In the past, I was always a cat owner. When a dog appeared in some arena of my life, it was someone else’s dog, even if I was the one feeding it/him/her/them. Not being a dog owner, I never had to worry about rushing home from work to let the dog out, or replacing a clawed-up screen door because my dog was suffering an abandonment freak-out.
I appreciate the independence and apparent apathy of cats—their casual interest in me worked better with my work-a-holic single-mom lifestyle than a dog’s neediness.
Dogs have seemed to me a bit, well, co-dependent. But, things have changed in my life, and I have changed—I married a man who loves dogs. He’s always had at least one and when I met him he had several, none of them small or breed specific. He loves other folk’s dogs as well, and we can’t pass a dog-and-owner combo on foot or in a car without my guy fussing over the dog.
This has taught me a few things about dogs and dog owners—dogs can be comforting in their neediness, and in return dog owners can be comforted and yes, more compassionate as a result of loving them. There is a real something about a dog when they look at us and our eyes lock—that gives us a feeling of love and acceptance and belonging. I recently learned what that something is:
Smithsonian magazine says a dog’s gaze hijacks the brain’s maternal bonding system to cause both dog and human brains to secrete oxytocin, and feelings of love. Our minds and bodies use oxytocin to strengthen emotional bonds between us, mothers and children, husbands and wives, people and each other.
I recently read an article in The Guardian about a sudden surge of demand for dogs, in shelters and with breeders, noticeable beginning the first month of the Corona virus lockdown and quarantine in March. I can see why. We humans are trying to fill the voids left from losing our work environments to home offices, from isolated kids who need something to do, or no work but lots of free time, or from living alone with no way to safely socialize.
Scientists say a cuddle with our dog can alleviate stress, and disperses the ‘pleasure hormone’ dopamine, boosting our mood. Dogs make us happier and more compassionate. No wonder the entire country is experiencing a renewed need for canines, and it’s exciting and hopeful—we have dogs in the White House again.