Ever wonder why you’re such an empathetic, caring, confident person with relatively few allergies? If you grew up with a dog at your side, you can give a lot of the credit to the bond you formed with your family pooch.
According to scientific research in the last two decades, dogs bring huge benefits to children, and the benefits — unlike the dogs themselves, alas — follow them into adulthood. In addition to the above-mentioned advantages of being raised with a dog, dogs can also make for kids (and eventually, adults) who are calmer, happier, more responsible, kinder, more attentive, and good at regulating stress.
Having been raised with dogs myself, I can attest to this at least some of these qualities that come from the dog-child bond. My dogs helped make me who I am today — mostly for the better, but not always. (My housekeeping style sometimes follows that of my happy-go-lucky dogs. Muddy paws? No problem. Dishes piling up? Oh well, there’s life to be lived first!)
Here I am with my brother, Dan, and the first dog I ever loved. We’d just moved from New York City to rural Maine, and this big fella, Mac, came traipsing onto our porch. Turned out he lived about a half mile away and was greatly loved by his family, but back then, dogs around there were explorers. Mac was a regular visitor, even after we got our own dogs. He showed me the unlimited patience dogs have, and also the perseverence. Mac would stop at nothing to mooch a hot dog or two from us, and always with a smile.
Mac also helped me learn about the horrors some dogs endure. Before our neighbors took him in, someone had tried to shoot him. The bullet wound was always visible atop his head. His brush with cruel death never soured him on people.
When my daughter came along 15 years ago, I knew dogs were going to be a huge part of her life; My husband and I already had a couple of dogs, and I was writing about dogs on a regular basis. I figured they’d all better be friends pretty fast, so when we walked into the house with baby Laura for the first time, we immediately let the dogs sniff her and get familiar with the new critter. She was nonplussed, and rather mesmerized. They got their fill of baby scent and went back to sleep.
Dogs have been Laura’s furry “siblings” ever since. In this photo, our 13-year-old Springer Spaniel, Nisha, was teaching a very young Laura how to eat cantaloupe. Truth be told, I caught her powering down a melon not long ago sans spoon. The lessons of dogs seem to stick better than the lessons from mom sometimes.
Here are some other lessons learned from dogs, at least in this household. I wonder how they compare with your experiences?
Always be willing to give a friend a hug.
Joe was Laura’s kindred spirit, with curly brown hair and a love for affection and all things beach-related. Joe was feeling his arthritis in this photo, and Laura wanted to make him feel better — even if he preferred to just stop and smell the gulls.
If you don’t get out there and look a little silly sometimes, things can get too serious.
Be inspired by what you love.
Besides dogs, Laura loved (and still loves) painting. The dogs in her home and neighborhood inspired many paintings. They always starred Joe. (He’s the one with the letter A in this photo.)
Celebrate life, even when faced with death.
When Joe died, Laura was 6. She had tended to the drains the veterinarian had to implant, because she wanted to help him. Every night she’d make sure the hot compresses kept them open so he could feel better. (I’m eternally grateful, because I am squeamish about this sort of thing, as is my husband.)
When Joe died, and we got back his ashes, she hugged them as if they were him. We sprinkled them all over his favorite spots in San Francisco, and borrowed a friend’s dog to help ease the loss. “It’s like a party for Joe’s life,” she said. Exactly.
During hard times, reach out to others.
When we dropped off Joe at the crematorium, none of us wanted to come back to a house without a dog. Within a few blocks of our house, we spotted a dog with a service-dog vest. He was clearly lost.
We brought him home, made a few phone calls, and found his owner — a teacher at a nearby middle school. When she heard about our situation, she told us we needed Old Willie more than she did that day. We brought him to her at the end of the school day, our hearts already feeling a little less empty.
Make time for relaxing at home with those you love.
Sure it’s easy to always be on the go these days, but it’s essential to make time to recharge your batteries.
Dogs are a universal language. Speak fluently.
Anywhere you go in the world, you’ll find dogs. They may not be treated as you may like, but being around dogs can lend a sense of comfort and ease no matter where you find yourself. (And if you can do something to help dogs in need if you’re somewhere where they’re not treated well, all the better.)
When Laura has gotten into homesick situations while away with friends, dogs were the one thing that would get her feeling better. When I travel, dogs are a major social lubricant, breaking the ice immediately.
All photos by Maria Goodavage