A couple of days ago, walking back from retrieving the trash cans from the bottom of my driveway – a despised but necessary evil – I stopped to observe my dogs engaging in a bit of problem solving. They had heard one of the neighbours’ horses whinnying from an unexpected direction and were curious to see what was going on. Unfortunately, trees, a fence and a low wall impeded their view. Portia climbed to the highest point she could think of and stretched her neck – still not good. Ottie pondered the problem for a few seconds then, counter-intuitively, marched down the slope, circumnavigated the wall protecting the propane tank, hopped on a conveniently placed crate and, from there, climbed to the top of the low wall. Mission accomplished. For a few minutes, I put everything else aside and immersed myself in my very own National Geographic documentary.
My dogs are not special. Every dog owner has experienced moments of wonder and admiration for their pets. I will never forget sofagirl the first time she saw Jack: “I was buying some plants and they were having a pet adoption fair and this dog was lying there, so forlorn. What do you think? ” Get the dog, I counselled her. You will thank me later. She went to the shelter days later, where the dog was still waiting to be adopted: neither of them has looked back since. Now, every Sunday, Jack participates in our Skype sessions and I can smell his happy farts through the screen.
We all know what animals can do for us. To quote Jimmy Connors “Dogs are my therapy”. I couldn’t agree more. And, as of this month, the American Heart Association also concurs. For the first time they went on record saying that owning a pet, particularly a dog, is good for you. First and foremost because it gets you to walk (unless you are one of those LA people who pays a dog walker) but also because it lowers your stress levels. In one study involving 48 stockbrokers suffering from hypertension, they were all given medication but half of them were also given a dog or a cat. Six months later, the group that had adopted a pet were noticed to be remarkably calmer in the face of stress, especially when around their companions (source NY Times and American Heart Association).
At the end of a bad day, coming home to two expectant faces and wagging tails would lift anyone’s mood. During a bad time in my life, when all I wanted to do was lie on the floor feeling sorry for myself, the daily routine involving bodily functions and meal preparations for my pups, were the metaphorical kick in the butt that kept me going. And, at night, if and when I can carve a little corner for myself on the couch amidst the two beasts, I can feel all tension melt away the moment their heads nod off in my lap.
What if you don’t have a dog and are not in a position to own one? There are always marathon sessions of Cesar Millan’s The Dog Whisperer on TV or animal documentaries on the Nature channel. Nothing like watching crocodiles in the swamps to put life in perspective.