Honorary Humans


John Homans reports on how the man and canine relationship has changed:

[James Serpell, head of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at UPenn,] is most excited about new studies on oxytocin and dog ownership. Oxytocin is the most important social-bonding hormone, present notably between mother and child but also in just about any interaction involving pair bonding, social affiliation, and trust. More specifically, it’s involved with the gaze between infants and mothers. Researchers at Azabu University in Japan found last year that the dog’s gaze at its owner increases the owner’s oxytocin level.

No one believes, in his conscious mind, that the dog is a person. But that may not matter. The oxytocin study, while providing the key to understanding the myriad health benefits of dog ownershipoxytocin is a serious stress reduceralso makes scientifically clear what’s obvious anecdotally: The dog is an honorary human, accorded many of the same considerations. It can be a surrogate child, brother in arms, solace of otherwise lonely urban lives. Serpell’s central insight is that these kinds of social functions are at the center of the relationship of dogs and people.