The Dog Who Can See Your Soul
Janice Siegford, PhD, a research assistant professor of animal science at Michigan State University, explains Kinsey's seeming ability to read minds. What dogs pick up, she says, are behavioral cues such as body posture, facial tension, even a widening of the eyes. They can detect "very subtle things, like the fact that the corners of your mouth are tight, things we don't realize are happening," she says. Stress gives dogs important clues as well. When we are anxious or afraid, our voices rise in pitch and our adrenal glands excrete cortisol, according to Dr. Siegford. The result? We look, sound, and may even smell different to dogs.
Not all dogs are as observant as Kinsey, though. Rolan Tripp, DVM, founder of AnimalBehavior.net and affiliate professor of applied animal behavior at Colorado State University, says every dog has some of Kinsey' s people-whispering aptitude, "just as every human has some ability in sports." But, he adds, "only a very few become superstars." It's Kinsey's unique combination of genetics, temperament, and intelligence -- all enhanced by training -- that produces such exceptional results.
Eventually Kinsey went beyond impressing Stuart; the retriever taught her owner a very personal lesson. In 2001 Stuart's father, a widower, broke his hip in a fall. Stuart, who is close to her dad, decided to take Kinsey with her while she stayed at his home in Idaho during his convalescence: "He needed her," she says. Kinsey stayed by Stuart's father's side, assisting the human caregivers by fetching things for him and picking up his cane when he dropped it.
After his recovery Stuart's dad moved into a house near where she and her husband live in Colorado. Two years later, however, her father was hospitalized following a massive stroke that partially paralyzed his right side, impaired his speech, and caused him to feel depressed.
When Stuart took Kinsey to the hospital to visit her dad, he immediately brightened. "Most of the time she stayed on my father's bed, with her nose in his hand," Stuart says. Slowly, he began to respond. "Kinsey actually started Dad's physical therapy by placing one of her squeeze toys in his right hand," Stuart marvels.
"I've seen the beauty of love," she says of caring for her father, who has continued to recover. "And Kinsey has taught me the secret ingredient: selfless devotion."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, October 2007.