Rx: DOG

by shawne on March 17, 2013

in Lifestyle, Wellness

Stella at 8 weeks

Stella at 8 weeks

One week ago, we brought home our new friend and family member, Stella.  Stella is an eight week old yellow Labrador Retriever puppy that we retrieved from a breeder in northern Connecticut.  She has brought countless smiles to our family in the seven short days that she has been with us.  Stella is sort of a half niece to our beloved yellow Lab, Molly, who passed away in August, 2012 from cancer.  Molly’s half brother was the sire to Stella’s litter.  There is something very special about carrying on Molly’s legacy for us.  Molly provided us with eleven and a half years of pure joy.  Despite some habits that we just couldn’t break her of (counter cruising, jumping upon greeting, and garbage picking), Molly was our four-legged soul mate.  She taught us to live in the moment and to move forward despite adversity.  Molly always knew how to seize the day!  It has been seven long months since having a canine companion in our lives and it was truly time for our family to feel whole again.  Having a dog in our lives is just something that makes us complete.

our beloved Molly

our beloved Molly

We decided to make our journey to northern Connecticut a bit more enjoyable by breaking up some of the driving time by taking the ferry from Port Jefferson, LI to Bridgeport, CT.  This didn’t save travel time but would enable us to sit and play with the puppy for an hour and a half and have some solid family bonding time with her on our way home.  On the journey there, after we disembarked and started to drive to Stella’s farm, our navigation system took us on a direct route through Newtown, Connecticut.  I expected highway driving only and we were taken by complete surprise when we found ourselves at an intersection with the green sign pointing to Sandy Hook, one mile to the right.  At first, I thought what a beautiful, picturesque New England town, and it was, but we quickly realized it was Newtown.   As we drove, we noticed green ribbons on every house and store.  We continued on and saw the Newtown volunteer ambulance corp., the Newtown police department, and the funeral home that we saw on the news over and over again in December.  We were overcome with emotion and none of us could speak except for my eight year old son who remembered the snowflakes that his class had made to send to the children of Sandy Hook during the solemn winter holiday season.  What a bittersweet moment it was!  As tears welled in my eyes, I felt so grateful for my children and thankful that we were able to see the expression on their faces when they were about to lay their eyes on their brand new puppy for the first time.  The lump in my throat that I felt in that moment paled in comparison to the insurmountable grief that the victims and families of the tragedy have lived with every single day since that horrific day.  Such grief can only be shared by the victims of similar past atrocities: Aurora, Tuscon, Virginia Tech, Columbine, Oklahoma City…….the list goes on and on.

As we traveled onward to meet our beautiful new puppy and the mood in our vehicle was restored to a bright one, I continued to think of those darkest, most difficult days in Newtown, when each and every hour seemed like an eternity.  I remember an article from People® magazine about Comfort Dogs that were flown in to Newtown from across the country to provide the families and community with gentle, loving support during the most trying of times.  In many cases, the Golden Retriever therapy dogs were able to be bring smiles back to the faces of children and adults for the first time since the tragedy.  Dogs were first used in this manner following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.  My mind flooded thinking about The Guide Dog Foundation and the expanded use of therapy dogs today.  Not only are canines trained to be seeing eye dogs for the blind, but there are a large number of humans with a myriad of disabilities that have four-legged companions.   One study shows that Seniors in resident facilities felt less lonely when visited by a dog alone rather than when visited by dogs AND people.  There was something more relaxing about the one on one interaction between the seniors and the dogs.  There are programs for children with reading difficulties and learning disabilities, like Puppy Dog Tales, where kids gain confidence by reading aloud to a non judgemental furry friend.  There are soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that claim to have been saved by having a dog in their lives through programs like Paws for Purple Hearts.  There are programs like Puppies Behind Bars where prisoners are taught to train puppies to become reliable and capable partners for disabled individuals.  Dogs have touched the hearts of so many people with special needs and have been instrumental in doing police and search and rescue work.  It is hard not to think about the days following September 11th, 2001 without seeing the images of first responders and their canine unit companions sifting through the endless destruction.  Simply put…DOGS HELP!

But how do dogs help in every day situations?  The above list seems to encompass cases of the exception rather than the rule.  We pray that some of the aforementioned events and circumstances never affect any of us and that our beloved pets enter our lives based on our wants rather than our needs.  I believe that our pets help us all in some small way every single day, even if we are seemingly well and able bodied.  My friend, a physician, told me that her residency director had a routine practice of literally writing “DOG” on a prescription pad and handing it to elderly patients in need of companionship or stress reduction.  Although my husband and I are in our early 40s, I noticed that the stress level in our home is lower, overall, when we have a dog.  One study of stock brokers has actually shown that having a pet can lower blood pressure as effectively as an Ace Inhibitor.  There are increasing numbers of corporations that have implemented “bring your dog to work” day.  Studies have shown increased productivity when pets come to work with their owners.  Many successful entrepreneurs have even started their own businesses because they want to bring their dogs to work with them regularly.    If you don’t bring a pet to work with you, coming home to a loving animal can still help you put aside the stresses of the day, even if only temporarily.

sleepy puppy

sleepy puppy

Other ways that dogs can benefit you and your health include getting you physically active.  As a puppy owner all over again, I know that a good puppy is a tired puppy.  That means exercise her til she passes out.  You have to get yourself and the puppy outside and run her ragged.  Even if you have an adult dog, the dog has to go out for walks several times a day for exercise and to relieve herself.  Also, taking your dog out for walks means socialization for both you and your dog.  Before we had kids, my husband and I took Molly on lots of walks around the block.  We joke that we met more people in our neighborhood walking the dog than we ever did through our children.  If you are single and looking to meet someone, being out and about with a dog is sure fire way to get a conversation started with someone.  Dogs are nature’s ice breakers!

Dogs can stave off the blues, mild depression, and give someone a sense of purpose.   It should be noted that in cases of moderate or severe depression, having the added responsibility of caring for another life can sometimes prove to be too much.  But generally speaking, dogs can bring a smile to your face when you’re feeling down.  Having a dog is also a wonderful way for children to learn responsibility and empathy for others.  Our younger son was able to feed Molly twice a day and let her out in our yard by the age of seven.  He felt proud of his job and he knew that our dog was relying on him.  They formed a very special bond in the process.  He looks forward to doing the same for Stella and to relinquishing his job of emptying the dishwasher.  Studies also show that children who grow up with pets have stronger immune systems, especially if they are exposed to pets early in life.  Many of these children have fewer respiratory and ear infections.  This seems to be more true of dogs than cats but there is still a positive benefit with cats, too.

Superpup!

Superpup!

Dogs provide unconditional love.  On the days when everything just seems wrong, there’s nothing like a waggily tail and wet nose that could lift your spirits.  They love you even if you’ve gained a few pounds, if you’ve made some mistakes, or if you’re having a really bad hair day.  Above all, dogs just make us laugh.  When it comes to good health, isn’t laughter the best medicine?  If you are allergic to dogs, then yes, maybe a dog isn’t the best choice for your health, however, there are many hypoallergenic dog breeds.  If dogs are not for you, many of the same health benefits can be obtained by having a cat, a guinea pig, an iguana, a fish or another pet of your choice.  Bonding with a pet can improve your overall health and make life a lot sweeter.

 

 

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy Jarosky March 18, 2013 at 6:02 pm

What a great article! Even though I’ve never owned one, I absolutely love dogs. One day I will be an owner!

Reply

shawne March 19, 2013 at 2:31 am

Thanks Amy. It may be time, now that you’re making so many positive changes:)

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Cindy March 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm

We ‘rescued’ a dog and had her for 3 years – what a difference it made for my kids – loving a dog who was treated badly fed their souls. I grew up with dogs and remember how special they were! :)

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shawne March 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Cindy, it’s so true. They are special beings.

Reply

Rommy March 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm

My parents were kennel owners and breeders in the 70’s but my best dog ever was a rescue. Thanks for sharing!

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shawne March 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm

That’s awesome Rommy. I believe that dogs are a salve for the soul.

Reply

Tami June 24, 2013 at 11:52 pm

love this article!

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