It occurs to me that I’ve been talking a whole lot about dogs in general, and my friends down at the dog park, and I’ve told you practically nothing about me and my dogs. I think it’s about time I corrected that. So, about me. I’m a dog person, plain and simple, and most of the time, I prefer dogs to the people in my life. I don’t think I’m alone in that – in fact, my dog park buddies almost all say that if they had to choose between human and dog companionship, the dogs would win, paws down, every time.
I wouldn’t say that I exactly live a life that would make for tabloid fodder, or be of much interest to anyone but me and my friends. It’s pretty mundane, actually. I go to work Monday through Friday like pretty much everyone else I know. Then I come home at night, make dinner, and take my two Boxers, Janice and Leroy, out for their evening constitutional. Then, most of the time, we just snuggle up on the couch, and I read, or we binge-watch Netflix together.
About the only time my life gets switched up to any great degree is when Janice and Leroy present me with a litter of adorable puppies. Then I have all sorts of wonderful mayhem, house training the puppies and of course obsessing myself stupid working at just the right homes for them. I’m pretty fussy about that. Essentially, I follow all my own recommendations – the ones I set out in Matching People and Puppies the Right Way – even demanding a criminal records check from potential adopters.
As for human relationships, I freely admit to a little difficulty in that area. I think that’s probably because, at my essence, I am not much of a “people” person. I am a dog person. Don’t get me wrong, I like people. I’m not averse to seeing a movie with friends, or attending the company Christmas party, or offering a friendly wave to my neighbor across the street. I just seem to relate better to dogs most of the time, which is probably why I have so much fun down at the dog park – everyone there is pretty much the same way.
My last romantic relationship ended rather badly. I was making lasagna for dinner one night, and Janice, who is usually very well-behaved, decided that this would be the night she would jump up onto the countertop and steal the dinner that was in the making. I suppose I’m going to have to do a little work with Janice – maybe re-read my own article, Dog Training Made Easy. My mistake, apparently, was that after ascertaining that she hadn’t consumed any of the tomato sauce (tomatoes being bad for dogs), I laughed it off. I really thought it was pretty hilarious – the joyous look on Janice’s face when she realized that there was food on the floor, and then the shame-faced appearance when I scolded her.
Apparently the person I was making dinner for didn’t think that was an appropriate reaction. My human companion announced, “I’m starving, and that $%^^& dog just ate our supper!” I responded with “She’s not a $%^^& dog, she’s my dog, and don’t you talk about her that way! She’s just a dog; you can’t expect her to have a whole lot of self-control, and besides, we can just order out.” The response? “You love that dog more than you love me!” And then, sputtering, “And that other dog [Leroy, presumably] too!”
Well, all right, not even really a minute, and then I fired back with “I guess I do.” Needless to say, it all kind of went downhill from that point. The lasagna dinner didn’t happen and neither did the takeout dinner didn’t happen. Oh, wait, no, I stand corrected. The takeout dinner actually did happen, but I ate it by myself.
See, the thing is, when confronted with the statement that I loved my dogs more than I did my dinner guest, I answered honestly. I did love them more. I do love them more and I don’t feel any need whatsoever to justify my point of view. But it did get me wondering: why do so many of us care more about our dogs than we do the humans in our lives? What is it about dogs that captures the hearts of some of us in a way that humans can’t seem to match?
I started out by asking my friends down at the dog park what bonded them so much to their pets, and I also did a lot of Googling, trying to get a handle on why, for some of us, our dogs take priority in a huge way. From my perspective, the answers don’t seem all that surprising. You can, of course, feel free to disagree.
A Harris poll conducted in 2011 revealed that no fewer than two thirds of Americans share their home with a pet, and that they consider them members of the family. In addition, more than 40% of women who own dogs report that they get more love and support from their dog than they do from their husband. Does this mean that these women have really good dogs, or really lousy husbands? I don’t know. I’m just reporting the figures.
Studies also show that more than 50% of us sleep with our dogs, and wouldn’t think of having it any other way. Keep in mind now, that’s just the people who, when asked, admit to sleeping with their dogs. I’d be willing to be that the real number is much higher.
Recently, there have been countless stories in the news about shootings all over the United States. Then there are the terrorist attacks in France. All horrific. And yet, you might be surprised to know that, according to newspaper editors, stories about cruelty to animals invite more invective than attacks on humans. That, in and of itself, would suggest that I’m not alone – maybe other people actually care more about their dogs than they do other people.
