Why losing a dog feels like losing a family member

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Alvin: So when you get your dog, and you’re
like 11 years old… they never tell you what to expect down the road. The only thing that they tell you is…
“You have to clean after your dog.” This is Alvin and his dog Rainbow. They spent 18 years together since Alvin was
just 11, and last year… My dog was dying, and I couldn’t work. When a dog’s dying… it really does feels
like a human is dying and there’s a reason for that. Keep going! Come here! When I graduated college, my parents went
away to work abroad and so when Rainbow was 10 years old, she came to live with me in
New York. Everytime my dog got sick or every time I
had to go home at 6 o’clock to feed my dog— I was a 22 year old, I didn’t really know
how to do that. But eventually we kind of figured out how to talk
to each other. We figured out what each other needed. Even as she was losing her vision, and her
hearing, and her continence… there still was that communication. Dogs are the most popular pet in the US — more
than one in three households have one. And if you’re among them, you can probably
relate to this non-verbal communication that Alvin’s talking about. The relationship dates back tens of thousands
of years, when wolves and humans became companions. Scientists disagree about whether it was wolves
or humans that initiated the relationship, but both stood to benefit. One anthropologist, Pat Shipman, believes
a hunting alliance between wolf-dogs and people helps explain why humans survived while Neanderthals
died out. Shipman: I think our relationship with animals
has really been fundamental to our survival. And by starting this cooperative arrangement
with wolves or wolf-dogs, we began laying the foundation for relationship we have with animals, we have domesticated today. But the idea of non-working, dependent animals
is fairly new. The word “pet” was first used in the early
1500s to describe spoiled children or “any person indulged or treated as a favorite.” Then by the mid-sixteenth century, the word
took on animals as well, specifically orphan lambs that needed to be raised by hand. These days, 86% of adult pet-owners in the
US say that they consider their pets part of their family. According to historian Katherine Grier, the
reason we began caring for animals is “… connected to changing ideas about human nature, emotional
life, individual responsibility, and our society’s obligations to all kinds of dependent others..” That empathy easily extends to dogs, who we’ve
had social relationships with for thousands of years. Shipman: Because we’re both genetically
programmed for that interaction. We have helped the survival of the ones that
communicate better with us. There’s a lot of evolution underlying this. And that gives us that feeling with our cats and dogs, that they’re basically furry family members. To understand the human-dog relationship,
some psychologists have invoked a concept called Attachment Theory. Most humans have this biological need to form attachments with other humans. This idea was first developed by a British
psychiatrist, John Bowlby. And he believed that evolution programmed
humans to form attachments to boost their chances of survival. First, it’s your mom and then you find other
people… Like your friends or romantic partners. But researchers have found that we can form
these attachments with our pets as well. Especially dogs. Studies have shown that dogs’ interactions
with their owners are similar in some ways to infants’ responses to their mothers. They experience separation anxiety and look
for  their owners when under stress. [Dog crying] It’s a much more simpler relationship. I struggle with with anxiety a lot. A lot
of times, it’s anxiety about other human beings. And having a dog who I never had
to question, whether or not, my dog loved me or whether or not my dog wanted to be around
me. It was such an honest relationship. It might be a silly… A silly thing to cling to but it was important. It was definitely important for survival. I think that plays a part in why I was so
thankful for her. Researchers have found that interacting with
a dog can reduce stress hormones and blood pressure. But the unusual bond we form with dogs — a bond tens of thousands of years in the making — it means that saying goodbye is… hard. I remember one day I came home and I said
I think I have to call the vet… I called my mom and couldn’t say it. I just couldn’t tell her that
I was scheduling my dog’s death, essentially. And… Literally that night I went to a bar and
from the back of the bar I Googled ‘How do you know when it’s time for your dog’ And… All the… everything that I read…. Not really helpful, because I just knew it was time. I just wanted someone to tell me that it wasn’t
time for my dog… There are 2 shots. The first shot calms your dog down, and the
second one stops your dog’s heart. And the vet asked me “Do you want… Just tell me when…” “Whenever you’re ready.” And… It’s like… what do you say? “Okay, I’m ready?” So… it was very mechanical. “Okay, go ahead… okay, go ahead.” And a lot of the feelings I was having… They were very similar to when my grandma had passed away. I was there during her last days… and we knew she was passing. She was in hospice
care. It was a feeling of… both it is time. You’ve meant so much to me… and I’m so thankful, and I don’t know how to tell you. So the reason it feels like a human has died
is because dogs are a lot like us. Their life arc is our life arc. From city to suburb, from tragedy to bliss. And… when they pass away, that’s what we lose. Luna… Aww… [Laughing] This video was based on an article that Alvin wrote last year about losing Rainbow. I’ll link the article down below, make sure to read it.

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