By Maureen Schwab
This month, two of the year’s most important award shows will be televised across the planet. If you are more excited about the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (2/11-13) than you are about the Academy Awards (2/24), then you are a true dog lover. By the numbers, however, the movie lovers at 40 million make the 3 million viewers with a pooch penchant the underdogs.
I have only recently become a dog lover, owing this conversion to simply having to learn to like a family member’s dogs. Growing up in Green Island in the fifties and sixties, our family never owned a dog, nor did many of my neighbors. In those days, dogs roamed freely through the streets of Green Island, and at times presented the residents with a frightening encounter to deal with. My younger brother was bitten by a neighbor’s dog, and another brother tells tales of outrunning a stray or two. Over time, the strays have all but disappeared, and the only unleashed dogs are those found frolicking at Crompton Park with owners in close proximity.
The dog that led to my conversion is a troubled terrier mix that I adopted from a relative and now own. Since the day I took him in last March, he has been a good boy with me, and a loyal companion to my other dog, who was purchased at a pet shop in 2009. If the tea leaves had predicted that I would own two dogs some day, I would have laughed and declared fraud, but here I am; happy and in love with these two damn dogs!
Michael Schaffer, author of One Nation Under Dog (2009) , credits social trends that have developed over the past 30-40 years for reasons why Americans are in love with their dogs. Two career couples that marry later, divorce more frequently as well as longer work hours and commute times occurred at the same time dog ownership began to increase. Schaffer speculates that people are leaning on pets to fill the gap in social support mechanisms that might have otherwise come from families or the community. Some even promote their pets the status of honorary child…..”fur babies”.
Dog behaviorist and psychologist Sarah Wilson also points out that dogs are some of the longest relationships we have, our pets often outlast our marriages and/or romantic relationships! Consider me guilty on all counts; I know I am “ Mama” to my two boys, and these are the longest relationships I have had so far, with the exception of my children, immediate family, and dear friends of 50+ years.
Social science aside, people who love their dogs often do so for very simple reasons; dogs are always happy to see you, they help us not to be alone in the world, and accept us in spite of our flaws and faults. In some cases they give us courage and a reason to get up in the morning. You can tell them any and every secret and never be betrayed . A dog can even help you stay in shape with long walks, and games of fetch and last but not least…..can even help you make new human friends.
I would not discourage anyone from watching the Academy Awards this year, especially since the film based on local author Matthew Quick’s book Silver Linings Playbook (2008), has been nominated in several categories. I’ll be watching the dog show instead, rooting for the schnauzers and terriers with my little loves ( a.k.a those two damn dogs!) by my side.