Is this right or wrong? I don’t know. I’m not making any value judgement here; I’m just pointing out that maybe harm done to a dog matters more to some of us on some level, than harm done to a human. On the other hand, maybe it’s not that we value humans less. Maybe it’s a response to the fact that humans, on some level, at least understand the horrific things that can be done to them. They can grasp motive and madness in ways that animals cannot.
Over the course of any given year, approximately 400 people are shot and killed by police, in shootings that are deemed to be justified. The number of dogs shot and killed by police is roughly the same, but you might be surprised to know that the dog shootings actually get a lot more press. A case in point is the shooting of Jeanetta Riley, a woman who had two children and was pregnant with her third. She was intoxicated and incoherent, and was brandishing a knife at police officers. They shot her from a distance of about 10 feet, instead of tasering her or otherwise trying to subdue her. She weighed only about a hundred pounds, and should have been easily subdued. This story got hardly any media attention.
Contrast this with the tale of Arfee, a dog that was relaxing in the cab of his owner’s van in New York State. Craig Jones, Arfee’s owner, had stopped for lunch, and rolled the windows of the van to make sure that Arfee wouldn’t be over-heated. Arfee, probably just feeling lonely and bored, began to bark. The police were called, and Officer Dave Kelly approached the van. He reported that Arfee responded in a vicious manner, and shot him. This resulted in a “Justice for Arfee” Facebook page, and demands that Officer Kelly be fired. Finally, the police department officially apologized and gave Jones $80,000 in damages.
Clearly, this story demanded more attention and generated far more public outrage than attacks on humans.
Arnold Arluke and Jack Levin are experts on mass murderers and serial killers, working out of Northeastern University. As an experiment, they had their students read bogus news accounts about crime in Boston. One story described an assault on a human being that resulted in multiple lacerations, unconsciousness, and a broken leg. Another involved a puppy that was beaten using a baseball bat. Overwhelmingly, the students were more troubled by the supposed attack on the puppy than they were by the assault on the human. Even when the human victim was described as an infant as opposed to an adult, the attack on the theoretical puppy inspired more outrage. When the victim was described as an adult dog, responders were less troubled than when it was described as a puppy, but still far less upset than when the victim was portrayed as human.
Another experiment, conducted by psychologists at Regents University in Georgia, also measured the ways in which people might value animal lives over human lives. Participants were asked to consider a number of hypothetical scenarios involving a bus that was out of control. Who would they save – a person, or a dog?
The result pretty much depended on who the person was, and who the dog was. For instance, people would be more likely to save a human relative than a dog. If the potential human victim was someone not known to them, though, they’d choose the dog. Interestingly, women were more likely than men to say that they would save a dog over an unknown person.
Certainly, in some circumstances, it would seem that we value animals more than we do people. But what if we take it beyond dogs? We love our dogs because they love us. But does our preference for animals over people extend to other species? We know about baby seals being clubbed to death (which actually doesn’t happen all that much anymore) and we know that elephants are lonely in captivity, and we care about polar bears whose habitat is being destroyed. Do we care about animals that aren’t cute? Or is it just those big brown eyes that captivate us? Do we really care about chickens that are raised in batteries with their feet never touching the ground, or do we brush that off because no one cares about an animal that doesn’t tug at our heartstrings?
When you get right down to it, chances are that a lot of the time, we really do consider animals over humans. But most of the time, we only care about the cute ones. We share this planet with more than 40,000 other species – vertebrates and invertebrates – all of which should matter to us. Most of the time, we don’t even think about them. We also don’t think about the race horses who die on the track every year because they’re run to death by cruel owners who only care about how much money the horse can make them. We also cheerfully order a steak without ever considering the animal that went to its death in order to provide us with our meal. Chris Diehm, the environmental philosopher, called it the “paradox of cats in our houses and cows on our plates.”
So, to get back to the point, do you love your dog more than you do the humans in your life? Have you ever agonized over whether you should care a little more about people, and wondered if maybe you should just accept that you are not a people person? Most of us do have a preference one way or the other. We share our lives with our dogs by choice – it’s kind of like the old saying “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives.”
