Sorry, folks, dogs aren’t really people
- Last Updated: 1:56 AM, November 4, 2012
- Posted: 8:42 PM, November 3, 2012
What’s a Dog For?
The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy,
and Politics of Man’s
by John Homans
The Penguin Press
During Hurricane Sandy, the one thought that crossed my mind was: What am I going to do about my dog?
Nevermind my family, friends, neighbors or my own safety — it was Gus, my 11-month-old pony-sized Spinone Italiano that occupied my thoughts.
It’s not the first time I’ve gone a bit nutty over my dog. I’ve rearranged vacations for him, bought insanely expensive organic kibble and have taken him to private indoor swimming lessons. To me, Gus is more than a dog; he’s my baby.
Am I crazy?
I might be, but then so are a lot of people — especially if the thesis of new book called “What’s a Dog For?” (original title “Dogs are Not Humans”) is to be believed.
The book’s author, New York magazine editor John Homans, wanted to avoid what befell me when he first adopted Stella, a black Lab mix. But over time, what initially was concrete — “dogs are not humans!” — became something more mutable.
“Who, or what, is she?” he writes in his first chapter. “What goes on in her head? And what’s going on in my head that I can’t help but treat her as something she clearly isn’t?”
The result of such ponderings is this book, a fascinating tour through ever-changing perceptions of dogs as pets.
There were 77 million dogs in the United States in 2010 (up from 53 million in 1996). Nearly 100% of their owners speak to them like humans and over 80% view them as family members. One survey revealed that 14% of coupled dog owners would chose Fido over their significant others. Another, quoted in the book, revealed that a shocking number of dog owners would save their pet in a life-threatening situation over a fellow human.
President Obama once spoke about an “empathy deficit” after Hurricane Katrina — but there was no such deficit in the outpouring of funds and attention devoted to saving the storm’s abandoned pets. Animal rescuers even marked houses for pets the same way the National Guard did for humans.
“People are living more isolated lives, are having fewer children, their marriages aren’t lasting,” British professor James Serpell is quoted in the book. “What’s happening is simply that we're allowing animals to fill gaps in our lives.”
Loneliness only amplifies the wish to anthropomorphize pets. And dogs have actually evolved to take advantage of this very innate drive. The “infant schema” of a dog’s face (the high forehead, big eyes, floppy ears, for examples) might prod our innate response to want to nurture.Follow @NYPostOpinion