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Dogs, dogs, dogs!

This Sunday is National Dog Day, and no offense to cats (who couldn’t care less anyway), but if anyone or anything deserves a national day of recognition, it is our doggy friends!

It seems that dogs have accompanied us through every gateway of human civilization, from the Paleolithic era to the present. The first undisputed remains of a dog buried beside his human companion dates to 14,200 years ago, and it’s kind of mind-boggling to me that we have found it important to make a place for them in every iteration of the world that we have created since then — and probably before. From being by our side as we chipped away at stone tools to implanting chips in our best friends to insure their safe return should the world we have created prove too difficult for them to navigate alone.

Scientists talk about humans domesticating wolves or maybe some wolves self-domesticating to establish an advantageous relationship with human hunters. I like to think that it was and remains a negotiation. (“You give me that chunk of bone and get some rest. I’ll sleep nearby and let you know if anything scary approaches.”) I prefer the idea of negotiation to the idea of training. Training suggests dominance, while negotiation takes place between equals. After all, the first thing a “trainer” does is train humans in how to negotiate with their dogs to elicit preferred behavior.

My husband Gregory and I share our home with two dogs (and two cats). They are clowns, companions, consolers, protectors and cheerleaders. Shadow, a very large and intimidating German shepherd doofus from an L.A. shelter, and Stanley, a little King Charles Spaniel sort of guy with a major underbite, from Best Friends in Atlanta, are an entirely ridiculous combination. Shadow looks like he could remove Stanley’s head in a gulp, but instead he patiently accepts the little guy bossing him around.

The love, affection, kindness and entertainment that they provide is worth incalculably more to us than their “cost,” however you want to calculate that. My guess is that they feel the same way, and that’s the secret sauce of our relationship with dogs — it is not transactional. Once that negotiation is sealed with a handshake, their value to us and ours to them cannot be measured by any measure of exchanges past or present. The relationship that we have with our dog friends is one of trust — something that can’t be bought or sold.

In fact, we have bred dogs to trust us. They surrender their lives into our care, and that is an awesome responsibility, in the truest sense of the word. They trust us and we trust them. We invite them into our homes as part of our families, we invite them along for rides in the car, and many invite their dogs onto their beds as they sleep, defenseless. It is truly an amazing relationship and we are so much the better for it.

This trust and the responsibility that it carries is what drives me to end the killing of dogs in shelters in this country by 2025. It is more than the distress that one feels walking down the aisles of any shelter and looking into eyes that reflect the pain of broken trust — the literally inconceivable betrayal by a friend. It is more than the knowledge that despite their eons-old partnership with us, their lives have intrinsic value quite apart from any value they have to us.

Beyond all that, it is a matter of integrity in honoring the trust that dogs have placed in us and the powerful bond that we share. I want us to be as trustworthy as they are. We owe them that.

So yes, let’s celebrate National Dog Day by recommitting to ending the killing in shelters. And if you are in a position to bring more fun into your life than you have a right to expect, visit your local shelter or rescue organization and renew a relationship that began more than 14,000 years ago! Adopt a dog!

Happy National Dog Day!

Together, we will Save Them All.

Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society Julie Castle
CEO
Best Friends Animal Society