Did you ever get the feeling that your dog knows much more than you could ever know about love and the secret to living well? Our contributor, Stephanie McCracken does. With “The Love of Dog, an Ode to Pavlov,” Stephanie shares her thoughts about our canine companions and how they have much to teach us about wellness, love and life.
In Good Health,
Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC
“For the Love of Dog, an Ode to Pavlov,” by Stephanie McCracken
I will never forget that serendipitous moment when our eyes first met. Looking back I can admit that I was there because I was unwittingly on a quest for something. What I mean to say is that a person only steps inside a dim and dank place is because they are searching for an object of obscure desire. Often they aren’t even aware of the many meanings that will be gleaned from that moment.
I remember peering through the steely metal that may have separated us physically, but could not disengage us emotionally. He was self-possessed with stoic resolve, but there was a fiery intensity moving, burning in his gaze. I was transfixed. I was melting; my heart skipped a beat as it felt as though he was peering into the very depths of my soul. His large dark eyes, pools of unconditional love, grew grander as I gazed upon him. I felt my pulse quicken and my blood course rapidly inside of me.
I suddenly realized that this was the feeling for which I had always been waiting. I had never done anything like this before, but I was consumed with the desire to be closer with him. I yearned to be away from all of the noise and dimness of this corridor, which was punctuated by the rancid stench of urine and bleach. While these memories were made so many years ago, that first encounter still burns brightly in my memory. He was so eager to please; immediately leaping on top of me, planting a firm, moist kiss onto my face. He has been a part of my heart ever since.
These words, each solemn and heartfelt utterance is for you, my dearest and faithful companion, in the name of goodness and most certainly in your always dignified honor, Pavlov, I will always love you.
They told me not to trust him, not to take him home because he was known to have a bad temper. He was abandoned in the past due to his alleged disposition, but I have never been the one to succumb to the whispered deterrence of other’s judgments. There was something in that kiss and the warmth of his nearness. Those were the feelings that compelled me to look beyond my fears.
Sure, I too had reservations. I could sympathize with the way that cold rejection and abandonment etches bloody wounds upon the heart. Looking back, that was exactly why I was there. I had inside me a great desire to love and care, yet my own memories of painful loss prevented me from having the courage to truly and deeply share my heart with others. When I signed the adoption contract, the surly agents told me, “Good luck with that one. Tread lightly, he is nasty, and had better appreciate that you rescued him!” What I really learned over the seven years that we spent side by side was that it was always that courageous little dog, Pavlov, who had rescued me.
There are many who offer encouragement to adopt a pet from a pound and to stay away from breeders and puppy mills. While I agree with these sentiments, the focus and purpose of my words today is an examination of the ever-lasting impact that a close relationship to a pet can have on you, its owner.
Perhaps I was always destined to be an animal lover, then again what child does not squeal at the sight of squirming puppies. I recall walking past a pet store and catching site of the most adorable little fur ball of a shi-tzu. Urgently gazing up at my father, pulling on the worn denim of his jeans, I begged with childlike wonder and excitement, “daddy, daddy!!! Can I please have that puppy?” Before I even had a chance to finish my sentence, my father’s nose curled as he spit his decision forth: “No! Dogs are too much work! You have to remember to feed them and take them for walks!” His harsh utterance made it sound so very unappealing, like a grueling and vaguely incurable disease that would slowly and definitively suck the life-force from even the staunchest animal lover.
As life would have it, I later fell in love with a small but mighty Jack Russell terrier. Yes, Dad, you were right, you have to walk your dog and you must do it every single day, but he didn’t explain everything about those long strolls in the early morning. Dad didn’t impart those quiet moments while watching the sun’s first golden whispers ascend the horizon, or observing petite clouds puffing from my Jack’s little black nose when his warm breath met the cool morning air. Those walks were some of the best moments of my day!
Scientific evidence has demonstrated that dog owners tend to be healthier than the non-dog owner. Indeed, the Center for Disease Control boasts the health benefits of pet ownership by explaining that pet owners tend to have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and lower triglyceride levels, which may be related to having greater opportunities for enjoyment of exercise and other outdoor activities. Moreover, According to a 2010 study in the American Journal of Public Health, children with dogs spent more time doing moderate to vigorous physical activity than children without dogs.
Even if scientific evidence were lacking, people instinctively understand the benefits dogs have on their human counterparts. As Peanuts creator and cartoonist Charles M. Schultz once said, “Happiness is a warm puppy,” and I couldn’t agree more. Next week I will continue to explore the benefits dogs have on our well-being.