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.)

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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.

. . . . . .

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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?

An Easy Way to Help Dogs

Picture this: in a scene of utter chaos and a moment that seems to be suspended in time, you watch your beloved dog get hit by a car. You rush her to the emergency vet, who informs you she has lost a lot of blood and will need a blood transfusion.

A transfusion? You think. Dogs get transfusions? It had never occurred to you before this moment. But where does that blood come from?

. . . . . .

A month ago, I wrote an article on a blood transfusion program for dogs here on the east coast (the Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C. area really). After interviewing the director of the program and doing research, I decided to take the leap and see if Belle would be a good candidate. I am all about helping animals, and this is a pretty easy and direct way to do that, especially when I know first hand the benefits of being a dog mom.

Going into our consultation appointment, I have to admit I was concerned about how she would do being snuggled by someone who is not me. The techs took a few minutes to coax her to befriend them using treats, which she loved. Eventually, after maybe 20 minutes, she let them pick her up and put her on the table to begin the snuggle session.

She did just fine.

While she didn’t donate this first time, they did take a sample so they could determine her blood type. The results of the sample will also be sent to me so I know her health status, which is pretty cool. It could provide some good information for her veterinarian should it ever be needed. (I, of course, pray she never needs a transfusion, though.)

Turns out, she’s a good candidate.

. . . . . .

Unfortunately, I was too busy feeding her treats to take photos. Her comfort and security were more important to me.

I was pleased she was so comfortable allowing the veterinarian technician snuggle her. In fact, she almost looked like she was going to fall asleep. I guess my moments of snuggling her when I have depressive episodes got her used to it.

What was neat to see, though, was the trust that has developed between us. I truly do not think she would have been so cool with it all if she did not trust me and know I would never let any harm come to her. It was really the first time I saw that trust and had the chance to truly acknowledge it. It warmed my heart.

When we were done, I, of course, called my mother and Nana to tell them all about how Belle did. Just like a proud mom. Because I am.

. . . . . .

If you’re an animal lover like me, I encourage you to look into these types of programs. You can find out more about the program Belle participates in here.

Think of all the puppers you and your dog could save and how many happy families that will make.

Depression and the Power of Faith and Animals

“You can’t do anything right,” the voice whispers. “Of course no one would want to be with you. You’re never happy with what you have.” 

“Stop,” I tell it.

“You’re lazy,” it continues. “You don’t ever want to do anything. You never want to be happy.”

“Stop.” 

“She hates you,” it tells me as my mother walks in the door after work, a sigh on her lips. “You never make her happy.” 

“Stop,” I cry. “Please.”

“You made the biggest mistake of your life.”

“I know,” I sniffle. “I know. I’m sorry.”

“There’s no coming back.” The voice gets angrier, harsher, more insistent. “You’ll never do anything right.”

“STOP!”

. . . . . .

This is my internal battle nearly every day. This is what depression looks like for me.

I stave it off each time by turning on Audible and listening to Harry Potter. Or I turn on Taylor Swift’s new song Look What You Made Me Do, P!nk’s So What or Funhouse, or Linkin Park on repeat. Or I read the book I just got, Escape from Cubicle Nation. Anything to serve as a distraction.

What I try to do every time though, regardless of what I choose to refocus my energy on eventually, is pray.

Father, help me.

That prayer grants me enough peace to move forward with refocusing my energy, and it helps shut up the depression. It reminds me that my God is bigger than my depression.

. . . . . .

I now see all the times I couldn’t sleep, or all I wanted to do was sleep, or couldn’t get up, or didn’t feel like showering, or didn’t feel like doing anything while my husband was working were symptoms of a deeper problem.

I was never happy because I felt lost, inadequate, useless. I sought the affirmation of worth through my husband. But people can’t give us that affirmation because it’s difficult to truly know what someone else is battling. And I never knew how to express what I was dealing with. I didn’t have the words; I could only cry.

. . . . . .

Belle has changed how I handle my depression. I think my husband’s intent in adopting her was to provide us a family animal, thereby providing me a companion. You see, I craved attention and affection, but my poor husband worked all the time, and I suspect he felt tired by this need.

Belle was the answer, and she has been ever since.

We struggled initially. Boy, did we struggle. I had never housetrained a dog; I had never had a dog that was just mine. For a few weeks, I kept threatening to return her if I didn’t get help. It’s not my proudest moment, and I still cry remembering I acted that way, both to her and my husband. I’m grateful that Belle will never remember those few weeks.

