I have an enormous soft spot for dogs. When a dog dies in a movie, I will start crying like a baby. And when a dog is in pain, then I, too, will be in pain. Simply put, I look upon dogs with a unique fondness that I cannot liken to humans.
The fact that dogs are so compassionate is not an accident. As much as I condemn humans for their remarkable capacity for evil and wrongdoing, humans were the ones who have made dogs into what they are today. Humans were the ones who, for the past 10,000 years, selectively bred dogs into domestication, transforming these animals from vicious predators into lovable (and quite loyal) idiots. But what makes dogs special enough to warrant this title of “man’s best friend’?
First, dogs are unconditionally accepting of all our flaws. They do not debate, argue, or contend with us. They care more about receiving love and affection from us than undermining our self-interests to advance their own. For example, when you come home from a long and strenuous day at work, your dog isn’t going to pester you about why dinner hasn’t been cooked yet. Your dog isn’t going to steal your credit card in the middle of the night and spend hundreds of dollars on clothes. And your dog isn’t going to wake up one morning and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore. Your dog will always be there for you, no matter what.
Second, dogs sustain good physical and mental health. One study that was published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that of 400 patients who suffered a heart attack, the patients who owned pets had a significantly higher survival rate than patients who did not own pets. Multiple studies have also found that dogs reduce negative feelings such as boredom, depression, anxiety, and most importantly, loneliness.
At the end of the day, dogs do not extend from or substitute our humanity. Rather, they reflect our humanity, reminding us that despite all our moral shortcomings, there exists good in each of us. However, as delightful as dogs can be, their deaths are emotionally unfathomable. My mother told me that after our dog Charlotte passed away almost three years ago now, the grief she suffered was actually more intense than the grief she felt over her parents. There are two explanations I can offer as to why this happens. The first explanation is that because dogs have been around for such a large portion of our evolutionary history, our brains have been rewired to think of them as babies. The second explanation is that we have been conditioned to think of dogs as symbols of innocence, and thus when a dog dies, innocence dies with them.
The best things that we can do for ourselves (and for our dogs) is to enjoy the time that we do have with them, and cherish the happy memories that they help us create.