Many people love dogs — but a new, heartwarming book just released by Atria Books is taking a deeper look at why we love them and just how much they can help us when we open our hearts and homes to them.
The Purest Bond: Understanding the Human-Canine Connection is a collaborative effort between “the internet’s dog mom” Jen Golbeck and science writer Stacey Colino.
The 295-page book (and 7-hour audiobook version for those on the go) intersperses interviews with dog parents with scientific findings about how being around dogs is just good for us.
The authors dive into findings about how dogs can help improve mental well-being by relieving loneliness, countering depression and anxiety, and reducing irritability.
They also explore the health benefits of having dogs — from pups whose rambunctious natures motivated their people to get moving outdoors to canine pals whose stellar senses acted as early alerts to health issues with their people and so saved their lives.
The book also investigates popular and shifting perceptions of dogs — with one study finding that 85 percent of dog guardians surveyed said they considered dogs to be members of their family, as well as teachers who helped instill responsibility and compassion in children or purpose and adventure in their own lives.
A number of personal stories and interviews with dog guardians from all walks of life also help keep the pages turning.
Golbeck shares early in the book that getting a golden retriever pup proved a pivotal moment in her childhood; she went from being bullied in a small town to having a friend who could “let her forget all the bad things she couldn’t change” and who “made her believe she had value.”
“Beyond what they give us directly, our canine companions also serve as models for how we all could be better,” the authors write. “They are patient and kind. They don’t hold grudges, they forgive freely, easily, and repeatedly. They live in the moment and seek out joy without worrying about judgment. Their well of love and gratitude is bottomless — and we, their people benefit enormously from this, in every aspect of our lives.”
If that story or excerpt resonated with you, the rest of the book — which is basically an ode to the dog, from playful puppy to slowing-down senior — likely will as well.
Golbeck and Colino caught up with Lady Freethinker by Zoom prior to the book’s release on Nov. 14 to share more insights into their own human-canine connections and why these precious pups deserve all the love and dignity we can give them. The Q&A below has been edited for length.
Q&A with Jen Golbeck and Stacey Colino, Authors of The Purest Bond
What was it like connecting with people about their dogs for this book?
GOLBECK: I felt very honored that people trusted us with these intimate stories. One of my favorite stories was about a dog named Chomp, who detected his person was having a heart attack. That was a story that just happened when I was talking to someone, and I then I had to ask him if I could use it for the book!
COLINO: People loved talking about their dogs! They just really lit up when sharing their stories. One told us, “Talking about my dog just gives me such a Fangirl feeling.” Another person I talked to had just lost a dog, and when she spoke with me, she just let it all out. She said it was so cathartic to talk about it so freely. It was really touching, how people told these stories as a way to celebrate and honor their dogs.
What did you find most interesting or surprising while researching?
GOLBECK: I was taking psychology classes about human relationships, and it was interesting to see how much of what I was learning about attachment bonds between people was applicable to the research on attachment in dogs. Sometimes people will say, “Does your dog really love you, or are you just the person who feeds him?” Science shows that dogs also form attachments back. They have done fMRIs that show — whether you are dog or human — there are parts of your brain that light up when you see your loved ones.
COLINO: I was surprised by the extent to which dogs and people can catch each other’s emotions. It’s clear that when you play with a frisky puppy that you can start to feel joy. But on a much deeper level, it’s also true that dogs can sense our stress and anxieties.
Why did you want to include a few chapters about caring for dogs later in their lives and grieving?
GOLBECK: It’s not a majority of the book — it’s two out of the 13 chapters — but for me, it’s the most important part of the book. There is just such a vacuum of information out there about end of life care, and there is a hunger for that information. You spend your life with this dog, and it’s important to consider how you can still embrace that bond when the situation changes, when your dog starts to slow down or becomes sick. Especially with hospice cases and seniors, there is a lot of care you have to do, but there is so much dignity in these dogs. It’s so rewarding to be able to help them and to allow them that dignity later in their lives.
COLINO: I have lost dogs before; it knocks you off your equilibrium, and it’s also a grief that is not always recognized. People might say, “It’s not like you lost a person” or “You can get another dog.” And here your heart is just devastated.
What insights do you have for people looking to add a companion dog to their homes?
GOLBECK: One of the keys is to be super honest with yourself about the dog you are ready to adopt. Before I moved into hospice care, I fostered maybe 20 dogs who had been given as Christmas gifts, and a year later they were out of control because they hadn’t been given the time and attention they needed. One example is a dog I was fostering who was an aggressive puller. I met up with a potential adopter who had an 8-year-old and who said, “Let’s talk, and he can take the dog for a walk.” I told her the dog would pull him and we would probably never see the dog again. That was a case where the people knew they wanted a dog… but they didn’t need to have that dog. You have to be really thoughtful about how much training you want to do, how much exercise you want to get with the dog, and what kind of dog fits best with your lifestyle. Whatever you want, there is a dog out there for you if you are patient — but a lot of people go in with the mindset of “I want a dog, and I want one now.” People should also plan on keeping the dog for life.
COLINO: A lot of people think it’s better to get a dog as a puppy from a breeder, rather than a rescue. But you just don’t know what you’re going to get either way. A dog from a breeder can end up with health and behavioral issues, and a rescued dog can sometimes live longer and be healthier. I’d encourage people to be more open-minded about where they are looking for their dogs and to consider adoption, and to go in with wide-open eyes, because every dog will come with challenges.
What changes in society are still needed for dogs and their welfare?
GOLBECK: We’re starting to see this shift where people recognize dogs as members of the family. We saw with Hurricane Katrina that many emergency shelters were not able to accommodate animals, and many people would not evacuate without their dogs. Post-Katrina, many evacuation sites now allow dogs; that was just a shift that happened. I’d love to see more institutions acknowledge the canine-human bond and accommodate animals as family members.
COLINO: I would hope that more people would recognize how much people love their dogs and be more sensitive to people’s grief when they lose their dogs.
Do you think increased awareness about dog sentience could pave the way to better treatment for other sentient animals, like pigs or other farmed animals?
GOLBECK: I’ve been vegetarian for 25 years because of the cruelty issues in the industrial agriculture system. I would love to be hopeful that our book or other sentience studies could improve conditions for farmed animals, but I think people get very good at compartmentalizing and not connecting the thing on your plate to the little creature crawling around outside. I think it’s going to take a bigger leap for people to make that change.
COLINO: We have different levels of compassion for different animals. But thankfully now there are more entry points, with studies showing plant-based diets can be better for the planet as well.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from caring for dogs?
(Excerpts from the book): Sometimes human beings make life more complicated than it should be and lose sight of what’s truly important in the grand scheme of things. Our beloved canine companions don’t do that; in fact, they have so much to teach us about friendship, commitment, loyalty, and caring for others. We all can benefit from the lessons they provide, especially the importance of loving others without judgment or conditions, taking advantage of small moments of pleasure, basking in the joy of being outside no matter what the weather is, (or) letting others know when we want to play. Our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health is consistently better, thanks to the company of our furry friends.