LIVES SUCH AS THESE
Commitment To Animals
A simple, yet powerful, expression of animal welfare is “the protection of the health and well being of animals”1. For supporters, this protective embrace extends equally to all animals, whether in the wild or in domestication. Letters From Us is a committed advocate of animal welfare. Animals play a special role in the enrichment of our daily lives. Can we do anything less than protect them?
In support of animal welfare, Letters From Us especially encourages its readers to support their local shelters and rescue organizations. For information on facilities near you, please visit these, and other, websites:
Save a life today by supporting your local organizations.
Chief among the animals that enrich our lives is canis familiaris. After at least 15,000 years of domestication2, the dog is today the quintessential companion, wedded, for better or for worse, to humanity. So, it seems only fitting, on a page dedicated to animal welfare, to feature our loyal friend.
The Dog and History
Through selective breeding, there are today over 400 breeds of dog, each with specialized physical features and behavior characteristics that serve distinct purposes3. Down the ages, dogs have performed many roles, side-by-side with their human companions, in furthering human objectives. These roles have changed over time as human circumstances have changed. Early in the canine-human association, dogs performed tasks that served the needs of developing civilizations. Today, their tasks are defined by society’s relative sophistication.
For example, in past centuries, dogs hunted with humans for survival. They pulled wagons and sleds in transitory cultures. They provided life-preserving assistance in exploration and intercontinental migrations. Now days, dogs labor in more varied occupations, such as assistance, therapy, search and rescue, herding, guarding, tracking, detection and law enforcement.4
The process of selective breeding is rooted in notions of utility and service: “How can the dog be made to work better for humans?” But, in toiling co-operatively with humans, dogs maintain an independence that preserves their unique nobility. And, while specific breeds are tailored for specific functions, millions upon millions of mixed breed dogs grace our existence. These dogs randomly combine features and behaviors of their forebears, each one a unique creation.
Perhaps the most challenging job of all dogs today is living their lives in human households, surviving our best intentions on a daily basis.
The Dog and Science
In recent years, dogs have come under closer scientific inquiry. Research has been conducted on topics such as whether dogs use humans as tools5, the extent to which dogs have acquired human social skills6, their uncommon ability to understand human communicative gestures7 and the degree of their cognitive adeptness and other intellectual capabilities8. These studies are elevating the stature of dogs in the scientific community as their previously undocumented aptitudes and competencies are verified.
In an interview, a lead researcher was asked whether people living with dogs would think scientific study results obvious. His response, “Of course… But it’s one thing to [assert a capability in dogs] and another to go and demonstrate it. The people who were surprised were the scientists, not the lay people.”9
The Dog and Us
In studying dogs, scientists merely verify what anyone who has lived with a dog already knows. And so it should be. Living with dogs allows us lay people to understand on a much deeper, truer level that our dogs are clever and attentive, loyal and affectionate. They bring joy and contentment. They teach patience and offer comfort. They defend selflessly.
And like us, they have memories and desires. They dream (or their feet wouldn’t twitch when they sleep!). They can be living ties of remembrance to friends and family members who have passed away. Yet, they make no demands. Theirs is not a do-for-me-and-I’ll-do-for-you world. They offer the richness of their companionship unconditionally.
If we can withhold our protection from lives such as these, then perhaps our time on this planet has passed. And, if it has, the dog will mourn our passing.
1 http://www.bookrags.com/researchtopics/animal-rights/08.html. In this discussion, the term “animal” is used in its broadest sense to include all species of living organisms, except humans.
2 Lindblad-Toh, Kerstin, et al. “Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog”. Nature 438 (2005): 803 – 819.
4 “Working dog”. Wikipedia. 26 June 2008. 2 July 2008. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_dog.
5 Hare, B. 2004. Dogs use humans as tools: is it the secret to their success? Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior. Beckoff, M. (ed). Greenwood Publishing Group.
6 Hare, B. & Tomasello, M. 2005. Human-like social skills in dogs? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9, 439–444.
7 Hare, B., Plyusnina, I., Iganacio, N., Wrangham, R., Trut, L. 2005. Social cognitive evolution in captive foxes is a correlated by-product of experimental domestication. Current Biology, 16, 226–230.
8 See, Woodard, Colin. “Clever Canines Did domestication make dogs smarter.” The Chronicle Of Higher Education. Section: Research & Publishing. Volume 51. Issue 32. Page A12. 15 April 2005. 2 July 2008. http://chronicle.com/free/v51/i32/32a01201.htm.
9 Tenenbaum, David. “DOGS the fantastic food finders”. The Why? Files. Ed. Terry Devitt. 27 November 2002. University of Wisconsin, Board of Regents. 2 July 2008. http://whyfiles.org/shorties/119dogs_eat/index.html.