Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The healing powers of dogs

Yesterday, I came into the house and, as usual, my dog, Maddie, ran over to greet me, her tail wagging as she circled to be petted over and over again.

I got down on the floor and gave her a big hug. Getting down on the floor, and getting up, is not so easy, but that's what I wanted to do. I held her there, feeling the warmth of her body and the beat of her heart. It was better than taking an Ativan. She likes to cuddle on the couch and rest her head on your leg, but she's not big on getting a bear-hug (dog-hug?) on the floor. Still, she stood patiently for a bit but then dashed out of my embrace. She went into her perfect downward dog, then ran off and brought me a toy. We played tug-of-war and she ran around and around the dining room table. Made me laugh. So I got two doses of medicine.

With the healing powers of dogness on my mind, I sat down at my computer to check on the blogs that I follow and saw that New York Times editor Dana Jennings, who writes on the Well blog about his fight against an aggressive form of prostate cancer, had just posted about the ways in which the family dog has helped him. In a post titled "Finding My Inner Dog Through Cancer," he writes that their 12-year-old miniature poodle, Bijou, has been a canine Zen master, teaching him to understand his "inner dog," napping in the sun whenever possible and not keeping his feelings buried inside.

And, echoing the thoughts that I had just been having, he writes, "So often, we — dogs and humans — just need to be near each other. We need the presence of another heartbeat, the inhale and exhale of another soul. Dogs understand the healing power of having your skull kneaded, and constantly raise their heads toward our hands, the way plants turn toward the sun."

In an earlier post, he wrote about how Bijou helped teach him how to live in the present, appreciating the simple pleasures of daily life.

Maddie, my two-and-a-half-year-old chocolate labrador retriever, has turned into a real pleasure. During her long puppyhood, I complained about her behavior, but now she's doing for me all the things Jennings writes about.

I let her off the leash when walking around the lake, where she runs into the water, dashes into the woods and comes when called. Usually I put her back on the leash when we are about three-quarters of the way around. I don't know if this was coincidence or training, but yesterday she stopped and stood at the spot where I usually leash her.

When I took my mini-vacations, she was a welcome overnight guest in the home of our friends, Jim and Jane Bloom. She runs around in the backyard with their dog, Blue, and then settles into the household routine. They are really early risers, and sometimes Jim takes a nap in the afternoon after work. Maddie gets in bed with him and rests her head on his shoulder. She stayed overnight once with our friend, Karen, and slept in the bed with her son. It's great to have a dog that people like to have in their home.

Good dog!


Anonymous said...

I am a HUGE believer in the healing power of dogs. My own pup relieves stress on a daily basis in ways nothing else could. : ) On a completely other subject, I came across this video with a really important message and wanted to share it with you. “Stand Up To Cancer”—> . This video highlights the importance of managing your cancer treatment and avoiding infection. Please watch and share with all your loved ones.

Best of wishes.

Anonymous said...

I believe my dog "Kimo" really got me through the transplant. He lived in a hotel room with us in Seattle for four months! He sat with me during my GVHD diarrhea days on the couch. We just adopted another Golden and am calling him "Hutch" (as in Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center" and he too has brought so much joy in the 5 short weeks he has lived with us.

I strongly suggested you read Dean Koontz's memoir about his dog "Trixie" and the insight(s) it has brought him and his wife. It is called "A Big Little Life". Amazing.

Susan C said...

My dog Betty has definitely been in tune with me during illness.

And I'd also like to give a shout out to my cats, whose purring always restores serenity now.

(Of course, when Puss insists on disconnecting my laptop's adapter, you better believe that I'm NOT purring.)

pam said...

Dearest Ronni,

Funny you should write this piece now, for i have been thinking strongly of my ever-since-childhood tie to the Dog...

As Emily Dickinson wrote, "they are better than beings for they know but do not tell..."

As you know, my dog has been recovering from knee surgery, and is doing physical therapy -- water tread mill, etc. twice a week...he is becoming an athlete, like Maddie...

This time we spent recovering has been so healing -- and my dog and cats saw me through, as you know, when i was recovering from cancer...


The Dog is ever healing, and affirmative in the frolic of Life...of joy and laughter,
and our tie to Aeturne...

pam said...

Hello, again, Ronni,

forgot to mention that i saw Bill and your Aunt Marge and Jean Tuesday night, dining outside at Bucky's, and the first thing Bill said was "where's your dog?"

Well, i was on my way to get him, and to bring him back to say hello to them -- bien cur!

i consider this a fine dog-omen,

xo doggerpam

PJ said...

Great post, Ronnie! Our dog is great company. Even when he's sleeping (he's a young 12), it's comforting to hear that snore.

Susan said...

It was good to meet you and Maddie on the lake path the other day, Ronni. (I meant to tell you that I met Mary Margaret and her mistress at about the same spot a few weeks earlier.) I hope we'll walk sometime.

Always with admiration and good wishes,

Nelle said...

My dog is a great comfort to me when I am not feeling well but he is an avid barker. We live in a development on tiny lots and we hear what the neighbors (and their pets are doing outside). He jumps up barking frequently and at times it gets frustrating. He is well behaved and quiet when we take him visiting thankfully but gets carsick so we rarely do.

pam said...

Dearest Ronni,

so glad that my healer and i got to see you briefly the other night...

Happy New Year!

Dennis Pyritz, RN said...

I am working on a new project that I am very excited about. I am writing a book about the cancer blogging phenomenon - its scope, aspirations, and reasons for being. I plan to highlight some of the best writing from our blogging community.
As I have previously published your writing in my weekly Guest Post feature at Being cancer, networking people transformed by cancer, I am hoping to get your preliminary permission to use some of your material in the book. I will, of course, give full credit as well as link information. I would also like to arrange for all contributors to receive complimentary copies.
I have not yet secured a publishing contract. But I want to get started compiling some chapters prior to submitting my proposal to a publisher. So if this sounds like something you might be interested in being a part of, please contact me by email. I will be able to tell you the specific posts I am interested in. Please include off-blog contact information.

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN