Why We Love Dogs, #1

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Just look at this sculpture of a dog from the Eastern Han dynasty of China (AD 25-220). You can tell by the playful expression that the sculptor loved this creature. In fact, our species has loved the canine species since we crouched together in caves by flickering firelight, sharing bones and listening for saber-tooth tigers outside the cave entrance.

Why has this intense bond grown between dogs and people? Over the next several months I’ll post some of my musings. Here are some of the first reasons that come to my mind:

Nothing gets old for them. They are as enthusiastic about your walking through the door for the thousandth time as they were the first few. They love to play the same games over and over. They greet each meal with the attitude: “Oh, boy! Dog food again!”

They make us laugh. We were trying to get a roof leak fixed, and the handyman couldn’t figure out where the leak was coming from. He had tried a few remedies without success. Finally he told us, “You need a roofer.” And on cue came the tap of claws over the tile floor of the kitchen and our golden retriever, Rufus — the “Roofer” — appeared, having heard what he thought was his name and come to see what was wanted of him.

They are delightfully shameless. Not only are they totally accepting of their own, and our, bodies and natural functions — they are downright enthusiastic about them.

A woman I met, on learning that I volunteered at the shelter, told me about her rescue dog’s intense separation anxiety. “Finally I figured out that if I put a pair of my used underpants in the crate with her, she would calm right down.”

They forgive and forget. She came to the shelter close to death, her heart clogged with worms, her ears scarred by fly bites — a dull- coated skeleton of a pit bull whose blocky tan head looked outsized for her wasted body. Her story was sad but all too familiar: chained outside, seldom fed and never enough, repeatedly bred. She delivered litter after litter of pups and let them suck out her strength, as mothers will do.

But one day her luck changed. A Northside animal control officer spotted her in the yard, cut her chain and brought her to the shelter. She was given the name Praline, and a fluffy comforter printed with Disney princesses to cushion the cement floor of her run. She was fed three times a day and gradually gained a layer of fat over her bones. Her tan coat and her eyes began to shine. She was cured of her heartworms.

Throughout it all Praline was friendly, affectionate, as if she had known nothing but kindness. She loved walks, she loved to snuggle and give kisses. The shelter had begun a program, “Dog Days at City Hall” ; once a month my husband and I would bring a shelter dog to Mayor Cary Lewis’s office to spend the day with him and his staff, and hopefully get adopted when the dog appeared on the Mayor’s Facebook page. Praline, the third dog we took, was a perfect lady and won hearts all around. She didn’t get adopted that day, though.

Back at Northside, she gave a wag to every person who passed by her kennel, or a courteous touch of her nose on their offered hand. The weeks passed. Until one Saturday, Courtney, a young administrative assistant on the Mayor’s staff, brought her husband to the shelter.

“Ever since her visit to the office, I just can’t stop thinking about Praline,” she said. Her husband instantly fell in love with the dog and they adopted her as a companion for their other pit bull, a big male named Tug.

Over the next several months, whenever we brought other dogs to City Hall I heard glowing reports from Courtney about how Praline – now Angel – was getting along. Once Courtney showed me a picture of the four family members, canine and human, curled up together on the couple’s bed.

And then there were five, when Courtney had a baby girl in December. The photo she sent with her Christmas card showed Angel lying on a blanket close to the infant, like a little mama to this strange smooth puppy. “Darby’s guardian Angel,” Courtney had written.

Next: Through the Eyes of Love

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