I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine from church yesterday about how we perceive our animals’ affection towards us.
He had told me he’d read an interesting article from a scientist who hypothesized that what we humans have it all wrong. That “love” we feel from our four-legged friends is really only an unemotional psychological reaction. The dog seems to love us, when he’s really just staying close because it knows we will provide for it. Maybe it’s affection, but maybe it’s just opportunism pure and simple.
The last dog I lost, Zoey, had been abandoned and mistreated before coming to live with me for the rest of her life. When I would feed her, she would make a point to come to me, raise her paw and place it on my knee until I leaned over to see what she wanted, and then would kiss me. The cocker spaniel, Zack, I had for most of the time I had Zoey never did this.
I’d had him since he was a puppy; he’d never been mistreated and he’d never gone hungry. He was affectionate, too: when I’d watch TV in my big chair, he’d climb up to the back of the chair, lie across that and put his head on my shoulder. At night, he’d snuggle up against me.
But Zoey had gone hungry. She knew, as best a dog can understand, what it meant to not have a home. Some part of this dog, for some reason, was not only able to recognize the difference, but led her to show what seemed to be genuine thanks.
If dogs can’t love us, and if they’re just in it for what they can get, why didn’t Zack ever do that?
I think that if we’re going to rule out the possibility that a dog could possess the mental capacity for a higher emotion like love, then the dog must surely not possess the capacity for an emotion like gratitude.
Of course, the scientist could be right. Dogs could be fooling us all.
But then the same can be said for a lot of people, too. How many times have you turned on an episode of a crime show like Forensic Files in which a husband or wife did away with his or her spouse? If the victim had seen it coming, knowing that the “love” wasn’t really love, they wouldn’t have been in a vulnerable position that allowed the crime to happen.
So we could be wrong. But if we are wrong about what our animals think of us, how could we ever be 100% right about how anyone else thinks of us?
Personally, I think that the affection I’ve gotten from my animals over the years — and I’ve owned a lot of dogs in 41 years — is genuine. It may not be as deep as a human’s, but I think it’s comparable.
In any case, if dogs are able to comprehend and appreciate how good they have it, those furry beasts are already better than their two-legged counterparts.
What do you think, dog lovers? Do our pets really love us, or is it just a case of them in it for all they can get, and our own emotional attachment disguising the symbiotic relationship?