It's Valentine's Day, so what better topic on which to write than love?
Not the love between couples so commonly associated with the "holiday," but the love between humans and our dogs.
We're as nutty about our dogs as astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak was about astronaut Bill Oelefin. I have no doubt my wife would drive 900 miles across the country wearing diapers at the drop of a hat for our dog, Faith, and many other Americans would probably do the same for their dog.
On norwalkreflector.com, we recently published photos submitted in the humane society's cutest pet contest. I believe there were something like 90 photos on our site. We probably wouldn't get half that many in a cutest kids contest.
That we are so crazy about our dogs is not surprising. They love us, unconditionally. All they want is to be near us and fed. In return they give us their love, loyalty, affection, companionship and protection.
Or do they?
Scientists are now questioning whether our dogs really love us or have simply evolved over the centuries to pick up on the emotions that move us and are merely manipulating us to get what they want which, most of the time, is food.
Writing in Slate online magazine, Jon Katz reports on the work of University of Central Lancashire psychologist John Archer.
He sums it up this way, according to Katz:
"Consider the possibility that pets are, in evolutionary terms, manipulating human responses, that they are the equivalent of social parasites.
"Social parasites inject themselves into the social systems of other species and thrive there. Dogs are masters at that. They show a range of emotions love, anxiety, curiosity and thus trick us into thinking they possess the full range of human feelings.
"They dance with joy when we come home, put their heads on our knees and stare longingly into our eyes. Ah, we think, at last, the love and loyalty we so richly deserve and so rarely receive. Over thousands of years of living with humans, dogs have become wily and transfixing sidekicks with the particularly appealing characteristic of being unable to speak. We are therefore free to fill in the blanks with what we need to hear. (What the dog may really be telling us, much of the time, is, 'feed me.')"
According to Katz: Dogs figure out our moods and what makes us happy, what moves us. Then they act accordingly, and we tell ourselves that they're crazy about us. (And my favorite line) That is why dogs live so much better than, say, moles.
I know my wife won't buy any of this. She's convinced that Faith worships her to the point that she would lay down her life for her. And she's right, too, but Faith feels the same about cheese.
Even if it is true that dogs are social parasites that are using us does it diminish the relationship? I don't think so. If we withheld food from our dogs, many of them probably would end packing their bones and leaving, but that doesn't prove anything. Our kids would likely do the same if we didn't feed them and we don't question their bond with us.
Regardless, it's a sweet deal. Our dogs may just want fed, but they feed so many of our needs, mostly by just laying on us. It's not a tough gig. Everybody gets what they want. It's one of life's rare win-win situations.
So as you are out today buying cards, candy and whatnot for spouses, children and boy and girl friends, might as well pick up a little something special for Fido. Even if he is a manipulative little parasite, he'll at least act like he appreciates it.