Those few weeks, though, showed me the value and importance in training her. That became how we bonded. She came to trust me, and I came to trust her.

It doesn’t matter how depression is affecting me any given day, because when I pick her up from daycamp, she is happy to see me. Her enthusiastic tail wag that makes her whole body wiggle makes me smile.

“Belle bear!” I greet her, using the nickname my husband gave her as a puppy (because she looked like a bear cub). I open my arms wide for her to come to me, and come she does, ready to give me kisses.

“Mama!” those kisses seem to say. And suddenly it doesn’t matter that I was mad my entire drive home or that I cried in the car because she’s there.

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Belle (she now resembles more of a wolf)
. . . . . .

Belle has certainly been instrumental in helping me work through my depression. Simply by being there and needing care, she provides a constant positive reminder.

But my faith has also been instrumental.

In those moments when I was so frustrated with her as a puppy, I prayed. In the moments I hug her now, whether through tears or just in joy at her company, I pray.

The same is true with my beloved cats, especially because they came first. Since Belle isn’t allowed to sleep with me, the cats’ gentle purring and snuggles help me relax at night, which is usually when the anxious thoughts set in.

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Raptor, the younger cat, enjoying a tool box.
. . . . . .

Some days are better than others. I suspect that’s how it will always be, or at least how it will be for some time. Each day, though, I thank God for the blessing of my animals, that he provided me the passion I have for animals.

I know that with Belle, the cats, and God, I will be okay. And sometimes that’s the most hopeful reminder there is.

Attention Dog Lovers: On the PUPPERS Act

Between the two sides of politics attacking each other, whatever craziness is occurring in the White House, and the seemingly apocalyptic stories that grace our media on a daily basis, it rarely seems anything remotely positive is on the table for politics. I usually casually peruse current events, just to keep myself knowledgeable and up-to-date. One thing I am undoubtedly passionate about, however, and what can get me involved in politics, are animal issues. In May of 2016, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) signed legislation that voided laws in Phoenix and Tempe that pet stores sell only rescue animals, much to the dismay of animal advocates. Aside from the one-off stories, like Arizona’s, animal welfare rarely seems to make it to the light of day in anything political, and, when it does, it seems to serve as a “placeholder”. That may change, though, with the introduction of the PUPPERS Act of 2017.

Yes, dog lovers and Dog Rates fans, you read that right. The “Preventing Unkind and Painful Procedures and Experiments on Respected Species Act of 2017”, shortened to the PUPPERS Act of 2017, is an amendment to title 38 of United States Code “to prohibit the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from conducting medical research causing significant pain or distress to dogs.” It was introduced in the House of Representatives on July 12 and referred to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs the same day.

Thus far, this bipartisan bill states that “in carrying out research, the Secretary may not purchase, breed, transport, house, feed, maintain, dispose of, or experiment on dogs as part of the conduct of any study that causes significant pain or distress.”

According to an article with Circa, the bill comes after animal rights group White Coat Waste Project, under a Freedom of Information Act request, obtained documents which seemed to detail “cruel medical tests on dogs at the McGuire Veterans Hospital in Richmond.”

In a statement, which can be found on his website, Representative Dave Brat (R-Va.) said: “The revelations regarding the dog laboratory testing at McGuire VAMC are disturbing and the descriptions are almost on the scale of torture…I believe there are alternative and more humane methods that can lead to similar medical breakthroughs…Our bill sets clearly defined expectations for medical research and will prohibit research at taxpayer-funded VA facilities that causes significant pain or distress for puppies.”

According to the bill, the phrase “significant pain and distress” refers to “any study classified to pain category D or E by the Department of Agriculture.”

In the same Circa article, medical researchers claim dogs are essential to developing the medical breakthroughs Rep. Brat mentioned in his statement. Scientists cite specific medical developments that canine research has assisted with, such as the pacemaker and discovery of insulin, and the Director of the Center for Comparative Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine feels the public and supporting lawmakers have been misled.

However, since its move to the House Committee on July 12, no further action on the bill has occurred. As of August 15, 2017, though, there are 37 cosponsors for the Act, and it remains a bipartisan bill.

It will be interesting to see how this bill progresses. Keep your ears perked.

 

[This article first appeared on Odyssey.]