According to Emily Sanford, the lead author of a new research study, the typical family dog has an uncanny ability to empathize with its owner.
“We found dogs not only sense what their owners are feeling, [but] if a dog knows a way to help them,” she said, “they’ll go through barriers to help them. Every dog owner has a story about coming home from a long day, sitting down for a cry and the dog’s right there, licking their face. In a way, this is the science behind that.”
Researchers at John Hopkins University found that dogs who heard their masters crying worked three times faster to open the door to go and see them than those dogs who heard their owners humming.
Most dog lovers probably don’t find this research all that surprising. Though many of us are prone, at least from time to time, of humanizing our canines, there’s no question that dogs seem to know when something is up – or someone is down.
My colleague remembers when his mother received word that his grandmother had passed away. Joan was seated in the kitchen on the phone and had tears streaming down her face as she talked with her sister, who had just returned from the hospital. All the kids knew something was wrong with Mom, but out of fear and confusion, they stayed away from her. In contrast, Daisy, the family’s German Shepherd/Collie mix, made a beeline for the weeping woman. She placed her head in Joan’s lap and wouldn’t budge throughout the entire call.
The beloved actress Doris Day once observed, “I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.” Someone else once referred to a dog as “a heartbeat at my feet.”
Of course, even a good thing taken to an extreme can cause problems. As such, we’ve all read stories about people who prioritize pets over children or who spend lavishly on them. My comments here are applicable to the healthy role an animal can play in our lives, not to those who get carried away.
The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about pets, but the Scriptures are clear that God cares for animals, and so should we.
In Proverbs we read that “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal” (12:10). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus, speaking of mere birds, says that “not one of them is forgotten by God” (12:6).
I wonder if pets are something of a wink from the Lord, a simple but pleasant gift to enjoy in the midst of challenges and the varying seasons of life.
It would certainly be in God’s character, as He is concerned with even the smallest details of our lives.
Do you have a story about a time when your dog or family pet comforted you or helped you navigate a particularly difficult circumstance? I would love to hear it.