If you find yourself nodding knowingly, recognizing yourself in the following scenarios, chances are that you’re more of a dog person than you are a people person.
1. Humans Obstructing Your Walk Drive You Nuts, But a Dog, Not So Much
When people dither along in front of you, it makes you crazy. But your dog can wander along, check his “pee mail” and take all the time he wants. It doesn’t bother you. By the same token, a dog being walked by someone else can rush toward you, holding you up by demanding attention, and your reaction is something along the lines of “Oh, what a sweet boy, let me pet you and baby talk you!” The woman taking her kid for a walk? She’s in your way and you just want her to move so you can get to where you need to go.
2. You’d Rather Spoon Your Dog Than Your Human
Come “tuck in” time, you’d rather have your nice, warm dog snuggle up to you than any human. There’s no contest; the dog wins every time. If the dog is comfortable, you’d just as soon your significant other would take his or her butt down to the couch, and leave you and your dog alone.
3. Babies Don’t Do It for You the Way Puppies Do
You meet your neighbor on the street, and she wants you to meet her new baby. You go “Meh” and ask her when she’s getting a puppy. Nothing is cuter than a puppy. Certainly not a baby human. You don’t understand her priorities at all!
4. You Scrap Your Pillows
Why would you need a pillow? You have a dog to snuggle up on.
5. All Your Friends Have Dogs
Your day off is spent at the dog park, with other like-minded people and their dogs. You don’t really want to have much to do with people who don’t have dogs. And if people don’t like dogs, you don’t trust them.
6. You Look for Another Job
You’ve been reading about dog-friendly workplaces, and think that’s a pretty fine idea! So you tell your boss about this great concept, pointing out that studies show that workers who bring their dogs to work are more content, more productive, and less likely to call in sick. The boss tells you that’s not going to happen. You start looking for employment that is more to your liking.
7. You Can Just Spend Hours…
You watch your dog sleep, and you think about how adorable he is. Just look at how his little nose snuffles, and see how his little paws twitch? He’s dreaming about chasing rabbits! You would never watch a human sleep, because that would be kind of weird, but when it comes to your dog, that’s a whole other thing. You could just watch him sleep all day long if you didn’t have to worry about foolishness like going to work and paying bills.
8. You Love Drool
When you’re watching your significant other sleep, and there’s drool coming out of the side of their mouth, that’s pretty disgusting. But when it’s your dog, isn’t that just so adorable! He must be dreaming about having something good to eat. Oh, and if he goes over to his water bowl, has a big drink, and then brings a mouthful over to you and slobbers it all over your nice clean clothes, that’s fine too – he’s bringing you water, and isn’t that just so special?
9. You Spend More on Them Than You Do Yourself
It’s cold and you need a winter jacket. But you don’t want your dog to be cold either, so you buy yourself something adequate from WalMart, and spend a fortune shopping online for just the right winter wardrobe for your best buddy. You also go nuts with toys, buying anything and everything that you think your adored one might like. You’re up to your armpits in toys, but then you see the Kong Cozie Squeaky Toy on Amazon. It’s just $9.49, down from $13.99, and given the pleasure that it will give your dog, you figure that it would be a steal at any price!
10. You Forego Travel
Your friends are all up for a party weekend, and you’d love to go. But it would mean leaving your dogs alone. And of course you don’t want to put them in a boarding kennel – what if they miss you? What if they think you don’t want them anymore? What if no one reads them a story before they go beddy-byes? Nope, you’ll just stay home.
11. You Can’t Imagine Yourself Without a Dog
You could do without people if you had to, but you couldn’t even think of not having a dog. You’ve probably made housing decisions based on your dog, and eliminated people from your life who couldn’t get along with your dog, because you can imagine not having people around, but not having your dog with you is unthinkable. You don’t understand why some other people don’t feel the same way. You and your dog are together forever, and in the final analysis, humans just don’t matter nearly as much to you as your dog does. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
So, what’s the story? Are you the kind of person who lives for your dogs, or who just lives with your dogs but prefers human companionship? Personally, my take on it when it comes to humans versus dogs is, if you come into my house, you’d better accept that my dogs live here – you don’t. You don’t diss my dogs, even when they’re stealing lasagna. And when push comes to shove, I’ll choose them over you every time. I’m not trying to be horrible; it’s just who I am. I’m a dog person.