A Reading From the Book of Face: What’s Love Got to Do With It?
The love that’s exchanged between people and dogs can be instant and last a lifetime. (Photo by Dan Sayers)
In this season of love, everyone is encouraged to express his or her devotion (or desire) toward someone for whom they feel deep affection. Although love letters sent by post or slipped under a door may no longer be en vogue, present-day paramours continue to proclaim their affection every February 14th in ways unimagined when Romeo and Juliet was first published in 1597. Proclamations of affection have now become public displays, characterized on keyboards and sent into orbit for all the world to read. Facebook has become the new Valentine’s Day card. In the digital age, pronouncements of love are communal, and the intended recipients need no longer be of the opposite sex. In fact, they don’t even need to be human. Nowadays, social media mavens are just as likely to compose an ode to an Old English Sheepdog as they are to wax poetic over a dearly departed spouse. Yet with so much tenderness freely transmitted, could our genuine feelings—for dogs as well as for one another—be at risk of becoming just another text message? When it comes to ardor online, “What’s love got to do with it?”
In his book, The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson explores the emotional connection between people and dogs that has existed the world over for thousands of years. From Masson’s point of view, there’s convincing evidence that the bond shared by both species is one based on love. The author posits, “Is it possible that the capacity dogs and humans each have for love is one dependent on the long-term relationship between the two?” His hypothesis is given ample support through stories of his relationship with Benjy, his family’s beloved Labrador Retriever. Intended for a life of service as a guide dog, Benjy was an 80-pound bundle of joy that never met a person (or cat) he didn’t like. Masson writes that his affable pal would have made a wonderful guide if not for one major shortcoming. “He seemed a bit dim,” he admits. Yet, despite Benjy’s inability to meet the high standards set for a guide dog, his human companion had no trouble receiving the gift of love he had to give. “I just got lucky,” Masson suggests.
Although luck may have something to do with how people and dogs are brought together, the idea that matches are made out of love is pretty extraordinary. Except that it’s not, really. Anyone who has ever opened his or her home to a dog understands that a part of the heart is opened as well. Perhaps this is why social media streams are filled with declarations that proclaim undying love for animals that cannot speak, but will nevertheless listen to tales of misery and woe—day after day—in excrutiating detail. If that’s not love, what exactly is it?
Of course, not everyone feels love for every dog in the same way. The feelings that are awakened in us by newborn puppies are different from those elicited when a litter is eight-weeks-old. Connections made in the whelping box can often be instant and they can last a lifetime. The attachments made early on can even be so strong as to allow love to flourish through life’s most difficult periods. Adolescence in both humans and dogs can strain the best of relationships and the emotions felt during this period of exploration and self discovery can feel like anything but love. However, it is love that allows the relationship to endure. By the time a dog is fully mature, love has been transformed into something akin to pride—usually with some prejudice. Just one look into a dog’s eyes and it’s easy to understand how it feels for its person, and vice versa. This feeling of love is even evident when the eyes of man and beast can no longer see clearly. Revealingly, it is in the twilight of life that love reaches its perfect form. Or maybe it’s only complete when a dog has left this world to become a spirit once again. Perhaps this why so many people turn to social media to express their love for a dog that’s crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.
“Having a dog is like falling in love, except that it usually does not take as long to fall in love with a dog as it does with a human,” Masson offers. “But the similarities are striking…The joy that dogs have in our presence grows as the familiarity grows, as does the trust and the love.” With so much love to go around, is it any wonder that so many people continue to share their lives with dogs and publicly avowal their devotion? When it comes to posts about dogs on social media, love has everything to do with it.