Man’s Best Friend
By Jim Kuiken
And woman’s too! But why? I don’t want to start the whole kitty v. puppy war (or horses, etc…). I’m a serious animal lover, and have cared for and loved many different animals over my life (just ask my mom, who dealt with me bringing back lost, disabled/injured/abused, or just lonely looking animals of all sorts, my whole life).
But there is a special bond between dog and man (generic “man”, not the male species of human…). You’d have to ask historians, but I’ve always imagined the first few somewhat non-confrontational meetings – man at a fire, and a curious, hungry wolf circling just outside the light, when the man throws a bone or some meat out to the wolf…who starts to think of the man as a possible source of food (and I don’t mean just the actual man himself as food, but as a provider of food…).
However it started, it has come a long way, and the bond is deep and abiding. Dogs have been bread to be pretty much anything man could think of, and as much as I love all dogs, I’m especially talking about working dogs here.
But what’s in it for the dogs? There’s the satisfaction of having a task to do, and the fulfilment of purpose in their lives, doing something that they enjoy, and are generally naturally drawn to do (herding, retrieving, helping, etc.). The joy of belonging to a “pack”, consisting of their human partners, families, etc., and fulfilling their desire to please the senior members of that pack. Shelter, food, care – and most of all, giving and receiving love. Unconditional love (except those who are abused, frightened, trained to be aggressive, etc. – which is a travesty, and should be countered by anyone with a heart / soul).
I’ve spent my whole life around dogs, starting with our black lab Stocky (Zachary – the middle-name given by my brother) Kuiken, our dog when we lived in Fairfield, CA. (We also had a dark brown cat named Kahlua, and a rat named Speedy (Gonzales, from my sister, and Thaddeus, again from my brother) Kuiken, who all played together, and took naps together, out in the back yard.
It wasn’t until many years later, in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, that I began professionally working with dogs – when I became a K9 Officer (and subsequently, a K9 Trainer, then a K9 Officer Instructor, and finally, a K9 Trainer Instructor), with the Idaho Dept. of Corrections, and later, the Ada County Sheriff’s Dept. Not only did I thoroughly love working with the dogs (and especially, my partner, Tiffany), but also learning how to train dogs, studying K9 behavior, motivation, psychology, pack dynamics, and some limited K9 physiology and emergency medical care.
We also had a program there at the Idaho State Correctional Institution (ISCI), where selected “trustee” inmates were given the job of caring for the dogs, cleaning the kennels, and even helping with some of the training for those dogs. You could see the inmate’s eyes light up when they got the chance to interact with the dogs. They were much more engaged, even happy, during the time they were involved with the program, and many of them did not return to prison once they were released. I personally believe that interacting with and caring for the dogs unlocked their empathy, and helped in a limited way with some rehabilitation, for those that were really trying.
Pretty much everyone that has been involved with dogs in one way or another, in my experience, have been positively influenced by that association. I don’t see how they can help it…dogs just radiate love!
Even in some of the darkest places in my life – Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, etc. – dogs seem to bring some joy and light. Every time I went out in the field in Iraq during my tour there (2005-2006), the first thing I did when I visited various bases and outposts all over that country, was to find the K9 teams, and get to know them.
Even in the most dangerous areas, in a gun position in the middle of nowhere, there were puppies... Some semblance of humanity (or probably much more important, ‘doganity’) to keep those risking their lives on a daily basis sane, and keep their heart alive.
I’ve seen first-hand how they literally save lives, change lives, and do more good than a helmet full of drugs and medications ever could – like my SD, Freedom. Not only do they help the blind, the deaf, and other physically disabled, but those suffering the wounds of war, of public service, and the invisible wounds that so many incur from their service to the people of this nation.
And again, the side benefits to those who nurture and train those dogs is incalculable…including prison programs where inmates raise and train service dogs.
Dogs, whether they’re pets, the stray on the side of the road, a show dog, service dog, or any other kind of dog, just want to be loved, and will radiate unconditional true love back. They’re just a bundle of love wrapped in fur…unless, of course, they’re furless…