True Meaning of the Year of the Dog

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Many years ago I consulted the heavens (or the Sunday newspaper) for guidance on how to handle chaos and drama. Upon realizing that I had a degree of control over my daily choices - and my reactions to events I could not control - this practice went the way of tossing coins into a fountain and wishing upon stars.

However, my fascination with how and why animals came to represent each year in the 12-year Chinese Zodiac cycle never wavered. I find it very telling that humans chose to assign personality traits to animals that they might like to align with themselves.

In Chinese astrology, we have just crossed over into the Year of the Dog. People born under this “sign” are deemed to be loyal and trustworthy companions, the kind you just might want to spend a life with (funny, then, how more dogs ended up on Chinese plates than as household fixtures!).

Fireworks displays, family feasts, paying homage at a temple and honoring ancestors are generally part of Chinese New Years celebrations. As the pomp and circumstance winds down this weekend, people also prepare to welcome good fortune during the upcoming year.

Here’s a brief look at how the dog’s “good fortune” has evolved since we last transited the Year of the Dog in 2006:

  • Comparing surveys by the The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) with the American Pet Products Association APPA), the number of households with dogs skyrocketed from 43.3 million (36.5%) in 2012 to 60.2 million (48.5%) in 2018, an increase of 139%.
  • Think that dogs are family? In 2012, 66.7% of households believed so (AVMA stats); in 2018, 71% of people believe that dogs - and other inter-species companions - bring their families “closer together” (APPA stats).
  • More and more reputable groups - including The American Bar Association, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and the American Veterinary Medical Association - oppose breed-specific legislation citing research showing that that bans on certain types of dogs (yes, pit bulls included) are misguided, largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources.
  • In 2006, Albuquerque was the first major U.S. city to ban the retail sale of bred animals in pet stores. Since then, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Diego, Los Angeles, Austin, and Las Vegas have followed suit.
  • An ever-increasing number of counties have enacted animal abuse registries to track and punish animal abusers who, according to some research, also commit violent crimes against people. Hillsborough County, Florida, Cook County, Illinois and eight counties in New York State have established such registries.
  • Penalties for cruelty to dogs are getting stiffer. Last week, a Texas man was sentenced to 12 years in prison for committing an unspeakable act against a puppy. Compare this to a three-year sentence meted out to a man who threw a woman’s dog out a car window in 2001.
  • Finally, let’s not forget the bi-partisan legislation passed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that mandates first-responders to include family pets when evacuating families during natural disasters. Enacted in 2006, Public Law 109-308, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS), may very well have been the watershed law that changed the place of pets in the family forever.

Certainly, these are accomplishments to celebrate. However, with almost 700,000 perfectly healthy and adoptable dogs being euthanized each year, we clearly have a long way to go.

We don’t need the Chinese Zodiac to remind us that dogs are loyal and trustworthy. But, now more than ever, dogs may prove to be our best hope at mining these qualities in ourselves.