Pets, personality, and the faces we deserve.

Pets, personality, and the faces we deserve.

Last week we took our dog to church.

The Episcopal church follows the lectionary, and the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost belongs to St. Francis of Assisi. Though best known for his solidarity with the poor, legend has it that Francis could also talk to animals. In honor of St. Francis, everyone got to bring their dogs and cats, bunnies and hamsters, turtles and guinea pigs to church last week.

We’d been to this particular service, held annually, once before. Oddly, it was the first service we attended at what was to become our church: we showed up on a Sunday morning to find the service was in the gym, and everyone had their pets with them. It was unexpected and a little nuts and a very fun and unthreatening way to ease in to a new community.

Now that we knew what to expect from this special service, we were looking forward to it. What I didn’t expect, now that we know people a little better, was how interesting it would be to see everyone with their pets.

Do you remember that scene in 101 Dalmations when Pongo stares out the window and watches the dog-walkers go by, all of whom bear an eery resemblance to their owners?

That’s exactly what it felt like at church. The Great Dane owners looked like they belonged with their noble, elegant Great Danes. The collie owners looked like they belonged with their fluffy, loyal collies. The Scotty dog owners looked like they had the Scotty dog personality, even if I hadn’t recognized it before I’d seen them with their dogs.

We have a chocolate lab named Harriet. she’s placid, companionable, and loves retrieving tennis balls more than life itself. Now, of course, I’m now wondering what our choice of Harriet says about our family. Did we choose a pet that reflects our own selves back to us?

George Orwell said that by age 50, everyone has the face he deserves. Our faces are the windows to our souls, and with every day we live, we choose—with every thought we think, every decision we make—what they reveal about our innermost selves.

(For years, I inadvertently attributed this quote to Oscar Wilde—it seems like the sort of thing he would say, doesn’t it?—and pegged the year as 40. I thought about this quote a lot as I edged closer to the imagined milestone. Now I’m relieved to discover I’m not so close after all.)

In a decade and a half or so, I’ll have the face I deserve, and my personality will ostensibly be on display for all to see. In the meantime, my chocolate lab is doing the job for me.

Does your pet reflect your personality? Have you noticed that other people’s pets accurately reflect THEIR personalities?

P.S. Musings on personality, from the archives.

P.P.S. I wrote a book about personality coming out September 19, 2017: Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything. Click here to pre-order.

30 comments | Comment


  1. Emily says:

    I like to think that we each change each other a bit: our dogs change us, and we change them. That may sound weird, but I think it proves true in my case. My dog makes me more open now to silliness and spontaneity, and my love for routines has shaped what she expects out of each day. I think these qualities we take on over time are reflected in our posture and demeanor and facial expressions. Like with human relationships, our animal relationships are ones of exchange (maybe even more so, since our guards are down?).

  2. I wonder if this only applies to dogs. I kind of hope so, because for the last 6 years, we’ve had a feisty, emotionally demanding cat with a severe fear of the paper shredder that sends him into “must-kill-the-Prime-Minister-of-Malaysia” violent fits. (Thankfully, since the paper shredder broke, there has been no violence).

  3. Ana says:

    Our dog is a complete mutt that no one can quite figure out. Some say she must have some greyhound or whippet in her, some say lab, some say she HAS to have some pit. Hmmm, not sure how that relates to our (homogenous, all one culture) family. She’s friendly with all people & children but can get aggressive these days (in her middle age) with other dogs.

  4. And what does it say about you if you don’t have (and don’t want) any pets at all? Because I fall into that category, which makes me sound like a grumpy old man. My husband would love a cat, and my three-year-old begs for a cat/dog/guinea pig/etc. on a regular basis, so not everyone in our family is a killjoy. I guess we do have several fish, but they’re not really the affectionate type. 🙂

  5. Erica M. says:

    Our cats are sort of the polar opposites to us. Frenzy pretty much hates everyone except me, and she’s a bundle of energy and has mood swings approximately every three minutes. Oreo is a people cat but she’s definitely more attached to Dale, and she is the most laid-back cat I have ever met; laid-back is the last term I would use to describe Dale!

  6. Our goldendoodle, Boudreaux, occasionally goes into hyper drive — what we lovingly refer to as Beast Mode. As for what this says about my personality… !?!? 🙂 You’ve got me verrrrrry curious!

  7. Tina B says:

    My cat Shadow at 20-1/2 is still quite the diva despite becoming more fragile. I don’t think of myself as a diva, though health issues are catching up with me as well. Our cat Trouble is 8 and, well, we named her right, ornery and loving. Perhaps a little more like me.

