The Life-Changing Benefits of a Dog

At the end of September, I submitted an article to a regional dog magazine: The Virginia-Maryland-Washington D.C. Dog. About one month ago, I received an email with the finalized PDF version of the article, and I realized it is considered a feature article.

I am really excited about this. It is the first article I have written for a magazine, and the first time I will be published in this way. I reached out one day with a pitch, based on an article I read from a previous issue, and the editor of the magazine accepted.

I am also very nervous. This article talks about how Belle has benefitted me as I have struggled with anxiety and depressive symptoms, not only recently but symptoms and episodes from the past I can now look back on and recognize them for what they were. I am being open about my own struggle. I have often felt like I don’t deserve to say I battle anxiety or depressive symptoms because my past is not traumatic. But if there is one thing I learned as I have continued therapy it is that my story is mine and doesn’t make me any less deserving of seeking help and healing.

Regardless, my excitement outweighs my nervousness. As I have expressed, it is my goal and aspiration as a writer to touch other people, to have my stories resonate with others. I can’t achieve that if I do not put at least a little something out there.

. . . . . .

One of my research interests in my field is the bond between pets and people. I took a course in Family Communication one semester, and I got to choose my topics. One of the topics I chose was this connection. I ended up using that information in my master’s thesis.

As I discuss in the published article, the bond between a pet (a dog) and us, the human, is especially strong. It took a few months for me to warm up to Belle when we adopted her, having never been responsible for such a small and needy creature. I’ve had cats–they’re fairly self explanatory. Once we got through potty training and we began real training, though, Belle and I began to bond. Now, that bond is stronger than I could have ever anticipated. She truly has been an incentive for me on many days.

. . . . . .

I am still very interested in the bond between people and their pets. I still want to do Communication research in that field. (My mother keeps telling me to go get my PhD; I keep saying I can’t handle that right now.) Every day, I hug Belle and shower her with love and affection.

My husband laughed, months ago, at how I cried at the mere thought of leaving without her. He told me he would never make me be without her, because, even then, he knew what she did for me. Her simple presence has positively affected me in so many ways, and I don’t know how I would get through a lot of things, especially right now, without her.

Every day, I thank God for Belle. Every day, I thank Him for the life-changing benefits of a dog.

Dogs and God

I knew owning a dog was a big commitment when my husband and I adopted Belle, but I didn’t know a dog could teach me so much.

It’s been a week of being in another depressive haze–one minute I feel “okay,” and the next I’d rather just sleep for eternity. I wanted to get out, but not by myself, but also not with people. Well, lucky for me, I have an amazing dog, so I decided to take us on a little hike, somewhere there wouldn’t be cell reception, where I could just take pictures and not cause myself anxiety with the checking of social media or messages.

Being a Border Collie mix, Belle has a lot of energy, and she loves to work. She needs not only physical stimulation, like hiking, but also mental stimulation. When we go on hikes, then, I try to make sure we do both. Of course, the hiking is the physical exertion. Her mental exercises are in the practicing of commands. I often do this to take her picture. She is just such a pretty dog, and she looks great with the fall colors behind her. (Yes, I’m bias, and I am totally aware I sound like a crazy dog person. Sorry not sorry.)

IMG_5985

She follows her commands well. She sits and she stays, even when she hears a squirrel (as in this picture). But getting her to sit still and look at the camera is no easy feat. Most of the time, I have to settle for what I call her “model pose”. I usually entice her with a treat. When we hike, there are so many new sounds and smells that she insists on taking the lead and practically drags me up the hill. Since she walks pretty well regularly, I don’t mind this behavior so much. I can’t blame her for being excited. But this hike made me think about her behavior in a different way.

My husband always joked that Belle is like me because she can be selectively social, much like me. As I watched her sniff every leaf and tree branch, though, I was struck by another similarity: the idea that I’ve always wanted the next thing, but I never look back at God for the next step.

As a dog, she obviously has far more traction than I do on rocks, and our hikes are often punctuated with my commands of “gentle, Belle” or “slow down.” She just wants to plow ahead, on to the next smell, the next tree.

How often have I just wanted to plow ahead when God has been asking me to slow down? How often have I been anxious about the next step when, instead, I should know that God is providing gentle guidance? How often do I try to drag him along on the path I wanted to carve for myself? How often do I really look at Him and say, “Okay, God. I will go where you lead me and do what you ask of me”?

Walking around the city, Belle usually does pretty well. She’s getting better at looking up at me for her next guidance. Part of me, though, thinks that’s because she’s used to walking in a city. I take her downtown frequently, and we walk around the neighborhood a lot.

Being someplace familiar makes it easier to trust God, but the instant we get to the unfamiliar–the new sights, the new smells–we are afraid to. We only begin to trust Him when we are worn out, when we have exerted ourselves, when we literally have nowhere else to go.

. . . . . .

IMG_5376

This is probably the best picture I got of Belle on our hike, and even then, the minute I gave her the “okay,” she was ready to go again. Again, I was just struck by how many times I have said to God, “okay, I’m content here, I will stay” and then something happens, and I go “okay, ready!” even if I’m tired, even if something is pulling me back.

Training Belle and watching her grow has taught me so much about not only raising a dog, but also about myself. She’s a year and a half now, and I never thought we would get to where we are today training-wise. I’ve been exasperated with her, I’ve gotten angry with her, I’ve cried over her… How many times has God felt that for me? And yet, He persists. He continues to love me, to provide me hope and grace.

Who knew dogs could teach you so much about your faith.

. . . . . .

Do you have animals? What have they taught you?