They’re not called man’s best friend for nothing — exploring the bond between human and canine
- Last Updated: 12:38 AM, August 26, 2012
- Posted: 10:33 PM, August 18, 2012
The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed Pit Bulls--One Flying Disc at a Time
by Jim Gorant
The Gift of Pets
Stories only a vet could tell
by Bruce Coston
St. Martin’s Press
John Unger leads his limping, arthritic 19-year-old shepherd mix toward the waters of Lake Superior.
“Come on, Schoep,” Unger calls, whistling, egging the old dog on.
Reaching the lake, Unger hoists Schoep’s 41-pound frame, which has become slighter in recent years, over his shoulders and walks into the waves.
Unger carefully lowers Schoep into the water, keeping his body afloat with his outstretched right arm, allowing him a moment to float weightlessly and painlessly in the waves.
Schoep was once an abused and feral stray, terrified of all men, Unger included. But that was a long time ago. Today, the dog is fast asleep, utterly content, while resting his head on his owner’s shoulder.
This month, a photo of this scene went viral. To date, more than 2 million people have seen it and thousands have offered up donations to help with Schoep’s care.
“I think it captured something special,” Unger said on the phone from his home in Bayfield, Wis.
“People around the world from all walks of life are drawn together by this.”
The image perfectly encapsulates the feeling that many owners share: Dogs are not just pets.
In fact, over half of pet owners — of the 36% of US households that have one or more dogs — call themselves “mommy” or “daddy” when referring to Spot. An overwhelming majority consider dogs an equal member of the family, a recent Kelton Research survey revealed.
This connection is not frivolous. It’s rooted in biology.
According to recent research from a lab in Switzerland, dogs and humans both release the hormone oxytocin while engaging in friendly interaction. Oxytocin — often referred to as a “bonding” or “trust” hormone — is released by mothers during breast feeding and is key to pair-bonding.
Another study out of the United Kingdom shows that dogs experience the same “left gaze bias” that humans — but no other animals — do. When looking at a face, both humans and dogs tend to look left at the right side of the face first. The theory is that the right side of the human face better expresses emotion, which might explain why dogs are so often hyper-attuned to non-verbal cues.
Owners, too, reciprocate this special relationship, says Virginian veterinarian Bruce Coston, author of two memoirs; his latest “The Gift of Pets,” is out now. In his 25 years of practice, he’s seen innumerable instances of the extreme lengths dog owners will go to help their pets, sometimes at the expense of other humans.Follow @NYPostOpinion