My Dog, My Therapy

April 26, 2017 | We Care | Story by Zoraida Pastor

Can your dog be a therapy? Research suggests having a pet helps you live a longer, healthier life.

During the past few decades scientists have found many health benefits to owning a pet. Recently, they have been able to pinpoint just where and how: Dog owners, tend to be slimmer than their non-pet owning counterparts. Pets encourage us to be more active. They even ward of depression because they increase oxytocin and a serotonin levels in the brain.

I can attest that dogs definitely shake-off depression.

Leyla is my Jack Russel Mix. She came to live with my family about six or so years ago. She was given to my mother by her co-worker, who could no longer keep her. It was supposed to be a trial run, Leyla was only visiting for the week. It has been over six years and she has nestled a home for herself in my heart.

Leyla is the hub of the house. Whenever my mother and I check in on each other our first question is “how is Leyla?” She is the first to greet you when you get home, always happy to see you.

When she came to my house I did not want another dog. I had just cremated my first love, my Lukas, my black and white shih-tzu that I rescued from an abusive home. He was my healer. He restored my heart after a difficult break-up.

Lukas’s story begins in a puppy mill. After which he was sent to a pet shop and bought by his previous owners. He was left in a crate all day, often times soiling himself and then getting hit by his people. Then his people no longer wanted the responsibility of a dog. Lukas was then passed on to me through my cousin.

He was a rambunctious, energetic little dog, who chewed the furniture, and scratched the doors. I often had to take him for runs just to get him tired. Taking care of him was the therapy, and the project I so needed to get over my slump.

“Taking care of him was the therapy, and the project I so needed to get over my slump.”

Lukas had a weakness: Cats. While I was at work, he got away from his caregiver, and in an instant he ran after a cat who crossed a busy street, and he was killed. I was devastated, broken, after his death. Nothing could be done to save him-he died upon impact.

Once again, I was re-living a difficult situation. My home, now silent, devoid of his barking, stood as a constant reminder of the loss I was experiencing. I was barely functioning, going to work and back home to mourn for him.

My mother came to my aid. She was quietly searching for a healer; of course that healer was another dog. It just so happens that Leyla was soon to be homeless. To my surprise, her owner dropped her off for a visit for just “a couple days”.

Those couple of days were interesting to say the least. She likes attention. And, I in my grief, had hardened and did not want to pet her or be near her. I never mistreated her, but I never gave any of the attention she wanted.

She was not to be ignored. She would stand up on her hind legs, with her talons and scratch my arm and force me to pet her. If she wanted to be carried, she would jump up often missing, but her efforts were rewarded. She would then receive the attention she wanted. She still does that to all who visit.

That is how she became my friend. She healed me after Lukas’s death. Leyla taught me that death and loss are part of life. After all, she too had lost her home and was taken to a strange place where her future was uncertain. Yet, she remained herself: happy, trusting, and open. She never cried for her old home. If she misses her old owners, I am not aware of it. My life of going home and straight to bed changed. I was responsible for her. Slowly, she made me aware of that, never letting me forget my duties. Whenever I am feeling low, sad, angry, confused, I pet her soft body. She lets me stand still for a moment. Without speaking, she answers the questions I cannot voice.

It is no doubt uncanny that the science has caught on to a well-kept secret: our pets are key to our mental health and well-being. They can heal us, and keep us healthy in mind and body.

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If you enjoyed this post, you should read “Rescue Spotlight: Poppy-Lola” here.

Has your pup helped you heal? Share your story or comments!

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