Bonding is something most humans do without thinking about it. As individuals, we each have our own personality, strengths, flaws and preferences. We tend to gravitate towards other people who share our interests, and as the relationship develops, so does bonding. Most pet owners think of their dog or cat as a member of their family and the connection we share with our pets is unique. But does our special bond with a pet help us form closer relationships with other people? According to science, it does.
Beginning some 10,000 years ago, humans and canines formed a unique pact that benefited both species. We know our early ancestors placed great value in their pets because dogs and cats have been found in burial sites with humans, indicating people felt it was important to give their pet a proper burial. Throughout the many decades of animal domestication, the bonds between humans and our furry friends have made us healthier and happier, and helped us cope with life’s surprises. Pets also help us connect with other people because caring for animals gives us a sense of empathy.
Natural disasters and house fires occur every year. We watched with sadness as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina unfolded. Researchers conducted studies to find out why many New Orleans residents refused to evacuate to safe shelters, and discovered it was because people didn’t want to leave their pets behind. I didn’t know any of these pet owners, but could relate with the decision they had made. Most pet owners are willing to risk their life to save a pet, according to a 2013 Vanity Fair poll that found 81% of dog owners and 71% of cat owners would go back inside their burning home to save their pet.
If you’re a pet lover like me, you probably think that asking if pets make us happier is a pretty dumb question. You may have even uttered something sarcastic like “well duh.” I thought the same thing, until I happened upon a blog post where there was quite a debate going on about that very question.
“Debate? What’s to debate?” I naturally thought. My cats keep my Happy Meter so full, there’s simply no question their furry presence makes me not only happier, but healthier – body, mind and spirit.
The arguments against pets making us happier spoke of things like the hassle of caring for a pet (personally, I’ve never considered caring for my beloved cats a hassle, but whatever); the stress that can arise when they’re sick or injured; the agitation that occurs when your dog shreds your couch cushion or your cat deposits a hairball on the new carpet. I’ll give them points on the stress and agitation issues. No one likes those things. However, I still believe that all of the positives of having a pet far outweigh any negatives.
In my article, How Do You Keep Your Pet Happy?, my furiend Guido the Italian Kitty made an astute observation when he said “My Meowster self thinks your article should be titled How does your PET keep YOU Happy?” It was obvious that all of the things I do to keep my cats happy also make ME happy. I don’t do things that make my cats happy for the sole purpose of my own happiness, but it’s definitely a fringe benefit. I am reminded of that over-used saying: Happy wife, happy life. My version would be: Happy cats, happy me.
Not long ago, an interesting bit of writing popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. It was a short piece titled Just a Dog – not really a poem but not a “story” either. It was, however, a very moving tribute to man’s best friend. I really wanted to share it with you, but there was no author listed, nor any indication where it came from. I’m no stranger to the copyright law, and I’d never post it here (or anywhere) without permission from the copyright owner.
So, I did a little digging. I found Just a Dog on hundreds of other websites and blogs, and some had even taken artistic license and changed it to Just a Cat. A few had the supposed author’s name – Richard A. Biby – but I couldn’t find the man or where the piece was originally published. It’s definitely worth a read, though, so I would encourage you to Google it. Just not before you finish reading my post. LOL.
The poignant piece brought to mind the times in my own life where people have said things like, “It’s just a cat. How can you spend that kind of money on a cat?” “It’s just a cat, it doesn’t love you like a human child can.” Or the very worst of all, after a beloved cat had died, “It’s just a cat. You can always get another one.”
You’ve probably had similar things said to you about your own dog or cat, because the world is filled with unfortunate people who have never bonded with a pet. They can’t possibly comprehend the depth of your love for “just a dog.” They don’t understand why you would consider “just a cat” to be a beloved family member that you’d do anything to keep safe, healthy and happy. The non-pet crowd often trivializes our relationships with our furry friends, because they don’t get that our pets will never be “just” anything.
Two of my dogs, Keikei and Dozer, love to wrestle with each other outside. Both of them enjoy the back and forth, and trying to get them back inside after their morning duty run was frustrating, to say the least. One day I decided to try a new tactic, and when Keikei was at the foot of the stairs, I called her to come, showed her a CANIDAE Pure Heaven treat, and waited for her to bounce up the steps. When she got to the top, I gave her the treat, along with some praise and a mini massage. Treats will definitely get a dog’s attention, but according to a new study, how you greet your dog matters.
The bond we have with other people or our pet doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process of earning and building on a trust that grows over time. Our human tendency is to gravitate towards people with a positive attitude who are quick to give us a warm smile. It’s nonthreatening, comforting and indicates friendliness. A simple greeting makes you feel good. When touch is added, the emotional response has a lasting effect. Touch is an important aspect of the bonding process with dogs too. A casual touch from someone who cares is a positive sign of an emotional bond. Like us, dogs are social creatures and how we greet them plays a role in their emotional outlook. Dogs need to feel our touch as much as we need contact from people we care about.
Remember that romantic kiss scene in Lady and the Tramp? You know the one…where they are eating a big plate of spaghetti and unknowingly slurping away at the same noodle, until their snouts meet in a smooch. Then Tramp noses the last meatball across the plate to Lady.
Aww. So adorable, right? Not to kill the cuteness factor, but have you ever wondered whether dogs can really fall head-over-paws in love like that?
Doggy love is a hard topic to find solid research on, maybe because it’s hard to qualify the emotion separate from simple affection. A lot of scientists seem to just flat out not believe in it.
Anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Social Lives of Dogs, believes that dogs can fall in love. In her book, she tells the story of Sundog and Bean, two dogs that met each other by chance and only had the pleasure of each other’s company for a brief period of time. Bean’s owner was a builder and they were off as soon as the job was finished.
Sundog would still faithfully wait to hear the sound of the vehicle Bean’s owner drove, but to no avail. He stopped eating and slept more often. Even bringing in another female dog didn’t interest him. As for Bean, her owner believed she was yearning for Sundog, even to the extent that she would run away, looking for him.
Two stray dogs living on the streets of Terre Haute, Indiana met and “fell in love,” or so the story goes. Life took an abrupt turn, however, when the two became separated. But one of the dogs wasn’t going to let anything stop him from being reunited with his best four legged friend.
Four and a half year old Ben, a mixed breed, and one year old Jade, a German Shepherd mix, were well known strays that called the streets of Terre Haute home. How they met is anyone’s guess, but over time an incredible bond grew between them. The dogs were looked after by locals in the community, but the pair remained skittish of humans. When Jade became pregnant, the Terre Haute Humane Society (THHS) decided it was time to rescue both dogs.
Since they were comfortable with each other, the shelter kenneled them together until Jade gave birth to six healthy puppies. It was decided that they would be better in a foster home environment until the pups were weaned, and were moved to the home of Kali Skinner, one of the THHS adoption counselors. According to Skinner, “Jade was timid, but a very caring mother.” When the pups were old enough, they were put up for adoption and all quickly found forever homes.
Ben was overjoyed to see Jade when she returned to the shelter, and life was good until a young couple stopped in looking for a dog to adopt. Courtney and Jason Lawler fell in love with Ben, but they didn’t want two dogs. The couple’s three year old son, Peyton, and one dog would be all they could handle – or so they thought. Ben was led away from the shelter and his best friend, and Jade was left alone in the kennel. This might have been the end to this sad story of two friends saying goodbye, but Ben had other ideas and wasn’t about to be separated from his love.
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