Don’t give up: The puppy version

If you’ve read my blog for a few months, you may remember how much I love dogs.

Molly

The above is Molly, who my then-fiance and I adopted in July 2009. She was with us before marriage, kids, numerous jobs, two published books and ten elections. Unfortunately, we lost Molly in April to cancer. It was, thankfully, very sudden, and very quick. She didn’t suffer.

At the time, I wrote about how heartbreaking it was, and how much pain we were all in. I also said that yes, we’d get a dog again, because we loved them and it was worth all the joy they brought.

Fast forward to July, and enter Mack:

Mack.jpg

Mack was a two year old rescue from the Lehigh County Humane Society, a wonderful place where we got our Molly. He was a stray and very good…with adults. With kids, we struggled. Most of the time he was fine. On occasion, he was not, and there were a few incidents of him being more aggressive than he should have been (with, which a dog and kids, is any aggression at all). While he never bit the kids, he came too close with snapping. That, combined with the way he was with other dogs, forced us to end our fostering and return him to the shelter.

We were really broken up about it. He had issues, but the vast majority of the time, he was just a big marshmallow. I was very sad, because he was “my” dog – we totally bonded.

That being said, the house was empty.

Bren and I spoke and nothing seemed right. Now that we felt as if we had moved on from our grieving period with Molly, the house was empty. There was no one to take on walks. No four-legged friend to cuddle with. No water dish to keep filled.

So, back to the drawing board. We looked up a few rescue organizations and planned on spending the weekend checking out the dogs. We get to the first appointment, and…well…..

Meet the puppy called Luna, at least for now.

Why, on a depression blog, am I writing about dead doggos, failed-failed-foster dogggos, and new doggos?

Well, more or less to prove a point.

Losing Molly was, truly, one of the most grief-inducing experiences of my life. It really was. I suppose I should count my blessings at that statement, in a way, but losing Molly was so painful. I didn’t realize just how much I loved her until she was gone. And then losing Mack, even though returning him was unquestionably the right call, compounded the sense of loss and added a sprinkling of failure. I did like that dog – a lot – and I felt terrible to return a dog which was wonderful and trustworthy most of the time. But most of the time isn’t enough when it comes to a big dog and kids.

Here’s my point: We tried again. And we tried again. And we kept trying. And now, because we refuse to give up, we’ve got a really nice puppy. Luna is snuggly and sweet and I can’t imagine caring about a new doggo more. The metaphor here is obvious. Don’t give up.

Feeling sad? Maybe get a puppy or a kitten

Alright, alright, I know that my entry earlier in the week was a bit of a bummer. Well, let me qualify that: It could be a bummer on the surface, since it was about my recently deceased dog. But if you look beyond just the words I wrote, you’ll see that the overarching theme of the entry was more than just sadness. I’m obviously heartbroken that Molly is gone, but the point of my entry wasn’t just how sad it was: It was how much joy the dog gave us for ten wonderful years.

Obviously, I’m not the only one who felt that way about their pet, and there’s real science there.

The Anxiety & Depression Association of America calls it “The Pet Effect”:

 It’s also no surprise that 98% of pet owners consider their pet to be a member of the family. Not only are people happier in the presence of animals, they’re also healthier. In a survey of pet owners, 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership, and 75% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved from pet ownership.

And let’s be clear here – the benefits of pet ownership go beyond one survey and beyond the notion of just feeling good. According to a meta-analysis of 17 studies, pet ownership was associated with major mental health improvements. According to the meta-analysis itself, 15 of the 17 studies reported positive mental health benefits of pet ownership (though 9 actually also reported negative benefits as well).

The study then broke the benefits of pet ownership into broader themes. These included:

  • Providing comfort, emotional support and companionship, as well as mitigating worry and stress. This was particularly true for veterans suffering from PTSD. Pets also provide a role as companions and comforters and were perceived by humans to be replacement family members, and friends capable of listening without judgement.
  • Encouraging physical activity and distracting someone from their negative symptoms. One study went as far as finding that people with pets were more likely to get out of their house for mental health care than those who didn’t have pets. Furthermore, the distraction of a pet was found to help alleviate ruminative symptoms by encouraging humans to stay more in the present.
  • Encouragement of social interaction. Pets encouraged humans to interact more with others and better integrate their humans to the community.
  • Pets provide their humans with a sense of self worth and identity. For many, a pet is another reason to live – its something that you love and care for, and becomes a positive part of who you are.

Pets can create negative symptoms too, of course. They are financial costs (potentially significant ones – also, again, GET PET INSURANCE) and may create a burden in terms of housing.

So, if you’re down, should you get a pet? Well, yeah, maybe. It’s not a cure all. Nothing is a cure all. But if you are ready for the responsibility (and it is a major responsibility, trust me), having a two or four legged companion may ease your suffering and give you joy and love.