Bill was head-over-heels in love with Duchess, the pot-bellied black pug that we brought home from the Pug Picnic.It had been “love at first sight” for him, in spite of the fact that, as pugs go, Duchess was not especially lovely to look at.
In addition to her bulldoggish face and snaggly tooth, she had a raised, pink, hairless area on her chin; it looked like a pimple that wasn’t quite ready to pop. (I still remember finding one just like it on my chin, the day before the junior prom.) But Duchess’s bodily imperfections only made her more endearing to Bill.
Duchess also fell in love with Bill at first sight. When he held her in his arms at the Pug Picnic, she looked up into his dark brown eyes with utter adoration. Thereafter, she loved being carried by him and snuggling with him, and only him. This love affair would continue for the rest of her life, even though – or perhaps because? – Bill did almost no work in connection to her care.
The bond between Duchess and Bill came to be like the one that developed between Harley and me. Thus, Bill and I each were honored to be the favorite human of one of our three pugs. Sarah alone has remained nonpartisan, utterly happy to be with either of her humans. (Actually, I suspect Sarah’s happiest with the human who is offering her a dog cookie, but she’s remarkably sweet about it.)
Here, Sarah’s on Bill’s lap, Duchess is in the middle, and Harley’s on my lap.
Surprisingly, science may tell us more about what caused Bill and Duchess to fall in love. It’s likely that they each experienced the effects of oxytocin. This hormone can induce or speed up labor, and it facilitates breastfeeding. It also helps build the necessary attachment between a mother and her newborn infant.
So what does oxytocin have to do with a man and a dog, you ask? Bill certainly had no intention of developing motherly breasts to feed Duchess, no matter how kindly he felt toward her. But thanks to recent scientific studies, we now know that oxytocin is not just a “female hormone.” It helps animal pairs bond with each other, some of them for life – such as the swans in the photo below.
Photo from 11 Animals that Mate for Life by Bryan Nelson, found at:
Humans, both men and women, and other mammals, including dogs, also secrete and respond to oxytocin. While Bill was holding Duchess in his arms, and the two of them were looking into the eyes of one another at the Pug Picnic, it’s quite likely that each experienced a reduced heart rate, reduced blood pressure, and a sense of calm and trust – all of these, positive effects of oxytocin. These physiological effects would have helped the unlikely pair form a lasting attachment.
But I, with my hands full of two leashes attached to their respective pugs, did not pick up Duchess, gaze lovingly into her eyes, or carry her about in my arms. Had I known then that I could win her love so readily, I could have asked Bill to take charge of our other two pugs, in exchange for my having some time to connect with Duchess. Now, as I contemplate what happened after – and perhaps because – I didn’t make a special effort to bond with her at the outset, I certainly wish I had done so. But more about that some other time….