He started asking when he was 3. Sent a letter of request to my office when he was 4. A week wouldn’t go by when I didn’t hear about it. Out on the street he always wanted to stop and touch. Each year his personal stuffed collection – the next closest thing – grew and grew. Circumstances were such that, to meet his request, more time needed to pass. I wasn’t convinced I had any more in me to give. Having experienced the toddler years, repeatedly, I needed time to regroup and refresh.
But last month he turned 9. The frequent requests over the years were never ignored, simply filed for the appropriate time. Then it hit me: why not? There’s worse ways to spend one’s time and money. Sometimes a boy with this much love to give needs to find yet another appropriate place for it to land.
So after a brief web search and 6 hours of driving, home came Ted, a 3.5 pound fur-ball. A chia pet on steroids. A hairy torpedo. A Shih-poo puppy that, without the power of words or written prose, has had so much to teach us all. As a Dad who is also a physician, the observant side blended with enjoying the moment. And by both observing and enjoying, what I was experiencing and seeing were the advantages many have attributed to pet therapy. Or better put, so as not to medicalize it, the upside of owning a dog.
In the end it was a kind of spontaneous decision. Just do it. As a previous dog owner, this is not a “sight unseen” situation for me. But doing so with young kids makes all the difference. And I’m going to enjoy the ride.
So get past the scooping of poop; the whimpering at night as the pup adjusts to life without Mom, or litter siblings; the discipline it takes to housebreak a dog; the 2AM bladder emptying sessions (the dog’s, not mine); the need to rush home for feeds and bowel routine. Get past it because, scooping aside, these are the temporary aspects of dog ownership from the puppy stage.
Here’s the upside:
1. Man’s best friend – no doubt about it. The loyalty is unabashed.
2. Total understanding of “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”. Right Ted? RIGHT Ted?
3. Teaches children responsibility.
4. Teaches children discipline.
5. Teaches children compassion. (e.g. Some of the collection of stuffed animals can be seen in the morning facing the puppy’s crate where he sleeps, placed there by the 9 year old owner to provide comfort for Ted at nighttime.)
6. Family outings to the local park are much more fun and interesting. (What’s sad is how empty the park is most weekends – inversely proportional to sedentary living.)
7. We laugh together. Kids. Dad. Dog – I swear there is laughter behind that puppy’s smile.
8. A positive distraction – from anything electronic. We all need that. It’s grounding to say the least.
9. Warm and cuddly feels good.
10. It’s 3:15pm on a Tuesday. There’s nothing better than arriving at one end of the park, with Ted’s owner, my 9 year old, having just left the school building at the other, and seeing them dash toward each other, both running like bunnies, falling over each other when they meet, fawning over each other thereafter. They cover the expanse of that large field in seconds flat. They reacquaint. And on display for the observer is points 1 through 9.
Here’s what else I’ve learned:
– Feed dogs raw – there’s junk food for dogs too, much of it in fact. It’s incredible how much processed dog food there is, and to make that 100% of a dog’s diet? Even the worst North American human eats better than that.
– Although debated, not all the dog vaccines are necessary, according to two holistic vets I’ve consulted.
– Food is an awesome training tool. Of course it is.
– Dog owners rarely recall each other’s names; the dogs’ names are always remembered though.
– Markham needs more off-leash parks. Something tells me they’d be better utilized than the often empty regular parks. Dog owners are an active, collegial bunch. Even without the names.
– Walking your dog for exercise, unless it’s a long, long, loonnngg walk, rarely meets the goal of 10,000 steps per day. This is according to my iPhone app Pacer, which among other things tells me when I’ve been sitting too long. It’s easy to be sedentary nowadays. But a little movement is better than none at all, especially as we age.
So, for some families, or even empty-nesters, a pet dog makes a lot of sense. I know it has for mine. Don’t pooh pooh it outright. (Sorry … couldn’t resist.)[ Addendum – Check out this comment from the co-author of a research paper published October 3: “Pets hold a special place in many people’s hearts and lives, and there is compelling evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that interacting with pets can be beneficial to the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of humans,” says Lori Palley, DVM, of the MGH Center for Comparative Medicine, co-lead author of the report. “Several previous studies have found that levels of neurohormones like oxytocin — which is involved in pair-bonding and maternal attachment — rise after interaction with pets, and new brain imaging technologies are helping us begin to understand the neurobiological basis of the relationship, which is exciting.” <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141003214344.htm>.
Massachusetts General Hospital. “Neurobiological basis of human-pet relationship: Mothers’ brains respond differently to images of their child and their dog.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 October 2014. PLOS ONE ]