To his many fans and followers, Dr. Andrew Weil — physician and author of the best-selling book Spontaneous Happiness (Little, Brown and Co., $27.99) — is a rock-star doc, the guru of integrative medicine.
But to his doting dogs, the good doctor is the grrru of integrrrative medicine — and they, the dogs, are the master practitioners! Dogs are good medicine, as every health-conscious Dogster knows; they are natural healers, and they have much to teach us about healthy living.
Not surprisingly, Weil often finds a cure for what ails him in the loving presence of his two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, the third generation of Ridgebacks he has owned. Bred to hunt in Africa, this breed thrives in a hot climate, and is especially well suited to the desert conditions of Arizona, where Weil lives.
Dogster sat and stayed awhile with Weil for a fun chat about living with dogs, and just how therapeutic the Dogster lifestyle can be.
What are Asha and Ajax’s ages?
Asha (female) is 2 and a half, Ajax (male) is 3 and a half.
What do you love about Ridgebacks, and how/when did you first become interested in this beautiful breed?
They are calm, not neurotic; strong, sensitive, protective, [and] do not bark without reason. A friend gave me a female RR puppy for my 40th birthday. I was rootless at that point, and she said the dog would help me settle. It did that and much more. That was Coca, one of my very best companions. I’ve stuck with the breed since and know it well.
In your book Spontaneous Happiness, you talk about scientifically proven ways dogs help improve human wellness. Can you recall one or two instances in which your dog(s) had a positive impact on your own physical and/or mental well-being?
I once was really sick with the flu — immobilized in bed with a high fever, muscle aches, and weakness for several days. Jambo, my previous male, lay right next to me the whole time and never moved except to eat, drink, and answer calls of nature. His attention to me gave me great comfort and helped me recover.
Does living with dogs help to redress the “nature deficit” that you discuss in the book?
Absolutely, especially since they get me outside more often than I might get out on my own.
Have you ever actually recommended that a patient get a dog?
You are an avid gardener; do your dogs respect your plantings?
Yes. I’ve taught them to stay on the paths between rows, and they do really well. They both have a strange fondness for eating cucumber leaves. I have to scold them about that, at least until the plants are big enough to not miss a few leaves.
Care to share any gardening tips for your fellow Dogsters with green thumbs?
Just reward them for staying where you want them.
Do you feed the dogs any of the veggies that you cultivate, or are they mostly carnivorous?
Yes. They like beets, sugar snap peas, and broccoli.
What did your dog(s) do that made you proud of them?
They are terrific when I have parties or dinners, even with many strangers. They behave perfectly, always drawing admiration.
What’s the outright cutest thing your dog(s) have done thus far?
Ajax actually gives hugs. If you are seated, he gets up, puts his front paws on your shoulders, and rests his head on your shoulder, his muzzle against your face — very special.
Have they ever done anything laugh-out-loud embarrassing?
On a hike in the Arizona desert with B.T., my second female (a hellion), we came across a serious birdwatcher, seated in front of a sound amplifying dish that fed into his headphones. He was in deep concentration, probably trying to identify a distant bird call. B.T. went right up and barked into the dish.
Of all the Ridgebacks you have known, is there one in particular that you cannot forget?
Coca and Jambo, now deceased. And, of course, Ajax and Asha.
You are a big proponent of healthy eating as preventive medicine. How does that apply to your dogs as well?
Over the years, I’ve changed what I feed them, as I’ve learned what’s best. I now think grain-free diets are best.
What do you feed your dogs for optimum wellness?
Grain-free dry food plus some grain-free wet food (Acana Pacifica dry, Taste of the Wild wet).
What would your dogs eat if you weren’t looking? What HAVE they eaten when you weren’t looking?
Ridgebacks are famous for countersurfing. Previous ones have swiped hunks of salmon and loaves of bread from buffet tables.
Ajax and Asha are from a different bloodline (brought over by a South African breeder), and have never taken anything not given to them. They sniff food on counters, and Ajax is intensely interested in food preparation and cooking. If left alone for a prolonged time with a pizza or wedge of cheese within reach, they would probably go for them.
In your blog, you mentioned pouring the oil from sardine cans over your dogs’ food bowls as a treat. Besides sardine oil, what foods and/or supplements do you share with your dogs?
They get salmon oil with every meal plus Prozyme (digestive enzymes) and Green Essentials (powdered herbs and flax meal).
Do the dogs sleep in bed with you?
Yes. They are great sleeping companions; [they] never crowd me or move.
Caring for my senior dogs inspired me to take better care of myself with a healthy diet and supplements. You are so incredibly knowledgeable on the subject of wellness, but I wonder, have even you been able to gain unique insight into human wellness by observing your dogs, that you might not have discovered any other way?
Observing how they heal from injuries reinforces my belief in the innate healing power of organisms, a basic principle of the integrative medicine that I teach and practice.