When primitive man walked onto the pages of history, a dog no doubt trotted amiably by his side. And while the strength of this ancient bond has not diminished, the nature of the relationship between man and dog has evolved from those early days.
After wolf/dog allied with man, together they secured meat, provided mutual protection from predators, and shared body warmth during cold Stone Age nights. Man has since voyaged from caves to the moon, but this special bond, like no other between man and animal, remains.
While dogs may still fetch newspapers, retrieve downed birds, and guard against intruders, a visit to a neighborhood park nowadays reveals the main role of dogs is companionship.
Jon Katz in his book, The New Work of Dogs (Random House) depicts dogs as filling expanding roles in peoples’ lives, loves, and families.
Our lives have become increasingly private and relatively more connected digitally than by face-to-face contact. A headphone wearing skateboarder, on-line shopper, or P.D.A punching subway commuter could compete as icons of our modern age.
Diminishing direct contacts have created newer and unexpected roles for pets. Irrepressibly affectionate and endearing, our pooches provide emotional props for our lives. Our pampering, caressing, and crying over departed pets demonstrate our need both to nurture and be nurtured. Our behavior exposes, if we dare to admit it, a reciprocal dependence on our canine companions.
Many of us work from home offices foregoing daily commutes to busy workplaces. We sit at our computers, delivering services (while scratching our Canis familiaris under the desk), rather than heading off to tailor suits or hawk vacuum cleaners.
In recent years, family sizes have shrunk with less opportunity for sibling interaction. Dogs now, more than ever, serve as playmate, best friend, and protector. The Darling family, as depicted in “Peter Pan,” illustrated this point with Nana, their English Sheep dog guarding the children and serving as playmate.
Martha, a friend of mine, tells a childhood memory of having regularly been sent outdoors by her parents to play and undoubtedly to provide a rest for her parents’ ears. Lobo, her German shepherd, was always sent along with Martha who was still a toddler.
Martha and Lobo would chase and play ball in the unfenced yard that lay adjacent to a busy thoroughfare. When Martha would totter close to the street, Lobo would scamper after her, sinking his teeth into her diaper and hauling Martha back to safety into the yard.
Lobo, like the fictional Nana in Peter Pan, served as both playmate and trusted baby sitter.
The nature of friendships in modern society has evolved or devolved depending on your point of view. Some cultures today and many earlier ones held lifelong friendships as nearly sacrosanct. With modern mobility and inevitable relocations, such filial attachments have diminished. Often before indelible bonding can occur, a friend up and moves away. Such abrogation of nascent chum-ships prevents lifelong friendships from years of shared experiences from ever forming. Nevertheless, our societal mobility affects our canines not in the least, as they accompany us willingly, as we move about from place to place.
Changing personal traits may have also diminished the quality of our human contacts. Don Chance, a Louisiana State University finance professor, blames an increasing sense of entitlement among his college students on the late Fred Rogers. In an article written by Jeff Zaslow in the July 5, 2007 issue of the Wall Street Journal, Professor Chance describes what can be called the “Mr. Rogers effect”.
The late Fred Rogers, a Pittsburgh Presbyterian minister, for years hosted a popular children’s TV program-“Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.” He possessed a gentle and affirming nature and aimed to make young viewers comfortable with their circumstances and improve their self-esteem. Toward this end, he affirmed them, by saying that he liked them, just the way they were.
Unfortunately, many parents, teachers, and much of intelligent humanity saw a yawning need for improvement in the decorum of many of these pint-sized reprobates. Along with improved self-image according to Zaslow, Fred Rogers contributed to leading generations of youth toward a finely tuned narcissism.
“If I am just fine the way I am, why should I improve or interact better with others? Why worry about the needs of others, as the kindly Mister Rogers likes me just the way I am?”
Obviously Fred Rogers cannot be solely blamed for excessive doting on our offspring. He undoubtedly meant well, instilling self-confidence in his youthful viewers. However, Mr. Rogers epitomizes a phenomenon among some young adults today of increasingly impolite and solipsistic behavior.
Despite our insular ways and self-centered behavior, many of us remain emotionally starved. Along with our 36-ounce drinks, we seek and need over-sized dollops of affection. If we fail to receive succor from large families or long-term friendships, then we look elsewhere, but where in modern life might we find it?
For the family pet, an opportunity has developed; one for which Fido has proves far more skillful than in retrieving the newspaper. But how can dogs communicate their support?
I know my dogs, Bandit and Mollie, patiently listen to my shtick. They have no difficulty making their wants known. For many lonely people, dogs represent their best, and sadly, only willing listener.
What about you and
your dog? Let me hear from you.