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The art of loving dogs

It’s hard to understand a love you’ve never experienced. I always wonder if love needs to be understood. There is such a thing as unspoken love. Words don’t fit into all relationships, and still love can be lived. A look, a smell, a lick, a bark, and paws asking for affection also “speak.”

Dog lovers know what this is all about. Personally, I don’t know. I never had a dog. But I was able to experience a glimpse of this universe when I recently watched the film The Art of Racing in the Rain with Kevin Costner, Milo Ventimiglia, and Amanda Seyfried. The film is inspired by the book –- of the same name –- written by Garth Stein in 2018.

With more than 6 million copies sold world-wide, translated into 36 languages, and more than three years on the New York Times’ bestseller list, the book tells the life story of pilot Denny Swift from the intelligent and philosophical point of view of the golden retriever Enzo, a sensitive doggy with a good sense of humor and endless love who teaches us new perspectives on life without speaking a word. According to Stein, there is no precedent for Enzo, “I have had relationships with many dogs, and I have gleaned clues as to the essence of dogness from those dogs, but none of those dogs were Enzo.”  

Enzo with pilot Denny in the movie The Art of Racing in the Rain.
20th Century Fox Enzo with pilot Denny in the movie The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Enzo spoke through his body, and his eyes said a lot. I like long conversations. It’s a mystery to me that strong bonds can be created without them. I confess to being curious to discover and experience this unusual exchange. The writer attributes this connection with canines to their effortless generosity, “Dogs are about ‘the now’. Whatever chaos and cacophony may have happened five minutes ago, dogs are able to clear the slate, reset, and start over without holding any grudges.” 

The film is set in Seattle, where Stein lives, and which ranks 18 on the list of the 25 best cities for dogs in the United States, according to Forbes. Moreover, the latest census data shows that the city has more dogs than children: 153,000 to 107,178. It’s not hard to find dogs every day on the streets of Seattle. In addition to finding pet-friendly hotels, pet-friendly restaurants, and dog amenities in several buildings, puppies are also accepted on public transportation and in certain stores. On the City of Seattle website, “Adopt a pet” is under “Top Requests”.

UX designer student, Katheleen Long, carries her corgi, Vanilla, in her backpack during her scooter rides in the city. Together for over a year, they experience everything the city has to offer. “I believe that Seattle is a city that tries to adapt as much as possible to pets. Virtually all the bars we go to are pet-friendly. It’s easy to find pet-friendly apartments and bags in the city,” explains Long, who felt a family being born with the arrival of Vanilla. “She generates a lot of love and affection inside me! Vanilla made me and Austin (her boyfriend) a family, before we were a couple,” she said.

Vanilla ventures into Katheleen's backpack on tours of Seattle.
Vanilla ventures into Katheleen’s backpack on tours of Seattle.
Katheleen Long’s personal archive

National passion

Around 90.5 million families, or 70% of U.S. households, own a pet, according to the 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). Of this total, 69.0 million own dogs. After dogs, cats and freshwater fish are the pets that occupy the most place in the hearts of Americans. 32% of pet-owners are Millennials–-people aged between 26 and 41 –– and more than half are female. Pet spending increased in the past year, with 35% of pet owners stating they spent more on their pet/pet supplies –– including food, wellness-related products, and other pet care items –– in the last 12 months than in the preceding year.

During the pandemic, more than 23 million American households — nearly 1 in 5 nationwide — adopted a pet, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Unfortunately, each year, approximately 390,000 shelter dogs are still euthanized

Considering their registration data, the American Kennel Club highlighted the most popular breeds of 2021. Once again, the Labrador Retriever tops the list for the 31st year in a row. Following are French Bulldogs, Retrievers (Golden), German Shepherd, Poodles, Bulldogs, and Beagles.

Like a family 

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 85% of dog owners consider their pets family. Software engineer, Kaitlyn Ly, is one of those people. With her family living in Canada and Europe, she has had her corgi, Darwin, as a great companion since moving to Seattle in 2019.

“I always say that he is the light of my life. I have not had a bad day since I got him. How could I when I get to come home to his goofy smile? Having him helps put things into perspective for me; it helps me realize that the minor inconveniences of everyday life are not worth stressing or worrying over. I think that as people begin having families later in life, pets provide a way to fill that love gap. I work a stressful job and having Darwin in my life is one of the best stress reliefs! I love him so much! ” Ly said, dying of love.

Kaitlyn's best friend, Darwin.
Kaitlyn’s best friend, Darwin.
Kaitlyn Ly's personal archive

As she likes to photograph and share her moments with Darwin with her friends, Ly created an Instagram account for her puppy and was surprised by the success of the page. @cutiecorgi has over 16k followers and videos with over six million views. Darwin is famous and very well cared for. She confesses to investing money in subscription services and all necessary care for his well-being.

“He is so spoiled! I am very risk averse, so every minor thing that comes up warrants a ‘vet visit’. Thankfully, I have pet insurance. I did also sign him up for a few subscription services: BarkBox, PupBox, and Farmers Dog fresh food. I have canceled Bark/PupBox since he doesn’t play with the toys. But I want to make sure he lives a long, healthy, and happy life. So, I am more than willing to spend extra money on food I think is healthier for him in the long run,” confessed Kaitlyn. 

Darwin has over 16k followers and videos with over 6 million views.
Kaitlyn Ly's personal archive Darwin has over 16k followers and videos with over 6 million views.

Project designer, Camilla Leite, has shared with her husband the care of their Westies, Brisa and Boris, for about four years. “I have always loved dogs, throughout my childhood. I had the privilege of always having a dog at home. I wish I had so much more. Dogs are a great example of pure love, companionship, and loyalty. They love you regardless of what you have and who you are,”Camilla expressed.

To prevent Brisa and Boris from having to face the hard travels by plane, Camilla crossed the United States by car with them on routes from Texas to Washington and from Washington to Atlanta. She doesn’t feel safe and confident with the work of airlines in transporting pets.

Ice cream, special snacks, and toys for the duo are already part of Camilla’s budget. People often joke that they would like to be her dog in the next life, including me, “I try to give them everything in my power to live a long, happy, and healthy life. It’s the way to show how much I love them, and how grateful I am to have them in my life. They are members of our family; they are the joy of our home. They are angels in my life,” Leite explained.

Boris and Brisa at their favorite place in the house with Camilla.
Camilla Leite's personal archive Boris and Brisa at their favorite place in the house with Camilla.

Garth Stein reveals that with the people around us, we’re always putting conditions on giving our love. “With our loved ones, our siblings, co-workers, children, spouses, we withhold our love, sometimes subconsciously, until we feel we are being treated the way we would like,” he said, “only then will we cautiously give and be willing to receive love. But we don’t put any conditions on giving and receiving love with our dogs. Nor do dogs put conditions on us. Dogs and babies are pretty much the only places we can go to find free-flowing, unconditional love. And babies grow up, so I’m sticking with dogs.”

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