when I don’t realize that little Sam is underfoot. I thought our bond was unique and special. That in his dog brain, I was special. Wrong!
The newspaper article I refer to revealed a very inconvenient truth. Yes, my dog loves me. But not because I’m me. He loves me because he can’t help it. It’s built into his canine DNA!
The article claims that dogs have an amazing ability to bond with other species. Raise a dog with humans, and it will bond with humans. But raise a dog with sheep, and it will bond with sheep. Or goats. Or penguins. Or kangaroos. You name it, though it would be painful to snuggle with a porcupine. To quote the article, “dogs have an abnormal willingness to form strong emotional bonds with anything that crosses their path.” Think about it. I could be replaced by a robot had Sam been introduced to a robot when he was still in diapers. Or the dog equivalent thereof.
This new knowledge is most disappointing. It practically ruined Thanksgiving. I almost feel betrayed, although I realize it’s not Sam’s fault. Or the fault of those dogs who preceded Sam upon whom I lavished love and ear scratches.
Now I’m confused. What do I make of it when Sam stares up at me with those big, brown, soulful eyes? Is he penetrating my unique essence, or might I just as readily be an elephant?
Oh, well. Life goes on and humans must be resilient. I wish I could unlearn this new discovery, but I can’t. I can only hope that one day in the near future animal research will prove to be like health research. You know those studies. Last month eggs were a no-no, and caffeine put you 24 hours nearer to end of days. But happily, the research this month tells us that we should eat eggs several times a week, and that coffee gives you an edge when playing “Jeopardy.”
So I shall diligently read the newspaper each day and search for the canine investigations that negate the previous findings. Ideally, the next wave of animal scientists will uncover evidence that dogs are uniquely programmed to bond with humans. Particularly with women in their 70s.