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Man's (and woman's) best friend

My friends and I have been saying for years that when it comes to genuine caring, to loyalty and to good judgment, many dogs actually behave better than many people. For example, one cannot buy a dog's love and loyalty with toys and treats, but, sadly, there are some people who can be bought with money and treats.

Good dog stories abound. When a close friend was diagnosed with cancer several months ago — she is now in remission but still undergoing treatment — Riptide, her 150-pound rescue Newfoundland took on the role of principal caregiver, despite her excellent nurses and doctors.

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In the past, when anyone opened the door of my friend's house, Riptide would take the opportunity to run out into his fenced-in yard. He might play with his tennis balls or just amble around outside. But ever since his owner returned from the hospital, Riptide greets whomever comes in the door, then turns and walks back to the sun room — to be with his mistress.

On the day when my friend goes for chemo treatment, Riptide chooses not to go on his daily afternoon walk with his dog walker. He prefers to guard the house until his mistress returns. Newfoundlands, like Nana in "Peter Pan," are natural caretakers. Historians claim that when Napoleon fell off a ship, a Newfoundland jumped overboard and rescued him.

But other breeds are special as well. After seeing attorney Joe Finnerty's obituary in The Sun, I went over to his mother-in-law's house (Jeanette is my neighbor) to offer condolences. She and Joe's daughter were sitting in the kitchen with Toby, Jeannette's King Charles Spaniel. Normally, when Toby sees me, he gets excited, often jumping on me, muddy paws and all. But that day, when I greeted him he barely looked up. Toby was in mourning with his family.

You know the saying, "If you want a loyal friend, get a dog."

Popular writer Lisa Scottoline, in her humorous book, "My Third Husband Will Be A Dog," claims that dogs are more loyal than men. She admits that she and her divorced girlfriends have multiple loyal dogs.

We've all read about dogs that have saved children from burning buildings. I recently heard about a dog that saved a family from carbon monoxide poisoning; the dog woke the father, who woke the family then called 911 after realizing they were all experiencing symptoms and got everyone out of the house.

Of course, seeing-eye dogs have helped the blind for decades. Now there are specially trained dogs that help children learn to read. The Ruff Reading Program, developed by the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, is used in many East Tennessee elementary schools. The children read to the dogs and this helps them to communicate. Test results show the program works.

What about Pets on Wheels? Specially trained dogs visit nursing homes and schools regularly. Studies show older people cope much better when they have a dog. At Broadmead, my friend Sue has her beloved Norwich Terrier, Honey, while Bob and Buzz dote on Daisy, their rescue pug. And at Roland Park Place, Margaret has Sadie, her devoted black lab.

Several years ago, after my dad died, Fionn, my nephew's dachshund, insisted on staying with Mother, going upstairs to sleep at the foot of Mother's bed, instead of going home after dinner with my nephew.

Dogs are not only helpful companions during sad and serious times, but they also are great fun as traveling companions and walking companions, helping us to make new friends (both canine and human) and by just being there.

Indeed, we could learn a lot from dogs — their attributes can make us better people.

Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Johns Hopkins Odyssey Program, is president of BWB-Business Writing At Its Best, Inc. She is the author of "The Feminine Irony" and of "Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing" (Basic Books). Her e-mail is: lynneagress@AOL.com.

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