Some time ago, Richard Beck, who writes a blog entitled Experimental Theology (it was a blog I used to read daily at one time), posted a series on happiness. In one of these posts he wrote that if you're unhappy because relationships seem to pass you by, then there are three things you can do. The third of these was get...A dog or a cat that lives inside with you. The research is very clear on this. People who have pets, particularly people living alone, are less stressed, more healthy, less depressed, and less lonely. Now, I've known about this research for years but it never really dented my skull. But I get it now after having become a first time dog owner.
I became a first time dog owner when I was 65. My wife had owned a dog when she was young, but not since, though she'd often talked about getting one. When we were both on the verge of retirement we made the rash decision one day to get a dog. Apart from occasional issues, such as all dog owners will experience at some point, we've never looked back.
The other day I read somewhere that a dog's delight on seeing you is akin to the rush a lover gets when he sees his beloved (or vice versa, one hopes!) You don't have to have been away for months (as have the soldiers in these videos*); being away for half an hour is enough to send our dog into paens of rapture. And he's protective: he's just raced out into the dark, in the pouring rain, in order to ensure that no burglars or other nasty people are lurking out in the back garden (in the dark, in the rain). To frighten them away he makes a noise like a honking goose. Apparently this is very effective, if what he tells us about this is to be believed. Certainly geese find it effective: we haven't seen one in years.
We talk to our dog all the time - whether we're at home on our own, or together. And of course he talks to us. He has this kind of high-pitched voice (he's a small dog, after all): it's a tenor verging on castrato, I think. He seems to have a kind of quirky humour - not unlike my own, although sometimes he takes after my wife. Of course he doesn't have to talk all the time. His tail gives his true feelings away; in fact sometimes his tail seems to be saying something different to the rest of him. And when we mention the word 'car' he's at the front door like a shot, scraping away, desperate to get out, without a word. Why he thinks going in the car is all the great I don't know, but seemingly it's an opportunity to get out of the house for a while. 'Walk' is another word that rings a bell in his brain, and he'll dance around the kitchen - often on just his hind legs - with enormous anticipation. He can understand 'toy', though sometimes he just takes the initiative and brings the toy to us, expecting us to play immediately. He doesn't have to say a word at that point. There are a number of other words in his vocabulary too, but I won't bore you with them all.
Since this dog arrived in our house, I've become far more relaxed with other dogs. I've got a better understanding of where they're at, and don't take fright so readily at them, or bark back at them if they shout when I go past their house. While I think I prefer smaller dogs - they don't take up so much room on the couch or the bed when they decide to snuggle up to you, and when they leap at you you're far less likely to suffer a major injury - I've even found some bigger dogs to my liking in ways I wouldn't have in the past.
But it's not really an issue of whether I now like dogs as opposed to previously not being so keen on them. What I'm trying to say is that there's something absolutely amazing about the love of a dog for its master/mistress. Disciplined well when a pup, they'll pay you back in spades (and occasionally some other less pleasant options). I would never have credited that a dog could give so much. I'd read about it, but I'd never known it for myself. We've been blessed as a family time and again over the years, but one of our greatest blessings has been this ridiculous little dog that seems to think we're somehow the elephant’s adenoids, cat’s miaow, ant’s pants, tiger's spots, bullfrog’s beard, elephant’s instep, caterpillar’s kimono, turtle’s neck, duck’s quack, duck’s nuts, monkey’s eyebrows, gnat’s elbows, oyster’s earrings, snake’s hips, kipper’s knickers, elephant’s manicure, clam’s garter, eel’s ankle, leopard’s stripes, tadpole’s teddies, sardine’s whiskers, canary’s tusks, pig’s wings, cuckoo’s chin, butterfly’s book, bees knees and the cat's pyjamas. Well, maybe not that last one...
And if dogs truly descended from wolves, how did they come to a point where they think that humans are worth their weight in gold?
*I suggest you turn the sound off with some of them; the spouses ongoing commentaries get a little tedious unfortunately.