I am currently reading Jon Franklin’s book “The Wolf in the Parlor.”  I saw it on the new books shelf at the library and thought I’d take it home and give it a read.  I am not very far in, so don’t have much to say about the book specifically (yet), but the general thesis really has me thinking.  Here’s a summary of his argument from Publishers Weekly:

“Pulitzer Prize–winning science journalist Franklin (Molecules of the Mind) draws on a slew of disciplines—evolutionary theory, zooarcheology, behavioral science, ethnology, bio-philosophy and keen firsthand observation—to formulate a challenging but enticingly plausible theory about the psychological leash binding humans and canines. His thesis: beginning about 12,000 years ago, as wild wolves evolved into follower wolves and were subsequently domesticated by early man, a kind of mind meld occurred. As this neurological attachment took shape, the dog shed 20% of its brain mass because, biologically, humans had agreed to do its thinking for it, while mankind lost 10% of its brain mass because dogs became our beast of emotional burden.”

Our emotional beasts of burden?

Interesting, and very plausible if you ask me.  I have often noticed – and written about – just how much our dogs mirror our states of mind.  It took me a long time to become aware of this connection, however.  I don’t think I ever noticed in Jake, despite our 14 very intense years together.  Nor did I notice in other dogs I cared for over the years, despite (in hindsight) their very clear signals to that effect.  It took my very special Belgian Malinois to teach me that lesson.  She was an incredibly sensitive dog who would essentially fall apart when I would get upset.  It used to drive me nuts.  I would train with her and get a bit annoyed when she wouldn’t get things right.  She would immediately start to shut down, and I would get more annoyed.  Pretty soon the dog was little more than a brown puddle on the floor and I would be stomping off in a rage.

That she would wilt like that around me made me so irate that I often despised her for it.  Stupid, useless dog I would think.  Stupid, useless human I now think!  Fortunately, this wonderful, patient dog stuck with me long enough to teach me the lesson I needed to learn.  Or at least get the thought into my head.  Specifically, she showed me just how much negative energy I would project, and how it affected other people.  She was my bad mood barometer, and watching her I could see clearly how I was impacting those around me.

I woke up to what was going on while on our way to an agility lesson.  I was running late (as usual) and was rushing around to get ready.  Mojita soon was cowering in corners, tail between her legs.  Stupid dog – what’s your problem?  You’re not in trouble, we’re just late.  Now get in the car!  She did, and immediately plastered herself against the far door, avoiding all eye contact.  Yeesh, I thought to myself.  Why do I put so much time and effort into a dog who is so neurotic?

As I drove, I decided I needed to calm down a little before arriving at my lesson.  I started doing some yoga breathing to relax.  I took a few deep breaths.  Moji’s ears came up.  A few more breaths, and she moved to the middle of the seat.  Interesting.  I watched her carefully as I focused on doing some more relaxation exercises.  Within a few minutes, she had completely relaxed, stretched and came over to my side of the vehicle.  She then lay down and put her head in my lap.  And sighed.

I was dumbstruck.  There was nothing wrong with this dog!  She was just reflecting my bad mood.  When I was out of whack, so was she.  When I came to that shocking realization, I was horrified.  If she was so strongly affected by my nasty moods, then clearly others must be too.  My poor friends, my poor family.  What a monster I could be.

For this dog to function well, I needed to be be centered and balanced first.  One look at her and I could tell exactly what my own emotional state was, something I often was not aware of.  Emotional beast of burden?  Most definitely.  And what  burden she carried.  I am embarrassed to think about it, but I am grateful to her.  Before her, Jake clearly played the same role, only he simply absorbed my emotions silently.  He was my rock, my strength.  With him at my side, I always felt safe and stable.  He stabilized me.  When he was gone, I needed to learn to do that myself.  This wonderful golden girl did this for me.  I only wish I had been able to help her as much in return.

I spent the next few years learning to better control my emotions, although I wasn’t always successful.  I was anxious and depressed much of the time, the result of far too much stress for way, way too long.  My body was giving out and it was affecting my mind.  Mira took the brunt of much of this, as I hit rock bottom around the time that I brought her home, and Hannah somewhat before her.  These dogs took on my emotions and accepted them unconditionally – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And there was plenty of ugly.  I don’t know how Mira withstood my negativity but she is a resilient little thing and kept on working where my poor, sweet Malinois had left off when I gave her away.  Mira was relentless, and even foiled my attempts to pawn her off too.  I needed to deal with this, and she made darned sure of it.

Fortunately I am much, much better now.  I have learned to control my stress and have relaxed considerably.  Homeopathy has helped me let go of my anxiety, and put an end to my periodic depressions.  But my dogs played a pretty significant role in this too.  Without them, I’m not sure I’d be here.  There were points in the last few years where the only thing keeping me going was taking care of my animals.  I fed and housed them, and in return they held me up emotionally so that I could  carry on.   Emotional beasts of burden?  Without a doubt.

Today, as I was catching up on Beth Lowell‘s always thought provoking blog, Mysterious Beautiful, I read this very interesting post on Comparative Oncology.  Apparently the canine-human bond is so deep that we share cancers in common.  Specifically, dogs suffer from from cancer in ways similar to humans, and unlike any other animal.  This further supports this idea of dogs being our emotional pack mules.  Our connection is so powerful, they share our sickness and disease as well.

This makes a lot of sense to me, as – as I have written before – I see disease as an energy state.  When we are in balance, or ‘at ease’, we are well.  When we become dis-eased, or out of balance, we get sick.  Now, every living being projects an electromagnetic field; our electrons interact with everything around us, even things very far away.  In theory, our electrons can be found on the other side of the universe, but most of the time they stay fairly close by.  This is basic physics, yet the ramifications are very complex.  If we are close to others, our electromagnetic fields will overlap.  The more time we spend around each other, the more often this happens.  I believe there are other connections too, but keeping this “scientific” (for the skeptics out there), at the very least we have overlapping energy fields.  When one field is out of balance, it will undoubtedly affect the other.  At the same time, the second field can help restore balance to the first.  In this way, we can share our ease and dis-ease with those around us.

For some reason (and this is where those other connections come into play), our pets – and especially our dogs – seem to take on our dis-ease.  Dr. Martin Goldstein, DVM, in his book the Nature of Animal Healing devotes an entire chapter to his observations of this phenomenon.  He notes that many of his patients exhibit diseases that their human partners also suffer from.  At times he has experimented with treating the human – for example, applying acupressure to a human with a bad back, who’s dog also had a bad back.  Both were quickly much better, even though he didn’t work on the dog at all.  He said he sees this dog-human disease connections so frequently that he cannot ignore it.  There must be something going on.

The discovery that humans and dogs share cancer links to such an extent that entire field of medicine – Comparative Oncology – has been developed suggests that there is much to be explored and discovered here.  I, for one, however, don’t need scientific experiments to convince me that our connection with animals, and especially with dogs, goes way deeper than just a basic affection resulting from a physical co-dependence.  To me, this is a simple, daily experience.  And I will do my best to lighten the emotional burden my wonderful canine partners must bear.