By Don Rush

We humans like to change things.
We build stuff. We “damn” up rivers and dig canals. We change what we are given to suit our wants and needs at the time. But, of all the tinkering we have perpetrated to the natural world, I think one of the most endearing tinkers was the domestication of dogs.
Canis lupus familiaris (dogs) have had a close, cooperative relationship with humans, scientists say, for 20,000 to 40,000 years — the oldest domestic relationship man has had with another species. Interestingly, some theorize this domestication was of the “self domestication” persuasion, meaning somewhere along the lines some wolves were more “friendly” to their predator competitors (humans) than most. These few wolves found it was more advantageous to work with humans than against.
And, the rest is history.
Soon man bread all sorts of weird varieties of dogs which bare little resemblance to their wild ancestors. From big, bold hunting dogs like the Irish Wolfhound, to little hole hunters like Rat Terriers we’ve manipulated dog genetics for specific duties.
I’m one of those suckers who doesn’t think of dogs as pets. Yup, call me a dog guy. Even though I am not, you may call me a hater because I think of cats, and birds, and fish and guinea pigs as pets. And, now that I am thinking of it, I think of rats, snakes, and spiders and other exotics as just — well — just icky.
I reckon there’s good reason why dogs have been dubbed “man’s best friend” — because, given the chance they become our friends. Dogs have a way of warming even the coldest of hearts. They weasel their way into our lives with wagging tails and eyes showing compassion and empathy. Unlike other friends, spouses and children, if we’re good to them, dogs actually want to be with us all the time.

A boy and his dog — also known as Teddy and me.

How many stories are there about a boy and his dog anyway? A thousand? A million? More?
If you grew up in a rural area like myself, chances are you had a dog. (If you didn’t it was probably because someone in your family was allergic to them. And, if you didn’t have a dog you probably, secretly wanted one.) Growing up we always had dogs. One after the other — when once would pass, seems like soon thereafter Dad would find another stray to bring home. I bet most guys my age and many of the gals, too can rattle off the names of their dogs lickity-split.
Let me think . . . growing up our dogs and in order of their appearance were: Teddy (a Brittany), Lady (an Irish Setter), Lady (a stray shepherd collie mix), Haas (a Great Dane Bouviea mix) and Fluffy (who was not fluffy at all).
When I was, oh about 9, I remember Lady #2 was having puppies. She fixed herself a nice little place to deliver her pups in the utility room closet. She let me help her. A puppy would plop out and I would hand it to her to clean. She used to go fishing with me, too. Winter, spring, summer and fall she would traipse through the woods right next to me.
It was a sad day when I came home from school sometime in the 10th grade, and Lady wasn’t there. Not behind the couch and not in my bedroom. Old, she died. I remember feeling guilty because I didn’t bend over to pet her before going to school that morning.
How those four-legged critters work their way into our hearts is fascinating. And, while our superior intellect knows from the get-go that our dogs will come and go, we’re never ready we they do. Some will have long, long lives. Others will leave suddenly and unexpectedly. Regardless when they are no longer with us, by gummy, it hurts. In their own itty bitty doggie ways, they are part of the family. As with any family member who passes, I think when our grief finally subsides we find solace in having had them in our lives for whatever time we had. I think dogs makes us better humans.
How do they do it? Maybe it’s just evolution. Maybe as we manipulated dogs over the last 20 or so thousand years, they were manipulating us, too. The old switch-a-roo, you could say. As we were changing them to suite ourselves, the dogs were changing humans to meet their needs.

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I thought of all these dog things just the other day after hearing the news of a friends dog passing. She was a good little dog and she had a wonderful way with her human. She was loved.
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