By Daryn Kagan EBS Contributor
It’s one of the earliest memories of me horrifying my kids. Not the last, but the earliest. I am, after all, a mother. A conversation about fire safety started this particular episode. It began with something like, “How would you get out of the house in an emergency?” Once I was satisfied with their proposed plans, I shifted to the philosophical. “What is the one thing you would want to save?” I asked. The girls made me go first, which was easy, because my answer was simple. The dog.
“The dog?” Both girls were appalled. “You would save the dog before you would save us?”
I tried to make the case that the very fact we were having a conversation on how to get out of the house, and what they would save first, meant they were capable of saving themselves. The dog, not so much.
Made sense to me. They, however, were now convinced they had exhibit A in the case for my being a horrible mother. And yet, I can now say I have science on my side. I’ve come across research that shows perhaps I’m not so horrible, after all.
Turns out I am simply human. Two studies show that when it comes to making a choice, people have more empathy for their pup than their fellow humans. One British study ran two ads. Each one asked the question, “Would you give money to help save Harrison?”
One ad had a picture of a little boy. The other had a picture of a dog. The ad for the dog got twice as many clicks as the one for the boy. Researchers for Northeastern and University of Colorado showed headlines to more than 250 students. One had a story about a dog that had been beaten up. The other was about a person. The results? Undergrads felt more empathy for the dog. Many people see dogs as innocents, the scientists explained.
The scientists also said, “Dogs provide unconditional love and many times people form stronger bonds with their pet than with another human.”
That, I will confess. I do love and like my dog more than a lot of people I know. I mean, have you met some of the people out there in the world, Dear Reader?
As for loving my dog more than my children? Let’s leave it at: it’s a different kind of love. Dog love. A chamber of my heart unto itself. She’s certainly happier to see me than my teenagers usually are. Can’t remember the last time one of them wiggled their butts and squealed simply because I walked through the front door.
That kind of love is the kind of thing I’d walk through fire to protect and save—while also, for the record, making sure my human children were safe.
It’s what we mothers do. Fiercely love, protect—and horrify—the best souls we know.
Daryn Kagan was a featured speaker at TEDxBigSky 2018. She is the author of “Hope Possible: A Network News Anchor’s Thoughts on Losing her Job, Finding Love, a New Career, and my Dog, Always my Dog,” and the founder of darynkagan.com, a resource for uplifting and positive news.