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Dr. Peggy Drexler Headshot

Ask Not What Your Dog Can Do for You...

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Every day, it seems I read about some wonderful thing our dogs do for us.

They cure our stress, they lower our blood pressure, they help our cholesterol. They find us when we're lost, they sniff out our diseases, they wake us up in the middle of the night when the couch is on fire. One of them even helped us get Bin Laden.

And, really, I thank them for all of that. I love them dearly.

But love is a two-way street. Generally speaking, a little unreserved and unqualified affection is the least they can do.

With some notable exceptions -- like people who shouldn't even be allowed to own a houseplant and the occasional blood-sport sadist like Michael Vick (and no, I still don't forgive), dogs have a pretty good deal.

We have two of them. I still find that interesting, because for much of my life, I happily assumed I would never have one. A very determined little girl changed that.

Neither my husband nor I had a dog growing up.

The closest thing to a pet in the home of my fastidious single mother were dust bunnies. I used to name them. My husband grew up in a Bronx apartment so small that his bedroom was a hallway. Not much floor space for a four-legged friend.

Not only do we have dogs, we have big dogs: two yellow labs. The older is low-gear Stuart, whose journey through life has been a comfortable stroll. The other is a domestic terrorist named Polly -- smart, strong, agile, determined and a kinetic whirl of doggy disruption.

She tortures Stuart, who lives to make her happy.

As for what they give us, I love the frenzied greetings and snuggles on the couch. And I love being loved; still curious, though, why dog spit isn't as disgusting as it should be.

Still ...

When when my friend had high blood pressure, the doctor did not prescribe beta blockers and a dog.

As for healing powers, I don't think Stuart and Polly have had a measurable effect on flu season.

Devotion? Sure. But give them a month in the home of someone else who loves them just as much. If dogs really do live their lives in 15 minute increments, we would be so 15 minutes ago.

As they gaze up at me lovingly from their place on the couch, with those big brown lab eyes, I would love to ask them a question, "Is it possible that eons of evolution have genetically programmed you guys to give me exactly what I need from you?"

Do the math. There are 10,000 wolves left in the United States, and 60 million dogs. Clearly, dogs have learned to play the game.

They play it very well.

In 2010, Americans spent $3.5 billion on pet services. Leading the surge are high-end grooming, luxury pet hotels and day care; dogs being the largest recipient of our loving largess.

Even bad times seem to work for them.

Spending rose right through the depths of the recession, just as it did post 9-11. The possible reason: the crazier the world gets, the more comfort we take from our animals -- and the more stuff they get in return.

When is the last time you saw a dog house? Not only do dogs sleep inside, studies show more than half of owners allow dogs to sleep in the bed. More than 40 percent of those bed-sharers are medium sized, and one in three is large. That, despite the warnings that sleeping with these indiscriminate eaters of unidentified street scraps ups our chances of contracting everything from parasites to the plague.

Some 13 years into sharing my home with dogs, I have an observation.

I think the real attraction is the chance to give yourselves fully and without reservation to the care of another creature. Making them feel safe and happy makes us feel safe and happy. Anthropologists say we are wired with a deep desire to make a connection with other species, which might explain pet lizards.

It's wonderful what dogs do for us. But the best part might be what they let us do for them.

All in all, not a bad deal.