John JuergensMan's best friends: Wine and dog

I often ponder humanity's relationship with wine in the same way I marvel at the unique relation humans have with dogs, or vice verse. There is an inscrutable mystique associated with both that is difficult to define. It is sort of like trying to define the concept of love, or like seeing something in your peripheral vision, but not being able to look at it directly.

For dog lovers in particular, we know the wonderful feeling of unconditional love and acceptance we get from them. They give us a warm sense of security and companionship, and sometimes in the darkest of times they can be our only source of comfort. The same can be true of a good bottle of wine.

I think there are some very strong parallels between the way dogs and wine bring pleasure and meaning to our lives. Let's start with health.

It has been well documented in the social and medical literature that having a companion animal, especially a dog, can have some very real physiological and psychological health benefits. For example, dog owners frequently have lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower stress. Research has shown that moderate wine drinkers, too, can have these same health benefits.

There are hundreds of breeds of dogs just as there hundreds of varieties of grapes, all of which exhibit distinct personalities and an almost unlimited number of possibilities for individual character expression. And just as dogs are interbred to achieve certain physical and temperamental traits, grapes are crossbred to do the same thing. Let's see, do I want an aggressive Pit Bull or a quaking Chihuahua? A massive Petite Sirah or a delicate rosˇ?

As with most dogs, wines are at our beck and call. They wait patiently, or not, until we want their companionship. They enrich our lives in many ways and enhance our quality of life, both in sickness and health. It is very common to see "therapeutic" dogs in nursing homes and communities for the elderly. For anyone who has visited our local Veterans Home south of town, you know who Striker is and the sense of well-being he brings to the residents. Striker is a golden lab with a perpetual smile on his face. He helps deliver the mail and reacts to each resident as if he or she is the only person in the world who matters. A good bottle of wine can offer the same sort of reassurance and sense of well-being, and in many institutions where I have worked and visited, clients are permitted a spot of something as part of their daily routine. It can make a difference. I sure hope I end up in a place that allows that. But if not, I trust my friends surreptitiously will supply me with good wine as long as I am conscious.

Both wine and dogs can serve as social lubricants. They can bring people together and break the ice among strangers. They both offer interesting traits that can be the basis for long discussions and great stories. And both can turn on us if we abuse them.

One of the most rewarding things for me is when I can combine the best qualities of both a dog and a wine. I have two dogs, one a young Jack Russell Terrier, who can be like a super ball careening around a racquetball court, and the other an elegant mixed breed, thirteen year old dowager, who spends most of her day dozing and waiting for me. Despite their vastly different personalities, they both like to cuddle up and watch movies with me. At times as this I like to pull out a nice reliable comfort wine to complete the package. I have two of my best friends, my dogs and my wine, sharing the moment with me, and it confirms for me that God is in heaven and everything is right with the world, in spite of some of the craziness and absurdity we see every day. And at these times, I feel a little bit sorry for people who don't have a dog or don't like dogs, and especially for those who don't drink wine.


October 2008

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