Barking In Defense of Dogs


This is my reply to fellow Chicago Now blogger Stephen Markley’s post about why he simply doesn’t like dogs, or for that matter – it seems – animals.

Poor Stephen (odd we share a very similar name) begins by talking about the barking dog ordinance recently passed in Chicago (which i don’t believe is a bad thing), cheering that it makes him happy that dog owners’ experience just a sliver of the grief he has by not liking dogs. Wishing grief on others is an odd trait to be proud of…As he continues in his post, it becomes clear that he isn’t writing about the city ordinance, after all, but rather why he hates dogs.

Hate is a pretty strong word…and it’s an indeed unusual such an extreme word would be used to describe feelings about Man’s Best Friends, unless perhaps he was mauled by a dog. Stephen’s right, I imagine not liking dogs does cramp a style around women (dogs are chick magnets, right). But he’s not right that women like dogs more than men. Those may be his personal observations, but they are not based in fact. (It is fact that women are caretakers for pets more than men.)

Cerainly Stephen’s entitled to his views – but here’s what we know about how dogs benefit individuals and our society. (I can document each of the following with citations, but I am out of town at a conference, and simply don’t have the time to do so). And there are far more examples than what I list here….

– Service and assistance dogs provide independence for many who otherwise might not venture outdoors at all, let alone lead productive lives…for people with visual impairments to helping people with mobility issues. There are dogs who detect seizures and heart palpitations. The list of what service dogs can do has never been so long as it is today. There are dogs now being trained to alert children allergic to peanut products so they they don’t come in contact with them. Talk to their parents about dogs. Hate dogs. One parent was literally in tears telling me about how daughter can now attend school and she doesn’t have to go with her. Service dogs also help society, because when someone is disabled and can in some way contribute to rather than take from the system, it is beneficial for all of us.
– Search and Rescue dogs catch bad guys every day in America, and assist law enforcement in many ways, as drug and bomb sniffing dogs, for example. These dogs also assist our military in far more ways than I can begin to describe here. One example are dogs that detect land mines and are saving lives as I write this in land-mine laden Afghanistan. Even our most sensitive equipment can’t replicate the nose of a dog. Search and rescue dogs also find lost children and Alzheimer’s patients.
– Study after study demonstrates that petting a dog is beneficial; physiological changes do occur, among them changes in brain chemistry and beneficial changes in our own body’s chemistry (as measured in urine in various studies). People with pets may simply smile more than those without pets. This little example (smiling more) is one of many. And incidentally, by smiling more, good endorphins are having a party inside our brains. Due to these beneficial effects (demonstrated by medical science – not what you might term crazy dog people), there are many doctors who have told patients ‘get a dog,’ for problems ranging from heart attack recovery to depression. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic (and elsewhere) have actually written on a prescription pad these three words:  ‘get a dog.’
– Children who grow up with pets tend to be more empathetic than those who do not.

– Reported in the popular press in recent years, it’s been shown to be true – dogs can indeed detect cancer. I’m not only referring to dogs who are trained to do so, but ordinary pets. This doesn’t suggest that you should forgo a visit to your physician in favor of a dog sniffing you…But scientists now know enough dogs have done this, and well before doctors identify cancer. Since early diagnosis is so beneficial, many of these dogs have saved lives
– Then there are the Lassie stories – dogs who have saved lives with miraculous events,recently in the news, a car crash and the dog runs down the street does a Lassie thing barking at the homeowner to come outside, Most common, waking when there’s a fire or alerting of a home intruder…It may not happen everyday, but it does happen.
– Dogs in animal assisted therapy programs often are able to somehow wiggle into the hearts and minds of patients, eliciting response, when standard medicine may not. No one knows how dogs are able to do this – but they do.
– Dogs (or cats) give many a sense of purpose to seniors. In one study (this was conducted among seniors living alone) those individuals with a pet (not specifically a dog, but any pet) lived longer. However, to my knowledge, that study has not been replicated. Experts to do say, having a pet gives seniors a sense of purpose and something else to think about aside from themselves, not to mention the health benefits already documented in this post.

No one forces people to live with pets…If most people didn’t want to, they simply wouldn’t. Perhaps, you don’t like animals, but most people must (a part of your complaint, I know) – since there are actually more pets than children in the U.S.

Way above at the top of the post I called you poor Stephen…I don’t know you (though I’m happy to meet you sometime), but I do sort of  feel sorry for you. I’m sure you are happy with your life, and have a great life…but if you’ve never shared your life with a dog, I think you’ve missed out. And if you have never shared your life with a dog, you don’t really have any way to know what I’m talking about. You can read the words – but you can ‘feel’ it.  But short of convincing you to adopt a dog, all I do is write the words, and they’re true Dogs don’t care if your Oprah Winfrey or if you don’t have a dime to your name. They don’t care what kind of car you drive, or what your job is, or what your ethnicity is. Yes, you are correct, they do follow you around; they do want to be with you no matter what. They are loyal. Personally, I admire loyalty…and how many people love unconditionally? Yes, you are right about the fact that dogs do bark, some slobber, and we should responsibly pick up their waste. For me, I’ll pay that price anytime for what I receive in return from my dogs.