Dog Love Revisited: And The Great Divide


From my Animal Doctor syndicated newspaper column

I find it too simplistic to say “Dogs love us unconditionally”. The love of dogs is a result of their socialization with us in puppyhood, enhanced by generations of domestication and heredity. They are highly empathic and sense what we feel and can detect when we are emotionally distressed or physically sick.

In many ways, dogs’ love makes us human in bringing out certain virtues, the best qualities of human nature, as our exemplars of loyalty, trust, devotion and so often, protection and heroic rescue. But they also suffer the consequences of our inhumanity, cruelty and indifference: And from over-indulgence when their basic needs and well-being are compromised if treated as surrogate objects of selfish emotional gratification.

Our dogs can comfort us when we are grieving, depressed, suffering from PTSD, take away loneliness and join us when we are spirited and ready to play and explore the great outdoors, their senses enriching our own experience and communion with Nature. Children growing up with dogs learn compassion and care-giving as well as respect for other species, breaking through the self-limiting barriers of egotism and anthropocentrism.

As veterinarian Sean Weasley writes in his book Through a Vet’s Eye, “The animals we welcome into our homes have become family members. But love is a feeling in our minds and can only be appreciated by animals through our actions towards them.” Those actions should be in their best interests in terms of physical health and emotional well-being.

Dogs have shared and added to our lives and civilization for millennia and deserve greater recognition under the rule of law that should make abandonment, all acts of cruelty and repeat offenses of neglect, certified by a veterinarian or animal welfare investigator, felonies, rather than misdemeanors, just as such crimes against children are judged and prosecuted.


School-age children who spent time with a therapy dog twice a week subsequently had lower levels of salivary cortisol than children who participated in guided relaxation sessions and those who did neither, according to a study in PLOS One. The study involved children with and without special educational needs, and both appeared to benefit from therapy dog time, researchers reported. Full Story: The New York Times (6/15/22). Other studies have shown that children learn to read, and read better, when a dog is next to them!

DEAR DR. FOX, I really enjoyed what you wrote about the love of dogs in a recent column. Do you know the author Stephen Budiansky’s book The Truth About Dogs? He says dogs are clever, manipulative opportunists. What is your response? B.K, Washington DC

DEAR B.K., I read this book but decided not to read his other one about cats, The Truth About Cats. In The Truth about Dogs: An Inquiry into the Ancestry, Social Conventions, Mental Habits, and Moral Fiber of Canis Familiaris, Viking (New York, NY), 2000 he asserted that “If biologists weren’t victim to the same blindness that afflicts us all, they probably wouldn’t hesitate to classify dogs as social parasites.” Some of his other books were lauded by the “establishment” that felt under threat from environmentalists and animal rights advocates.

An earlier book, If a Lion Could Talk: Animal Intelligence and the Evolution of Consciousness Free Press, 1998, had this promotional statement: “Although Budiansky concedes that animals most likely experience emotions, he denies them consciousness, which, in his view, is inseparably linked to language, an exclusively human invention.

Furthermore, Budiansky contends, animals don’t really suffer, at least not the way we do, because their sensation of pain lacks a social context. Budiansky, a science writer (The Nature of Horses) and U.S. News & World Report deputy editor, uses this debatable thesis to bash the animal rights and deep-ecology movements. Whatever one thinks of the correctness of his argument, it has value as a levelheaded critique of our tendency to anthropomorphize animal behavior”.

Yet another book along this same distancing-from-animals vein arguing that some species actually chose to be domesticated, The Covenant of the Wild :Why Animals Chose Domestication Yale University Press 1999 came with the publisher’s description and promotional quotes: “Animal rights extremists argue that eating meat is murder and that pets are slaves. This compelling reappraisal of the human-animal bond, however, shows that domestication of animals is not an act of exploitation but a brilliantly successful evolutionary strategy that has benefited humans and animals alike.”

Manuela Hoelterhoff’s, Wall Street Journal review put it this way: “Budiansky’s slim, elegant discourse is a persuasive counterweight to the pastoral delusions of sentimentalists intent on seeing humans as malevolently at odds with the noble animal kingdom.”

Budiansky was not alone in using pseudo-science to discredit animal welfare and rights advocacy and environmental protection. But for me, the icing on the cake was his article ‘Academic roots of paranoia: The Unabomber may not be such an intellectual loner’ in the U.S. News and World Report, May 13th, 1996 in which he wrote “ a surprising number of leading academic writers on animal rights and the environment share the Unabomber’s paranoid hostility to science—The first is the Unabomber: [ FBI’s most wanted fugitive, Theodore Kaczynski] the second is Michael W. Fox, a widely published writer on animal rights and the environment.” This was all part of a concerted effort to dismiss animals as being sentient, conscious on the grounds of anthropomorphizing. (they have emotional states similar to us).

Instead, it was argued, animals are unfeeling automatons governed by instinctual reflexes. This “mechanomorphizing” of other animals helped create the “great void”, as I call it. The exploiters of animals needed this to continue their activities in all good conscience and for protection from public accountability and censure. Distancing us from the environment and from other animals and severing empathy along with compassion was the ultimate aim to maintain the status quo of animal and environmental exploitation.

Around that time I was testifying before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee to improve conditions for veal calves being raised in narrow crates in which they could not even turn around. On defendant of the industry, animal science Prof. Stanley Curtis from the University of Illinois, When asked if veal calves need to turn around replied,” We need to do more research before we can be really sure.”

This great divide was eventually bridged by ethologists and other biological and animal welfare scientists, marked by the 2012 Cambridge Declaration on Animal Consciousness. (

Well before this Declaration, and in spite of the paranoid pontifications of Budiansky et al, veterinarians had been diagnosing and treating emotional conditions in animals also seen in humans, and with similar protocols and medications as for depression and separation anxiety, a field of veterinary care I helped establish in the early 1970s.

For evidence of homologous and analogous human emotional responses in other animals including insects, crabs and lobsters, read the article ‘The question of animal emotions’ by Frans B.M.deWall and Kristin Andrews, published in Science on March 24,2022: 1351-1352.

When we liberate animals from all forms of cruel exploitation and incarceration we may yet recover our humanity.

We do not need to look far in our lives to experience the miraculous when we open our hearts and feel touched by a soaring tree in her living presence; or look into the eyes of a loving dog whom we have rescued and adopted into our families. Bearing witness and sharing with the lives around us, human and non-human, the joys and travails of mortal existence and extending loving care and respect to all sentient beings can bring Heaven down to where Earth abides.

This empathic realm of illimitable and ineffable experience and healing is beyond words. As poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote:

“For words, like Nature, half reveal

And half conceal the Soul within.”

In the narrative poem in my book The New Eden: For People, Animals & Nature, illustrated by the late Susan Seddon Boulet, these words came to me:

”The first people knew

The One Soul in many

And the many in the One.”

I was one of the pioneers in what has become a recognized specialty in my profession, namely veterinary behavioral medicine: And it has taken decades for the recognition of emotional distress and behavioral disorders in companion animals and those confined in zoos and farms and how they are best prevented and treated. For an inspiring and reflective read on this subject all should enjoy and appreciate the book The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Tell Us About Being Human by veterinary behavioral medicine specialist Vint Varga, DVM. (Broadway Books NY, 2013).