I have been obsessed with dogs as long as I can remember and longer. Born in the country, I spent my formative years constantly surrounded by two very protective and loving German shepherds and one mutt that had human-like qualities. My grandfather even nicknamed me “Mowgli” as a child, declaring that I had been raised by wolves after finding himself surrounded by growling canines when he startled me as a toddler.
The partnership between man and his best friend is arguably the most dynamic duo in history and over millennia has made us better hunters and farmers, offered us protection, and has frequently saved our lives, both in overt rescues and through pet therapy. In 2020, NOVA released a documentary episode entitled “Dog Tales” that explores the history of this famous friendship. Dogs, which trace their ancestry to the grey wolf, appeared at least 15,000 years ago, always at sites associated with humans. Theories abound that this symbiotic relationship helped humans outcompete the Neanderthals.
While in the 21st century mankind as a whole is not as dependent on dogs for survival as our agrarian ancestors, the bond shared between dogs and humans is in many ways stronger than it ever has been, with dogs sleeping in the bed, dressing up for Halloween, and having their own social media accounts. But the question all skeptics wonder is, are they opportunists living with us because we feed them, or do they love us the way we think they do?
“Dog Tales” reports on the findings of Dr. Gregory Berns, an Emory University neuroscientist, who conducted a study to see, literally, the effects of human affection verses food on dogs’ psyches. By training dogs to lie in an MRI machine, he was able to compare the amounts of dopamine their brains released in response to either human praise, using a sedate “good girl” only, or a tasty treat. Over numerous dogs, the results were overwhelmingly in favor of the subtle affirmation, which Berns declared to be the closest way to prove scientifically dogs’ emotional bond of love with humans.
Few of us who have known the love of a dog could ever doubt it. Our family has been blessed with many faithful dogs over the years. While several stand out, the girl who stole my heart fresh out of college 12 years ago as an abandoned, 5-week-old pup at PETSinc is one of the rare ones. With the sandy coloring and deep, soulful eyes of a Carolina dog plus the speed of a whippet, blended together with the booming bark of a bloodhound for good measure, Brontë has been my constant companion throughout my adulthood. While I know for sure I have the world’s best dog, I also know a lot of people are willing to fiercely argue that point!
We all love our four-legged friends to death, and it’s only slightly less that we love to hear stories of the world’s (second) greatest dogs. Billy Cate pays homage on page 110 to his standout canines who, over the years, have completed his family and made life whole.
I hope you enjoy this and the other stories in this issue, hopefully with Fido curled up snuggly beside you.