The category I belong to is common all over the world. It has to do with those people who are considered excessively committed to their dogs. We dote on our dogs, we obsess over them, we plan our entire lives around our dogs in order that we may accommodate them. We are always moved by our dogs’ unconditional love for us. It never ceases to melt our hearts when we walk into a room and see our dogs look into our eyes and wag their tails. Or sometimes we’re watching TV and we will look at our dogs and at the same time (because they can read our minds) they will look at us and they will open their mouths slightly and seem to smile at us. Or while we’re reclined on the couch or floor watching TV, they will use part of our leg as a head rest and they will have this blissful expression with their eyes almost completely shut that says, “This is where I belong more than any place in the world.”
Our sense of importance in the world is constantly affirmed the way our dogs follow us everywhere we go in the house and will plop down beside us when we’re typing at our computer or watching TV. We notice their expressions become melancholy when we give them cues that we will soon be leaving the house: putting on our “outdoor clothes” or packing our suitcases. We’re flattered when people tell us that we and our dogs make the same facial expressions, have similar demeanors, and even walk with a similar stride. These similarities give us joy because they bear witness to the intense bonding that has occurred between us and our dogs.
This love and affection our dogs have for us never ceases to be a moving, compelling experience, such a huge part of our lives that the connection we feel between our dogs has a spiritual dimension. I daresay the love we have for our dogs is religious in nature. It is a spiritual love that takes over our entire being. To illustrate this spiritual dimension, our neighbors, a family with two daughters, lost their black lab Riley to bone cancer at the young age of six. The mother told me that her four-year-old daughter once said to her, “Mommy, I wish I could die so I could be with Riley in heaven.” Indeed, the love we have with dogs becomes a way of losing ourselves in something that is greater than the sum of our parts.
To affirm this great love affair, some Dog People spend money on their dogs in excessive and sometimes absurd ways. Some buy artisan dog treats made exclusively of organic ingredients. Others only serve their dogs the choicest of freshly cooked meats made from grass-fed livestock, spending more money on their dog’s diets than their own. Others take their dogs to yoga classes. Others take their canines to dog gymnastics. Some dog lovers take their dogs to special recreation parks complete with elaborate obstacle courses. At Christmas, some will have their dog sit on Santa Claus’ lap and have photos taken, which will be the Christmas card that all their friends and relatives receive. Others will buy their dogs tiaras or crowns and festoon their dogs with ribbons and bells. Others will fit their dogs with vests, sweaters, galoshes, booties, Italian sunglasses, and designer jeans.
While I have never subjected my dog to these commercial enterprises, the fact remains I am a Dog Person. My dog’s health and happiness is the number one priority in my life. It is my life mission to make sure my dog Gretchen, rescued from Rover Rescue animal shelter almost eight years ago, never again taste the loneliness, the rejection, the fear, the trauma, and the hunger she suffered when she was picked up as a stray by Dodger Stadium. She was found shaking with fear, starving, and maimed: The top part of her right ear was missing, presumably bitten off by another dog.
The rescue agency told me Gretchen would not eat for several weeks after being taken from the streets. Desperate, they hired a dog psychic (something I would never do) who told them that Gretchen was depressed because she believed she was unloved and that she simply wanted to die. For six months, no one would adopt her because when approached she would cower and tremble. When I took her for a test walk at the animal hospital that housed her, she became frightened in the lobby from the other barking dogs and she extended her paws on my leg as if she wanted me to protect her. Right there I knew I was going to take her home.
Since adopting her over seven years ago, my biggest priority is that Gretchen feel safe and wanted and loved. I won’t leave her for more than five hours. I won’t leave her in a kennel on vacations but rather hire a house-sitter, someone I trust who will keep Gretchen on her daily routine that makes her feel safe and comfortable.
But truth be told, I don’t like to leave the house or vacation much because I don’t like to be away from Gretchen. One of my dog-sitters said that while my wife and I were gone for a week, Gretchen would look up at the sitter every couple of hours with this sad face that seemed to ask, “When is my family coming back?” The idea of my dog feeling so depressed in my absence is unbearable. It would be safe to say that both Gretchen and I suffer from separation anxieties.
Dog People will identify with everything I’ve just written and will feel a kinship and a sympathy for me. However, the uninitiated, those who would never call themselves Dog People, will dismiss me as a lonely, needy crackpot, a pathetic soul who craves the unconditional love of an animal. An unfulfilled adult who without children is circumventing his fatherly instincts on a lowly beast. A selfish dysfunctional person who in treating his dog like a human being is afflicting his dog with unnecessary neuroses. A hypocrite who makes a big fuss on his blog about Man Points but then shows he's a hopeless softy when it comes to his dog.
My accusers may be partly accurate. But as a Dog Person, while I don’t equate dogs with humans, I do see them as possessing souls that are as infinitely deep and beautiful as any human soul and as such they deserve as much respect and dignity. Dog People believe as much. Now if only I could convert the rest of the world . . .