|I wasn't forcing her into the picture... I was trying to stop her licking me!|
Did you know that dogs are the perfect medicine for someone who is chronically ill? That they have been shown to help lower blood pressure, stress hormones, heart and lung pressure, and epinephrine. The have a calming effect on people. And they make a great distraction from pain.
I'm not sure if my dogs always have a calming effect on me. They certainly don't when they get into my trash, eat my underwear, or knock my laptop on the floor, then run out of the room panicked with my power cord wrapped around their ankles. Sometimes my dogs make me want to tear my hair out. They leave little black and brown hairs everywhere. Stuck into the corners and every surface in my room. But when I'm back at school, and I occasionally find those little black and brown hairs, they make me smile and wish I could trade anything to have those mutts back.
For those of you who don't know, I have three dogs. Two labradors and a dachshund. The biggest is Kona, a slightly overweight, overlumbering, and over affectionate chocolate lab that belongs to my mother. We bought her from a place that we later found out was a puppy mill. I can't believe we were duped, but she's such a nice dog. She's slightly inbred but despite seeming like a numbskull, she's very bright when it comes to certain things. For example, she can undo almost any zipper to get into a bag containing food.
Next one is little bear, our runt chocolate lab Berkeley. I call her little bear because not only do her looks remind me of one, but she makes this grunting noise that sounds exactly like a quiet bear growl. Berkeley belongs to my sister Meghan, but she usually lives somewhere that doesn't allow dogs, so she lives with my Mum. Good thing too, because she loves Kona so much, and Kona would be devastated if she left. The most important thing to know about Berkeley is that that dog will fetch until she dies. She picks up a tennis ball and flicks her head so she throws it at you. Over and over again, begging you with the saddest eyes in the world to throw it.
The third and final is Otto. A small little dachshund (aka wiener-dog) that has been completely devoted to me for eleven years. We got him for my Mum for a birthday present but he's always been mine--I didn't choose him but he sure chose me. I always wanted a big dog and that's the kind I begged for. I remember as an 11 year old, throwing a tantrum for a big dog. But we got Otto, and he's not like any dog we've ever had. He's not like an annoying little lap dog that yips all the time and is scared of everything or an ankle biter. He's fearless, runs around the house like a maniac, forgets that he is 11 years old constantly, plays with the big dogs, and growls at my boyfriend when he even tries to hug me.
These dogs have been wonderful these past few months. People have been great and come visit me when they can. But there are 24 hours in a day and visits only cover so many of them. Some days no one is available to come play with me. Talk to me and distract me from what's happening. And these dogs keep my attention.
On days when I couldn't leave bed, they piled in with me. And on better days when I was able to escape, I'd put some books in my back pack, try to remember my phone, and slowly walk up to the school a few blocks up the road with one of these animals. When I take Otto, I unclip his leash and he gets this crazy look on his face before he jets off through the grass like some sort of rabbit-dog. He's so short that when the mower hasn't been through in a while, the grass comes half-way up his body and he has to jump and bound through it. And it makes me laugh just thinking about it. When I take Berkeley, we take her ball. I'll admit it hurts a little each and every time I throw that ball. And it hurts a little more with each throw. But she is such an enthusiastic and thrilled fetcher, I can't bring myself to stop. I throw until she can't move, and then a few times more.
The great thing about having dogs when you're sick, is not only do they provide extremely entertaining distraction, but they are these loving, emotion-filled beings that love you unconditionally, and it's like they try to love you back to health. People who have never had dogs sometimes try to tell you that they are primal animals that are incapable of emotion. And I know that's not true.
My dogs display many emotions. The funniest of which being jealousy--they are constantly enraged when one gets something that they don't. Sometimes the big ones will tear up little Otto's toys because he got to sleep in the bed. Kona always knocks the other dogs out of the way to get attention. Berkeley throws full on temper tantrums (barking and growling, turning in circles, sometimes biting the other dogs) when we tell her she can't come somewhere with us and shut the door on her. And Otto shred some of my clothing the other day after I told him he couldn't come cuddle with Anj and I.
But they also show a lot of love. On a night where I just couldn't take anymore, I was sitting in the kitchen crying my eyes out, and Kona wandered in. She stared at me with her big almond eyes for a moment, before sitting and leaning against me. I wrapped my arms around that pillsbury, buried my face in her fur, and cried and cried. And she waited patiently. On another occasion, many occasions actually, whenever I've been upset but shut my door, I'll open it and find three concerned, furry bodies piled up against it, waiting to see if I'm okay.
People have played important roles in my recovery and friends have been irreplaceable in cheering me up when I'm feeling down. But I would be down much more often without these wonderful dogs. They make me laugh so much it hurts sometimes (literally). I'm smirking right now because i can hear a couple snorers on the couch across the room. I even can't help but laugh when I have to get up to gently wake up one of them because they're having a 'dog-mare' (when they start whining and crying, running in place, kicking there legs out to the side as they're sleeping).
I know why having dogs is such a therapeutic tool. Whether you're having a bad day, have cancer, or are dealing with a couple of chronic illnesses that cause chronic pain. Dogs love you as much as their furry hearts can love. You can shout at them, kick them out, get angry at them because they got in the trash, and all they want to do is convince you to love them again (which of course you do but they don't know that). The meaning of their lives is in playing and making people happy. It would be impossible for an animal like that not to make you happy and make illness a little more tolerable. It does for me.