That ringing endorsement is a comfort to those of us who keep dogs but sometimes wonder why. It's good to know that some-where dogs remain absolutely, undeniably essential to man's work while we happily wander about with our furry friends, feeding them, walking them, scooping their droppings, showering them with affection, taking them to the vet at the first glimmer of trouble. We occasionally get nipped or barked at in return, but more frequently we are rewarded with a lick on the hand or a wagging tail or a rapt willingness to listen to our most banal statements, as if they are something profound.
Dogs and people, people and dogs: It's a love story so old no one knows how it started. "The human beings who participated in the earliest domestic relationships [with dogs] thousands of years ago are all dead," says zooarchaeologist Darcy F. Morey with refreshing candor. "They cannot tell us what was in their minds or what they sought to accomplish."
And since no one had yet begun to write things down, we are left to speculate, as did the British writer Rudyard Kipling in 1912 when he offered this theory in Just So Stories:
"Then the Woman picked up a roasted mutton-bone and threw it to Wild Dog, and said, ‘Wild Thing out of the Wild Woods, taste and try.' Wild Dog gnawed the bone, and it was more delicious than anything he had ever tasted, and he said, ‘O my Enemy and Wife of my Enemy, give me another.'
"The Woman said, ‘Wild Thing out of the Wild Woods, help my Man to hunt through the day and guard this Cave at night, and I will give you as many roast bones as you need.' "
That scenario (minus the talking dog, of course, of which there are none even today) would have played out about 14,000 years ago if you follow the archaeological trail to the origins of dogs, much further back if you favor DNA evidence suggesting dogs existed well before the earliest traces of their bones. Either way, this is clear: Dogs are not just our proverbial best friends in the animal world but probably our oldest. They evolved from wolves long ago, found a home alongside humans before history makes a record, and never left.