A few years ago, a polling group made a startling discovery about America’s dog love. A surprising number of dog owners called their answering machines during the workday to talk to their dog. Many celebrated their dogs’ birthdays with gifts and parties. And most slept with their dog—unapologetically. It’s no dirtier than sleeping with a shoe, said one respondent.
And speaking of dirty, no poll was required to know that many dog owners also kiss their dogs on the mouth.
It is easy to love dogs. They are the last of the optimists, humorist Erma Bombeck used to say. They rush the door when the bell rings and the visitor is never there to see them. They become ebullient when they get to go for a car ride but they never go anywhere but the vet. U.S. comic Gary Shandling observed that the only thing a dog likes more than getting in the car is getting out and if we opened both doors they’d pass through all day long, happily.
It is easy to admire their simplified triage system when they encounter a new object in their world. If they can’t eat it, they try to mate with it. If they can’t eat it or mate with it, they pee on it. Life should be that simple for the rest of us.
Woody Allen used to also make dog jokes. He recalls asking his mother where babies came from and she replied “dogs”—thinking he had said “rabies.”
Comedian Buddy Hackett used to recount hearing the dog yawning at the edge of the bed while he and his wife were getting busy. “Am I boring you,” he asked the dog in jest. “A little,” replied his wife.
Once upon a time dogs were heroic and to be taken seriously. Who remembers Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Old Yeller, White Fang and even Benji? But once Snoopy debuted from the cartoon strip Peanuts, dogs began to be regarded and sage and sardonic philosophers.
Other things have changed about America’s love affair with dogs. Once we wanted pure breeds; now we adopt dogs from the shelters and rescue organizations and condemn puppy mills. We love our mixed breeds. Once we were “masters” of our pets—now we are their caretakers of our companion animals. Once dogs got minimal health care—now we brush their teeth and treat their arthritis. And, of course, once they sleep outdoors or on the floor. Now they are our bedmates and don’t even snore like humans.
Martha Rosenberg is a freelance journalist and the author of the highly acclaimed “Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health,” published by Prometheus Books. Check her Facebook page.