  8. Corrie Anne says:

    When we got married my husband already had a chill Boykin Spaniel with ridiculous hair and big, brown eyes. I was always the evil stepmother to him since he lived the life of leisure with a bachelor before I came along (he even had his own bedroom!). When we moved to Denver, everyone is always out walking their dogs, and it’s the most dog-friendly city! It gave me serious puppy fever. I ended up adopting a Vizsla/Chocolate Lab mix who is sweet, energetic, and refuses to get her paws wet. Pippa is clearly my dog, and Boyd is clearly my husband’s, and we have a lot in common with them (not to mention that they are spoiled rotten). Now we have a baby boy on the way, so we’ll see how that shakes things up!! I want to bring my dogs to church! I was a little jealous when I saw your Instagram post! 🙂 P.S. Pippa’s middle name is Cordelia from Anne of Green Gables.

  9. Gina says:

    Oh, good grief, we have chickens, guinea piggies, a bunny, two dogs, two gerbils, three pet cockroaches, darkling beetles, fish and an impending Christmas lizard and possible corn snake, we rescued a baby hedgehog from the garden who is wild and grown up now and still comes to visit. Most of them are rescues, like our children (adopted). Does this say, as my husband fervently believes, that we are soft touches? Lol. I would love to see our Pastor’s face if they ever had an animal service!

    • Laura says:

      I want to be you when I grow up! Right now we have a boxer/pit mix and two kitties and a fish. I want to add chickens and a guinea pig and a hedgehog and a rabbit or two. And maybe a llama. And more dogs.

    • Dana says:

      Would love to have more animals like you. I grew up with a host of cats, turtles, lizards, fish, a hamster and dogs in a country setting. Now I live in anurban area…we have had bunnies, a guinea pig and cats and now the most spoiled miniature Aussie in the world. She is a rescue and just the love of our lives ( she is the child we never had). I would dearly love some chickens, a rooster and some goats..maybe even a cow but city ordinances do not allow. Instead I am campaigning for a sibling for our Callie…she loves other dogs and I thin it would be fun and crazy!

  10. Shelley says:

    Totally! My dog is sensitive and intuitive to the people around her. She loves to love, cuddle and please, and really craves routine. Her favorite thing is to get outside and go for a walk, or run, and even enjoys being read to. She likes to be close to those she adores, but not in their lap. She sits right in the group for history readings and seems to know when it’s time, and acts like she’s paying more attention that my kids do. 😉 She’s happy & enthusiastic and hates to be scolded. She’s very much me and my family.

  11. Tuija says:

    Anne, your family has a sweet, friendly, easygoing, handsome dog – so what does that say about you? 🙂

    We have no pets. Though we like animals, no one in our family is very keen to have a pet of our own, which is a good thing considering the smallness of our home plus our various allergies.

    I’m getting close to “the face I deserve” – and I don’t mind the crow’s feet, actually. At this point, the laughter lines are slightly stronger than the frown lines, and of course I hope I can keep it that way…

    • Anne says:

      “The laughter lines are slightly stronger than the frown lines…”

      That’s what I’m personally hoping to achieve, come 50. 🙂

  12. Alyssa says:

    We just got our first dog 2 weeks ago (Jack Russell from my brother who is moving overseas) He is mostly for our 10 year old boy and their personalities match– energetic, attention loving, and interactive. We also love that her red-brown face and spots are the same color as both our daughter’s auburn hair, so the girls in the family match!

    • Dana says:

      I did not reply about Callie’s personality. She is by turns quite hyper and playful and full of busy energy ( my husband) and then more chill and quiet and still. ( like me). She loves people and loves attention and affection which describes us both.

  13. Tracy S. says:

    I think you might be mixing the George Orwell quote with one attributed to Lincoln. He once refused (supposedly) to appoint someone to a position because he didn’t like his face saying, “Every man over forty is responsible for his face.”

    My children say that I chose a dog that looked like me. My stocky little cairn mix has unruly salt and pepper hair, so they do have a point. Her down-to-earth, loving personality speaks of our family’s values as well.

  14. I feel like everyone here is so in-tune with their animals and I am not even pinpointing my children’s personalities yet. I imagine when we move out of survival mode it will all be a little more clear…and then I’m sure a puppy will be in the picture (the oldest is rallying for a dog for the last nine months) and fuzzy my mind up for a while. 🙂 Our cat is crazy. Our fish is awesome. That’s about all I can tell! Ha!

  15. Kimberly says:

    I’m thinking extra special thoughts for your family on his day this year as you’ve lost two special pets this year. Sorry.

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