“Not only does this dog give you endless love in the most nonjudgemental [sic], pure way, he also constantly affirms a message that all women need to internalize: that we are great, just the way we are.” This message is at the heart of an article that connects the success of a certain number of women with the ownership of a dog. But there is more lurking behind this statement, and so for the sake of fairness and balance we need to look at this assertion more closely. First, the author cites a survey of 50 successful women, dropping names such as Sheryl Sandberg, and states that 7 of the 50 respondents said that owning a dog was a major factor in their success. The question put to the women was, “Everyone should own _____.” Those 7 women statistically represent about 14% of the total number of responses. That means 86% found other things to credit for their success.
That data is followed by scientific research that list a number of benefits that apply to all people: lower rates of depression and anxiety, and lower risk of heart failure to name just a couple. That is followed by the quote that leads into this article. Much of what is stated regarding the benefits of dog ownership is well-documented. There is also sufficient data that shows not anyone should own a dog. For the record, I am a dog owner and lover myself. Cats, not so much though but they do tend to grow on you. The total amount of time I owned a dog, from age 4 and 50 years thereafter, is not a trifling number. Through good times and bad, the companionship and devotion shared will forever live in my memory. The Sheltie gave me some of the most memorable times when we were together, in large part because he was such an intelligent dog.
What many readers who have never owned a dog, especially teens, are likely to miss is that owning a dog is a huge responsibility. This is one of the reasons parents are advocates for dog ownership for families who have children. The earlier they learn responsibility, the more likely they will carry those lessons forward into life. It is not solely restricted to women, or men, or the rich, or the poor. The idea that owning a dog is the key to career self-fulfillment makes the dog more of a slave, if only an emotional one. If a woman gets a dog to achieve her career goals and reach a certain level of prosperity, there’s no law against it. But the motivation behind the ownership can be questioned because what may happen to the dog when the woman’s goals are reached?
Everyone wants unconditional love, and there are scant few examples where any breed of dog is unable to provide this. It is their nature to want to make their owners happy, unfortunately including owners who abuse or neglect their dog. Both men and women can benefit from this innate quality. Unless owners recognize that they need to reciprocate this basic behavior, they will fail the dog and their responsibility. The reason dogs greet you at the door when you come home is not out of duty or obligation, but out of love. Most dog owners get concerned when their faithful friend doesn’t gleefully meet them at the door.
Another question that comes to mind is why would anyone, man or woman, look to a dog or any other animal for self-assurance and self-fulfillment? Put yourself in the place of a dog and ask, “Why are they putting all this on me?” The assertion that a dog’s love is unconditional is just about the same as the dog having no expectations of you. Regardless of how you treat the dog, the important thing is for the owner to get what they want from the situation. This doesn’t teach the owner anything, including responsibility. The dog is merely a step on the ladder of personal fulfillment.
It is not being suggested that dogs have not played an important role in people’s success. But the reality is that they are easily controlled – by leash, or cage, or voice command. There is unquestionably a certain amount of power that exists in this control. Yet personal anecdotal evidence shows that a dog is an animal and wants to be free. (OK, there are breeds that just like to lie around the house.) I took my Sheltie on a long walk, navigating the path in the park. He weighed all of 17 pounds, so I thought he would eventually wear out on the 5 mile circuit. He not only made the walk, but never slowed up or wanted much water. And after we ended the course he still wanted to run and play. Of course he was on a leash during the trek, but I did my best to give him as much freedom as possible.
To suggest that any dog is sending some cerebral message to affirm that their owner is the greatest thing since the invention of the pooper scooper is fine. (That is a freedom thing too because it allows the dog to do their doody wherever they see fit.) But letting them out to roam free for a few minutes within the confines of a harried schedule is hardly freedom. The truth is that many people read their own thoughts into what the dog is feeling or experiencing. For example, dogs will eat just about anything, moving or still. But some breeds are easy to overfeed, which results in the dog becoming overweight, and with that potentially follows a list of health problems.
Dogs are happiest when they are near their owners. Anyone who has ever had a dog knows this. Owning a dog is about companionship and responsibility. If you believe otherwise, it is likely you are not a suitable choice to own any dog.