Do you sign your dog’s name to the family Christmas cards? Do you call and leave your dog voice messages when you’re away? Do you talk baby talk to your dog even though he’s 75 years old in dog years? If you’re American and you answered yes to any of the above questions, you are not strange. You’re normal.
With a canine population topping 75 million, America is home to more dogs than any other country on Earth, outpacing second place Brazil by over 40 million dogs.
Industry, technology and a largely urban lifestyle suggest that dogs as workers might be obsolete by now. We no longer need them to hunt, fetch, carry or even guard. And, while many dogs are still used for work, most are not. The dog-human relationship runs deeper than mere practicality and stretches far back over the centuries.
The Oldest Bond
Americans aren’t the first to adore their pooches. Although Egyptians are remembered for their cat worship, they also loved dogs. When a dog died in ancient Egypt, the owner lathered his hair with mud and shaved off his eyebrows. Thus attired, he engaged in a spectacle of public mourning that could last for days. In imperial China, Pekingese were memorialized in temples, and wealthy or royal owners provided them with servants of their own.
A Working Relationship
Over the centuries, dogs have earned their keep as guardians, hunting companions, pack animals, law enforcement agents and military personnel. According to a recent Associated Press poll, nearly three-quarters of dog owners say their pet’s behavior more accurately predicts storms than the local weather report does.
Dogs are trained helpers for people with disabilities, and increasingly play a role in promoting general mental and physical health. In nursing homes, dogs lessen feelings of depression and isolation in the elderly. In prisons, caring for and training rescue dogs improves compassion, responsibility and social skills among inmates. Just by being themselves, dogs give the gift of longer life. Studies show that petting a dog lowers blood pressure and relieves stress. People who live with dogs have fewer heart attacks and live longer than people without dogs in their lives.
All in the Family
Most American dog owners consider their pet part of the family.
- About half of American dogs share beds with their owners, while 87 percent curl up with them to watch television.
- One-third of dog owners call their pets on the telephone or leave voice messages for them when away from home.
- Fifty-eight percent of owners include the family dog in holiday portrait photos, while 70 percent sign the dog’s name with the family’s name on greeting cards.
- Eighty percent of dogs receive treats and gifts on holidays and their birthdays.
- In America alone, over one million dogs have been named the primary beneficiary of their owners’ estate.
At the end of the day it seems we value dogs for many of the same reasons we value people. Dogs offer companionship, amusement, guidance for spiritual growth, a buffer against loneliness and an opportunity to care for another living being. But unlike people, they don’t judge or place conditions on their love. They ask little in return. And fortunately for me and you, this extraordinary friendship is unlikely to change any time soon.