By Susan Goldfein
I am crestfallen, dejected. But let’s stick with crestfallen. The word origin is animal-related, and my unhappiness has everything to do with an animal: with an article I read concerning the emotional life of dogs.
It’s no secret I’m a dog lover. When I started writing, we cohabitated with two beautiful Labrador Retrievers, Bette and Davis. They inspired my first book, How Old Am I in Dog Years? I believe they lived happily to the ripe old ages of 15 and 16, respectively. I also believed they loved us.
Now there’s Sam, a 17-pound rough coat Russell Terrier, my first small dog. I’ve discovered a small dog is a different 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 my face.
Sam sleeps in our bed and cuddles. Sam follows me around the house. When he wants my attention he’s jealous if my focus is elsewhere. I’m his primary caregiver and he’s clearly attached to me. He 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 me. Because he senses I’m a good person who occasionally feeds him table scraps, and takes him to the dog park. Because I rub his belly and tell him he’s a very good dog. I thought our bond was unique, and in his dog brain, I was special. Wrong!
The said article revealed an inconvenient truth: yes, my dog loves me, but not because I’m me. He can’t help it. It’s in his canine DNA!
Apparently, dogs have an amazing ability to bond with other species. Raise a dog with humans, it’ll bond with humans. But raise a dog with sheep, it’ll bond with sheep. Or goats. Or penguins. You name it. To quote, “dogs have an abnormal willingness to form strong emotional bonds with anything that crosses their path.” I could be replaced by a robot had Sam been introduced to one when he was still in doggie diapers.
This knowledge is most disappointing. I almost feel betrayed, although I realize it’s not Sam’s fault. But now I’m confused. When Sam stares up at me with those big, brown, soulful eyes, is he appreciating me, or might I just as readily be an elephant?
But humans must be resilient. I wish I could unlearn this new discovery, but I can’t. I can only hope one day soon animal research will prove to be like health research. Last month eggs were banned, and caffeine put you 24 hours nearer death. But research this month says to eat eggs several times a week, and coffee gives you an edge when playing “Jeopardy.”
So, I’ll diligently read the newspaper, searching for studies 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 seventies.