On the way up to my apartment this evening, a little tan cocker spaniel came barrelling and jingling down the staircase to sniff me all over. There was that minute of suspense when I wondered whether he would like what he smelled or bite my finger off. Fortunately it was the former, and he slobbered on my hand while I rubbed his curly ears. I believe the research studies that claim people who have a dog or a cat or other furry pets have lower blood pressure; anything that can put a smile on your face has to be good for your health. (Really, though, what does it say about my day when the greatest accomplishment was getting a dog to lick me? Good grief.)
Dogs can be helpful in health care in a lot of ways. Not only can they be trained as seeing eye dogs, but they can be trained to sense seizures and warn a person so he or she can get to a safe place before it happens. Dogs can also sniff out lung cancer, breast cancer, melanoma and bladder cancer, which has been written up in the British Medical Journal. It makes sense because our bodily functions all either trigger or are triggered by release of chemicals; why wouldn’t some animals be able to smell them? My favorite amazing thing that dogs can do is to help people with Parkinson’s disease who have freezing episodes. The person may be walking down the street and her brain all of a sudden can’t tell her body to move. A dog can be trained to sense the episode and step on the person’s foot, which breaks the freeze. Isn’t that cool?
I laughed at one article I read about dogs and epilepsy, because the director of the training center said every dog can smell a seizure and alert someone, but they don’t all “care to”. That sounds more like a cat to me! (Hey, I love cats, but you have to admit….) The point is just that it takes a certain kind of dog to be trained for such things. I once visited a sheep farm in Ireland and there was this fantastic sheep dog that lived in a pen in the barn. The farmers explained that the really good sheep dogs preferred the barn. When the dog heard the sheep, he was wiggling and barking like crazy to get out of the pen, and as soon as the door was open, he shot out of there like he was after a squirrel. The farmers said that only a small percentage of dogs make good sheep herders, and they love to work more than anything else. The other dogs are terrible at herding, but they make great pets!
I think people are the same way; some people enjoy working more than socializing, and some people are loving care-takers who aren’t great producers. Of course there is a continuum, but it’s too bad that anyone is labelled or made to feel guilty for being at either end of the spectrum, when there is room for both to add value to society and to the economy, which is wonderfully complex. Well, it is for the time being, anyway – but that is a topic for another day!