The science of puppy love and a tribute to my best friend
If you have a dog, chances are, you would do almost anything for them. Those “feels”- they are very real.
While the nuances of dog ownership aren’t all glorious — between the poop bags, fur all over your clothes, and planning your entire life around their bathroom habits — there’s still a powerful and extremely tangible bond that exists between human and dog.
As the owner of a border-collie mix who first crawled into my heart and home almost 15 years ago, I was reminded of this special bond when we got the news that we had to put him down.
This is Willie. He was the rascal puppy who would lick the dishes before they went in the dishwasher. He was the best cross-country skiing and running partner you could ask for. And if he ever saw a squirrel… watch out!
One my my fondest memories of Willie was the first time he saw the moon as a puppy. This moment was also the first and only time he ever howled. As he looked up at the confusing, glowing bright yellow thing in the sky, his little puppy vocal chords belted out a high-pitched “oooowwwhh!”
My wife’s favorite memory is the time she got really sad about something, and Willie — sensing that she was upset — came over to her and wouldn’t stop giving her his paw until she smiled.
It’s moments like these that sink into your heart, memory and build towards the ball of satisfaction and love that you hold for your pet. These memories and moments make your dog something more than just a pet.
You see, Willie wasn’t just my dog and the family dog we all know. In a way, he’s akin to your dog as well.
As pet parents, we understand this incredible bond that exists between human and dog. We just get it. Our pets are our lives.
The bond between people and pets isn’t just the stuff of anecdotes either, it’s science!
There’s been many studies that explain why our warm fuzzy friends give us such warm fuzzy feelings, including a more well-known study by animal behaviorist Takefumi Kikusui. He found that levels of oxytocin, the feel-good chemical, and bonding rise by merely looking into our dog’s googley eyes.
“Our data suggest that owner-dog bonding is comparable to human parent-infant bonding, that is, oxytocin-mediated eye-gaze bonding,” Kikusui said.
“And this is surprising to us because there is not a reproductive relationship between human and dogs, but both of them have acquired similar skills.”
With this innate level of affection that exists, it’s no wonder that there are more pets than children in the US. And that margin is not a small one. According to one source, pets outnumber children 4 to 1.
As a living, breathing example of all the above I could attest to why it hurt so much to have to let my dog go. Willie had been living with a nerve sheath tumor on his left arm for the past several years. It had gotten to the point where it was painful for him to walk without taking medication.
The tumor had also grown so rapidly that it was breaking his skin and causing unsustainable treatment and infections. At Willie’s age removing his arm was not an option. We all knew Willie’s great spirit, and to do an operation like that would have broken it.
As tumor grew and grew, the reality became more apparent, we realized we had to put him down.
I know for a fact there are many people who feel like they are losing a family member when they lose a dog. And that’s quite simply because, our dogs do become a huge part of our families.
Dog ownership is one of the many greatest joys you can experience in life. Dogs are the ultimate example of unconditional love and teach us humans more lessons than we realize. I, along with my entire family, have so many memories and funny stories that will outweigh the heavy heart that comes with losing a pet.
Dogs are goofy, uplifting and truly live up to the moniker of a best friend. I mean, who else will greet you every day like they had been waiting for you their whole life?
Willie was a huge part of my life and a huge reason we (Chris, Dave and I) started Barkly, an on-demand pet care app. We consider Willie, Schroeder, and Atlas (our dogs) cofounders as much as we are.
To help the sadness pass, I know the time will come to rescue another dog someday. But Willie will always have a huge space in my heart. He was the dog that taught me what the joys of pet parenthood are all about. And I hope everyone can experience this joy at some time in their lives.
Willie, happy trails, little guy — the reason thousands of dogs are getting outside to run, walk and play today is because of you.