Note to Jess Craigie: Your dog still doesn't love you.
Yes, you jumped into the 40-degree waters of Lake Michigan Tuesday to save her. Paramedics said you were less than five minutes from death when they plucked you and Moxie, your 2-year-old mutt, to safety.
It was a foolhardy risk. But, honestly, I'd have done the same thing if I thought my dog was going to drown.
And my dog doesn't love me, either.
I tell myself she does -- that she offers me not just affection, but that rare gift of unconditional love.
But in fact, said author Jon Katz, who has written extensively on the bond between humans and dogs, what she, Moxie and other pets offer is neither unconditional nor love.
"Dogs develop very strong, instinctive attachments to the people who feed and care for them," said Katz, speaking Wednesday from his farm in upstate New York. "Over 15,000 years of domestication, they've learned to trick us into thinking that they love us. "
What about the nuzzling? The big, adoring eyes? The wagging glee with which they greet us?
They're all part of what Katz refers to as the "opportunistic, manipulative behavior" that's second nature to dogs.
Not to say that they're canine con artists.
"It's just how their instincts have evolved," Katz said. Dogs aren't deceptive any more than they're sentimental, loyal, nostalgic, witty or bitter.
"They don't have a narrative mind or the language to have those sorts of human qualities," said Katz. Imagining otherwise is part of what he calls the "Disney Dog" idea so many of us buy into.
Their attachment is, in fact, "extremely conditional," Katz said. "They'll respond to anyone who gives them food and attention. I have a wonderful Labrador retriever who's very happy here. But if you had hamburger meat on you, she'd gladly go to Chicago with you and never look back."
I'd been thinking about this subject all week, even before Craigie took the plunge for Moxie (UPDATE -- She responds to this column here).
Since Friday, we've been taking care of Scout, the beloved mongrel of my vacationing Tribune colleagues Barbara Brotman and Chuck Berman. And she's shown no sign of pining for them -- no loss of appetite or energy, no unsociable behavior.
"Dogs don't 'miss' you when you go away," said Katz, whose conclusions are supported by university studies of animal behavior. "They might get anxious and confused, but don't mistake that for loneliness or mourning. As soon as they find someone else to take care of them, they forget you pretty quickly."
He added, "I don't mean to imply that dogs aren't great. I love my dogs. But I don't need to pretend that they're like people. That doesn't do them any good. Dogs are happiest when you treat and train them as dogs, not children."
I'll remind Barbara and Chuck of that should they ask for the return of their faithless mutt.
But meanwhile, Jon Katz, moment of truth: Despite your unrequited love, would you leap into an icy Lake Michigan after one of your dogs?
"It's hard to say," he allowed. "I'd like to think I wouldn't; that I'd realize that human life is far more valuable. But watching my dog drown would be very tough."
Can dogs love? Voice your opinion below:
Walter Stoffel is a substance abuse counselor and GED teacher in correctional facilities. When not behind bars, he likes to read, travel, work out and watch bad movies. Major accomplishment : He entered a 26.2-mile marathon following hip replacement surgery and finished—dead last. The author currently lives with his wife Clara, their dog Buddy (another rescue), and cat Winky (yet another rescue).
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