Last week's Economist had a lovely article on how research backs what any dog owner will tell you -- that man's best friend is capable of empathy.
All they had had to do was to ask someone who lives with dogs. If only the researchers had come to my house first. I know when I cry, one dog presses up against me while the other looks anxiously at me and then starts bringing me toys. When there's an empty spot in bed because one human pack member isn't home, they take up sleeping positions on either side of me, body contact all the time, guarding, comforting, protecting.
Well, I've since realised that their empathy also extends to people not inside our little family pack. L had over some friends from his physio/rehab group -- two fellow patients and a physiotherapist. The little gathering took place partly because the mother of one of the patients asked L if he could hang out with her son, to draw him out a bit, get him out and about. The young man had been disabled after a stroke a year ago, lost his job, lost his fiancee, and didn't do anything other than stay in bed all day if he wasn't at the physio group. Nobody said it but I suspect he was also severely depressed. Well, who wouldn't be?
When he came to our house, he was polite but detached, almost sullen. I tried to get a conversation going but it really was just him answering me. But pretty soon, both dogs had taken up position next to him, one on each side. They were getting into that bookend mode of guarding and comforting. In a minute, the younger one was belly up, getting a chest rub. The older one was pressed up against him, her head in his lap. Well, Rupert is always everybody's friend, and a bit of a slut at that, anything for a chest rub. But Queeni was a surprise. She's normally the stand-offish one, and there she was, snuggling to a stranger, chin pressed into his lap. She clearly knew that was someone who needed to be taken care of. And then he asked to take a photo with the dogs. For a brief moment, the dullness in his eyes was lighted up by a flicker of a smile.
Everybody should have a dog.