puppy love

Puppy Love – When Pets Fall for Each Other

Molly and Buddy only have eyes for each other. It goes without saying they’ll live happily ever after.

The star-struck golden retrievers, top dogs in the film Air Bud World Pup, exhibit the same signs of infatuation as any other Hollywood hotties: One can practically feel the palpitations and sweaty paws these sweethearts experience when they sneak a moment together.

But is it for real?

Scriptwriters would have us believe that dogs and cats fan the flames of passion just like humans do. Boy meets girl; boy woos girl; and boy and girl live happily ever after. The formula has worked like a charm ever since Lady and the Tramp.

Do Dogs and Cats Really Fall in Love?

Depends on whom you talk to. Gretchen Browne of Long Island, N.Y., swears her yellow lab, Grady, is in love with the girl across the street. And Abby, the object of his affection, loves Grady back. It’s been that way since they met as puppies, their owners say. “It was love at first sight. They just adore each other,” says Browne. “They play daily, and Abby covers his neck with love bites. He comes in all bitten up.”

When they can’t be together, Abby sits on a bed on the second floor of her Rockville Centre home, gazing out the window at Grady. It’s just like Romeo and Juliet,” says Arlene Lucas, who wants to host a June wedding for the neutered twosome.

True Dog Love, Yes or No?

“We don’t know,” says Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a professor in the department of small animal medicine and surgery in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. “I cannot prove it isn’t so, but I cannot prove that it is. We cannot evaluate animal emotions.”

“You have to call it a bonding thing,” says Dr. Patricia O’Handley, a veterinarian with the small animal clinic at Michigan State University. Pets introduced to other pets at critical stages of socialization will form a bond with the other animal: dogs with dogs, cats with cats or dogs with cats. Dogs, who are social animals by nature, bond more easily than cats because of their predisposition to live in packs. “It’s companionship, or dependency, rather than an emotional attraction that lies at the root of these pairings,” says Dr. O’Handley.

Not so fast, Dr. O’Handley. “I’m tempted to say (pets) can fall in love,” says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine and a PetPlace.com consulting vet. “Close relationships between dogs and dogs or dogs and cats are possible, but films like Lady and the Tramp and Air Bud are contrivances of the media.”

Friendship Is the Key

The “love” Dodman sees between pets is less the hearts-and-flowers stuff of Valentine’s Day than the other stages of love that humans also experience: a mother’s love for her offspring or the love of a friend, for instance. “The Greeks, I believe, had seven different words for love – the love for your children, love for your parents, love for a partner, and so on – while we are saddled with just the one word – love – to describe all of these relationships,” says Dr. Dodman, who suspects the Greeks would have had a word for the love relationships between pets.

“Romantic love is a stretch of the imagination for dogs and cats, but can they be friends with each other? Yes,” says Dodman. “It’s well known that dogs grieve when separated from a preferred companion, experiencing sleep disturbances, loss of appetite and general despondency,” adds Dodman, who writes about unusually needy animals in the book The Dog Who Loved Too Much (Bantam).

Cats and Dogs Are Promiscuous

Unlike some species that mate for life, cats and dogs breed promiscuously. “At the least a tomcat is polygamous,” says Dr. Dodman. A tom, despite his love-em-and-leave-em nature, will protect his lady friends and their offspring, but that’s more like ownership than love, he notes, drawing a parallel with sultans and their concubines.

As for puppy love, the infatuation experienced by giddy boys and girls in middle school, who wants to put their pooch through that? It’s tough enough watching your kids get dumped. Imagine the heartbreak in Gretchen Browne’s household if Abby ever tires of Grady. What then? Probably a letter saying, “Dear Rover, it’s over.”