I have found that there are two types of people in this world—animal lovers and animal agnostics.
It is obvious that I am an animal lover. But most of my family and some of my friends are animal agnostics. So, what makes someone an animal lover and another person an animal agnostic?
I researched this question and I found some pretty self-serving research on animal lover websites. These websites claim that people who love animals are more empathetic, have a strong affinity to the natural world and are more environmentally friendly.
But most animal agnostics that I know are equally generous and empathic as well as environmentally conscientious. And, let’s face it, Hitler was a vegetarian animal lover.
On the other hand, the animal agnostic researchers find that animal people are attracted to animals as something that they can dominate and to fill a deep need to be loved unconditionally. They claim that animal lovers are in search of something to protect, nurture and care for because these relationships are less complex than human relationships.
But animal agnostic researchers have not met my dogs. They rule my world more than I rule theirs. Sometimes they do make a half-hearted attempt to protect me.
I could find no empirical data to support the notion that self-appointed therapy animals (NOT those trained for specific purposes) provide a benefit.
When I was in graduate school, attributing characteristics, such as love, and affection were considered pejoratively to be anthropomorphic. Scientists believed that animals did not have the same capabilities as humans for love and affection and were merely instinctual. Jane Goodall’s research with the apes, elephant research and many European dog lover researchers have demonstrated that to be a fallacy. Animals are capable of great affection and, yes, love. Animals grieve, and recent research has shown that dogs prefer human affection to food (probably not my dogs).
Dogs are one of few the species that can successfully cultivate cross species relationships. Dogs adapt to us, they modify their instinctive behavior to please us (again, not my dogs.)
So, we know that animals connect to us, but not all of us connect to them.
What makes us different? There is a new scientific field of study that is looking into the differences, but they have been able to gain little insight.
My dogs will approach an animal agnostic, try to stare into their eyes and give them their best affectionate wiggle or smile. But my animal agnostic friends perceive them as dirty, furry, slobbery beings that are an impediment to a conversation.
(My personal favorite is my 3-year-old nephew. When one of my dogs snuggled up to him I asked my nephew if he wanted to pet my dog. He looked at my dog, then at me and replied, “No, I want better one.”)
To me, the ability to love animals is simply a gift. When I look into their dark brown eyes, I can see love. During these times, I enjoy their companionship, their antics and their affection.
I am very grateful for this gift.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.