Monday, October 3, 2016

HEAL! – How Dogs Cure Us

Nature is in every human animal’s DNA. It made us, sustains us and comprises us, body and soul.

No matter how much we may try to control or deny it, no matter how we presume to virtualize it, no matter how we smother it in busy-ness, we can’t escape it. Wherever we live, even if it’s a place where signs of life are few, our essential belonging to Nature is hard-wired into us. And at some level, whether we realize it or not, we all deeply long to embrace it—to bring it home.

This is why human beings have dogs. (Okay, I know dogs aren’t the only animals folks keep as pets, but what can I say? I’m a dog person.)

That reminds me of a joke: Know the difference between dogs and cats? Dog looks up at its person and thinks, My gosh, he pets me, feeds me, talks to me, gives me everything I could possibly need. He must be God.

Cat looks up at its person and thinks, Well let’s see, she pets me, feeds me, talks to me, gives me everything I could possibly need…I must be God.


PHOTO: Mario Sanchez via WikiMedia
From the ancient Egyptian grain trader relying on his cats—while also deifying them—to control vermin; to the medieval lord and his falcon, or the modern hunter or rancher trying to make sense of both loving animals and slaughtering them, our domes- tication of wild animals is as old as we are.

While most of these creatures, including dogs, were originally tamed to work for us, there are, as it turns out, other reasons we’re so fond of having pets; the blurring of the line between expediency and those other less practical benefits dates back at least 12,000 years.

Here are just a few of the reasons why we cynophiles want—and need—dogs in our lives:

Companionship – No matter how perfect we might feel our connection with another human being, personal relationships are hard. We try to be good mates, but we always end up hurting and disappointing each other. We see our own shortcomings reflected in them.
     But with a dog there is no guile, no misplaced expectation. They are what they are…and they love us for exactly who we are. In fact, we see in them many of the traits we wish we possessed.

    I sometimes wonder if dogs don’t feel sorry 
    for how we’ve forfeited our own child-puppy 

A Need to Nurture – Most humans, it seems, are so independent, so self-sufficient, that we won’t admit to wanting—much less needing—anyone to take care of us. But we all need to nurture.
     Sure, we do it instinctively with children and perhaps the aged, but what about after the nest is empty once again; what about for those who no longer have—or have never had—someone to take care of? Two words: bow and wow.


Entertainment – Dogs make us laugh…and cry…and sing and dance… We just love to watch them. We people are fascinating to watch too, but dogs are way more fun. It touches more than our funny bone; it touches a place that yearns to be that spontaneous, that genuine, that free.
     And I sometimes wonder if dogs don’t enjoy watching us too—maybe just to see our reaction to them…or perhaps feel sorry for how so many of us grown-ups have forfeited our own child-puppy spontaneity.

Exercise – You’ve heard dog owners say they’re not sure who’s taking whom for the walk, right? Well it’s true. We need dogs to get us off our big fat butts and thin little screens and out of the house.
     By the way, these folks we see now and then being hauled passively around on their bikes or skateboards by the slave labor of their poor crazed, panting pups…they just don’t get it.

     We have allowed our awareness to be steeped 
     out of us by a culture that can no longer dis- 
     tinguish reality from entertainment. Dogs, 
     thank God, can still tell the difference!

Role Modeling – We find much to admire in our dogs: their generous spirits and modest needs; their unbridled enthusiasm; their obvious empathy when we’re sad or hurting; their fierce loyalty; their ability to thoroughly inhabit the simplest moment.
     And then there’s the way they handle adversity. A dog doesn’t blame anyone if it gets sick or hurt, doesn’t feel sorry for itself when it loses an eye or a leg. Hell, most wouldn’t even blame their owner for abusing them. My wife and I call this “just doing,” and often notice how it educates our own dealings with life’s hard knocks.

PHOTO: John Hurd via WikiMedia Commons

Awareness – It seems more and more people are so captivated by their own mostly-inane thoughts—or, perhaps more aptly nowadays, their iPhones or iPads—that they don’t have a clue what’s really going on, often right in front of their noses…until their dogs show them.
     We humans have rather easily allowed our awareness, our attention spans, to be steeped out of us by a culture that can no longer distinguish reality from entertainment. Dogs, thank God, can still tell the difference! 

Social Lubrication – When it comes to ways of meeting and interacting with other human beings, we’ve all heard the tried-and-true tricks: sign up for a community ed. class; volunteer; hang out in the produce aisle at the supermarket and ask folks how to tell when a cantaloupe is ripe.
     But the best way, hands down, whether you’re a young single person prospecting for dates, a lonely elder or just someone who loves other people, is to walk down the street or through the park with a dog—puppies are most effective. The way I figure, anyone who doesn’t love stopping to pet your dog isn’t worth meeting anyway.


Centering – I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that dogs have a spiritual presence. Like sunshine on our skin or the smell of food, the presence of dogs causes things to happen in our bodies and minds. Something opens up; a hardness inside softens and melts. The toughest character—even, they say, a hardened criminal—turns into a cooing, caressing softie.

Have you ever seen the face of a hospitalized child or a dementia patient light up when that sweet chord of connection with a dog is struck? What is this chemistry, and why is it so powerful that I feel it change me even when I just look at a picture of a dog?

Healing – Pet dogs don’t just take us outdoors, don’t just show us how to be healthy and whole; they impart genuine healing energy to our bodies and spirits. Scientific studies have shown, for example, that petting a dog lowers people’s heart rates and blood pressures.
Therapy dogs provided through a number of treatment programs—for Alzheimers, autism, PTSD, hospice, and many others—are well recognized for providing obvious, measurable healing.

So how do dogs—yours, or perhaps those you only covet—make you feel? 
What do you most admire about them? How do they make your life better? How have they changed you?

We fellow, fawning cynophiles out here would love to hear from you!!


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