Any animal-lover knows there's a special bond between us and our pets, but new research shows that some of these bonds may be as deep as the genetic level.
Over the thousands of years that dogs and humans have lived side by side, gene groups in both species — related to diet and digestion, neurological processes and diseases — may have evolved together.
During our show, we heard from humans about their relationships with animals:
Lisa in St. Paul has a therapy dog named Ella who works with hospice patients, and physicians have cried when they witnessed her work. Ella even made it into the eulogy of a patient and was invited to the funeral. "Quite a remarkable soul. You think you can't bond with your dog any more until you're asked to be at someone's funeral and they hold a special place in the first pew."
Paul in Eden Prairie grew up a dog person but has since found rats to be great companions. "They're vastly misunderstood. Incredibly intelligent, curious. They seem to be a mixture between a dog and a cat. Very fun personalities, like to play, run around, come and greet you, but also like to do their own thing."
Stephanie went through a period of severe clinical depression. In the eight weeks she waited for her anti-depressants to take effect, she took care of a bat whose wing had been amputated. Stephanie learned a lot from Belfy, and Belfry learned a lot from Stephanie. The nights were particularly hard for Stephanie at that time, and Belfry was awake at night. "One night I was in deep despair and I took her out and discovered that she liked to sit on my shoulder and leap fearlessly into space. Then she would run back up my arm and do it again. She would snuggle into my hand ... and liked to be held, and then she would purr."
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP OF HUMANS AND PETS:
• The Soul of All Living Creatures
In working with animals twenty-five years, I've yet to meet the notorious creatures who purposely set out to cause others harm as humans can manage to mete out on each other. Tigers, timber wolves, grizzly bears, leopards — carnivores in all shapes and sizes whose role in life demands that they hunt routinely to survive — I've never seen preying on others with malice. In fact, nature calls them to do so efficiently, sparing the victim unnecessary suffering as well as conserving their own energy. (Vint Virga, Psychology Today)
Opinion: We Didn't Domesticate Dogs. They Domesticated Us.
The short version is that we often think of evolution as being the survival of the fittest, where the strong and the dominant survive and the soft and weak perish. But essentially, far from the survival of the leanest and meanest, the success of dogs comes down to survival of the friendliest. (National Geographic)
• A Virtual Pack, to Study Canine Minds
The tests are now available online: For a fee, dog owners get video instructions for how to carry them out. (Besides the pointing test, they include a test in which the owner yawns and then watches to see if the dog does too — a potential sign that dog and owner are strongly bonded.) The company then analyzes how a given dog compares with others in its database for qualities like empathy and memory. (The New York Times)
• Survival of the Friendliest
Dogs as a species became more tolerant and as a result are one of the most successful mammals in the history of the planet — in terms of quality of life, numbers, distribution. I don't think there's any place where humans have gone that dogs have not also gone — even space! If you compare dogs with wolves, that population that decided to eat garbage, boy did they make the right decision. (Brian Hare, New Scientist/Slate)