(my nephew dog Messi, showing off a particularly nice stick)

#50

Way back in December we considered some really bad research about life trends and where you are headed. If you have an extra five, you might check it out here, otherwise the next paragraph is going to seem even more random and bizarre than what I usually write; of course if random and bizarre is just your style, roll on.

At just about the same time the Princeton duo were scraping the butter from the vinyl siding (see, you should have read the other article first) a different set of researchers published their own earth-shattering findings (drumroll, please): when dogs step outside to “drop the bomb” they first align themselves with the earth’s magnetic field. You, oh simple-minded pet owner, have foolishly assumed that your dog’s random spinning before squatting was a mysterious canine religious practice, or a natural laxative, or his genuine efforts to avoid pooping on a pixie sprite, but these experts, who admit to having watched dogs relieve themselves more than 8,000 times (this alone suggests mental health issues), claim that dogs prefer to face north or south while they do their business, concluding that dogs apparently have an internal compass of some sort, and all their spinning is just the compass needle seeking true north. Please take a moment of silence to meditate on the wisdom just delivered to you.

I had originally written out a detailed dissection of this stinking pile of research, but I realized I was overcomplicating things, so here, in just five simple words, is your real explanation: Your dog does weird, unpredictable things BECAUSE IT IS A DOG. Period. That’s part of its charm, and even if that magnetic thing is true I would rather believe my dog is just weird. If I had wanted a companion who was predictable and dull, I would have bought a mirror instead of a pet because the mirror would be much cheaper to feed and would never intentionally run from the tile floor onto the carpet before refunding its last meal. Can I get an amen, or a woof, or something?

The only good news here is that this research occurred in Europe, so at least none of my tax dollars funded it. Coincidentally, a large sausage factory sits directly north of the study site and a 60 acre squirrel ranch sits just to the south, which seems like a better explanation than the whole magnetic dog brain thing, but who am I to dump on another man’s work? To expand on a familiar platitude, let me sum up this study as follows: one man’s dog poop is another man’s dissertation, which finally, thankfully brings us around to true north and the reason all three of you are still reading this post: pets are really good for happiness.

This year, Americans will spend $60 billion on their pets, while their ungrateful pets will spend virtually nothing on them in return. To give you some context, if the US pet products industry were a country, its GDP would put it in the top 100 in the world, ahead of nations such as Paraguay, El Salvador, and Afghanistan. The UN estimated several years ago that the average American dog enjoys better nutrition and medical care than 1/4 to 1/3 of the world’s human population; that study did not examine whether some dogs are better-dressed than many human beings, but my informal observational research says “absolutely.” Dogs also experience the joy of driving with their heads out the window far more often than the average human, which in my book puts them one step ahead of most of us. When self-driving cars arrive I plan to go everywhere with my head out the window.

Research says pet ownership has numerous benefits for you (there is no question it’s a huge scam for the pet—you feed them, house them, medicate them, clean up after them, and in return they eat the toilet paper and vomit on the floor (dogs) or treat you like they couldn’t care less (cats) or just sit there (clams)). The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that owning a pet has amazing pharmaceutical type effects, including lowering blood pressure (except when they eat the toilet paper), and reducing cholesterol, triglycerides, and feelings of loneliness. Pet owners also experience more opportunities to risk their lives by venturing outside onto an icy sidewalk during a blizzard, which the CDC characterizes as “exercise, outdoor activities, and socialization.”

The National Institutes of Heath reports similar findings: heart attack victims with pets survive longer, married couples with pets have lower heart rates and blood pressure, and pet owners respond better to stressful events when they are with their pet than when they are with a spouse or friend. Maybe it’s better to be with your dog when stress hits than with your spouse because it’s your spouse causing the stress—the research did not examine this. Maybe you chose your pet more carefully than you chose your spouse (“I’m not making that mistake again…”) or maybe you should have married your dog instead–the research also did not go there, but regardless, the data is pretty compelling: having a companion, even a four-legged one is good for your body and your spirit. The data is still unclear about the benefits of pet clams. People always say “happy as a clam,” but nobody really knows if they are happy or not, since they don’t have faces.

And in today’s “News of the cool but slightly creepy” we find this: a robotic seal (an “advanced interactive therapeutic robot”) named Paro is helping dementia patients at a nursing home in New Zealand (GDP WAY LESS than we spend on our pets in the US). Residents in the study were calmed and encouraged more by interacting with the robotic seal than by interacting with a Jack Russell terrier, a type originally bred for fox hunting, and at times more interested in jumping in the air for no reason than comforting nursing home residents. I’m sure it’s a complete, total coincidence that ‘Paro’ is urban slang for ‘drunk out of my mind’. You can watch the video here. It’s about the seal, not the dogs jumping in the air. Here is a Jack Russell terrier jumping and attacking a helpless tree, which may explain the appeal of the less aggressive robotic seal, since even people with dementia feel terrified around tree-eating dogs.

The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.               (Mark Twain)

Much of a dog’s appeal is that he seems to like you no matter what kind of bone-headed stunt you pull; we could all do a lot worse than to aspire to the title “man’s best friend.” After all, isn’t that what makes true love so appealing: the knowledge that no matter how badly you woof things up, the other person (or pet or drunken robotic seal) is still going to stick with you, even if you eat the toilet paper?

So if you want to have more close friends (and be happier, which goes with that sort of thing), take a lesson from your dog. People who love others, consistently and over time, find that they are deeply loved in return. Look for the people you know who are deeply loved and you will find people who love others deeply, no matter what. Dogs (and the occasional abnormal cat) could teach us a lot because they give us so much. Is it any any wonder that people spend so much on them in return?

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(This post marks the halfway point of our 99 post journey. Thanks for coming along.)

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