Dogs and humans have a unique relationship that has evolved over centuries and continues to develop.
Laura Hobgood-Oster, professor of religion and co-chair of environmental studies at Southwestern University, visited campus to discuss the impact of dogs on our society.
In terms of evolution, dogs and humans have been connected as companions for thousands of years, Hobgood-Oster said.
“Humans would not be humans without dogs,” she said. “Dogs continue to change our lives, and we are reincorporating them now into our traditions and lives.”
Hobgood-Oster, who has published three books on religion and human-animal relationships, lectured on the history and evolution of dogs, as well as the different roles they have played in society.
“We can’t really understand human history without understanding the history of dogs with humans,” she said.
Hobgood-Oster said this history goes back about 30,000 years to a time in which dogs evolved from the grey wolf, a shift prompted in part by humans.
Dogs’ roles have continued to evolve. For thousands of years, the dog has been considered a healer, playing a part in handling death and grief, she said.
This role of healer expanded in recent years as certain dogs can now be trained to detectvarious forms of human cancer before it can be screened by even the most advanced technology, Hobgood-Oster said.
She said researchers have dogs smell the breath and urine samples of possible cancer patients and then interpret the dogs’ reactions as an assessment of cancer risk.
“A dog’s sense of smell is 10 to 100,000 times as accurate as the human sense of smell,” Hobgood-Oster said. “According to researchers, there is a 98 percent accuracy rate in tests conducted for lung, kidney, bladder and other various forms of cancer.”
Despite this potential role of dogs in healthcare, dogs are primarily viewed and appreciated for their roles as companions.
According to USA Today, there are currently more American households with dogs than with children.
The popularity of owning a dog can also be seen among TCU students living off-campus.
For Tyler Doyle, a junior economics major, getting a dog was one of his first priorities after moving off-campus.
Doyle owns a 6-month-old mixed breed named Layla.
“I love having a dog here in Texas – it makes it feel a lot more like home,” Doyle said.
Doyle takes care of Layla with the help of his roommates Nate Page, a junior political science major, and Dylan Bagnasco, a junior biology major.
“She’s just like another member of the family – she’s always fun,” Doyle said. “We’re always caring for her and she’s making sure we’re good too.”
Bagnasco said the added companionship and energy Layla brings to their house is priceless.
“It’s just really nice to come home and always have that extra bit of happiness waiting for you,” Bagnasco said. “She’s like a best friend you can always count on and trust to no end.”
Hobgood-Oster said dogs’ endearing qualities and peaceful nature are what made her so passionate about her research.
“I’ve always felt very connected to dogs,” she said. “Dogs are really happy just sitting there sometimes, and I think they remind us that just sitting out on the back porch and staring at the backyard is a perfectly valid practice. Sometimes your dog teaches you just to sit there with them.”
However, Hobgood-Oster admits that her passion for dogs may be somewhat extreme.
“If I lived by myself I would be the crazy dog lady; I’d have 15 or 20 dogs, probably,” she said. “I like people, but I like dogs even more.”