Monday, March 11, 2013

The Greatest Love of All Just Might Be Your Dog

Charley kissing a neighbor lady
Out of the blue, one of my male friends at the gym asked me who I would choose to be with if I was stranded on an island and could only be with one person. 

Without hesitation, my answer was, "my dog Charley."

He gave me a puzzled look, and said, "I'll have to think about that!"

Charley is the King Charles Spaniel my wife brought home 4 years ago as a gift for our then 12-year-old granddaughter. As events unfolded, it became more and more my job to walk Charley in the morning and evenings, to feed him and to generally take care of his needs.

When Charley was a year old, just as I was getting him out of my car in front of our house, he spotted a squirrel across the street. Before I could stop him he dashed out into the traffic. I screamed "No, no!" and then there was a loud thud.

People tell me the driver stopped and got out of his car. But I have no recollection of this. I could only see Charley laying on the street. When I ran up to him I could see he was alive but seriously injured. My sole focus was to get him a pet hospital as soon as possible.

I picked Charley up and told him not to worry, I was going to take care of him. Then I yelled to my wife to please come outside and get into car. I needed her to hold him so I could drive. 

Getting into the car, she asked me, "Where are you going to take him?" 

I answered, "let's just go."

By the time we were out of the driveway I was on my cell phone to the Berkeley police asking them where the nearest dog hospital was. It turned out to only be a few blocks away. I called the hospital to let them know we were coming.

Charley had cracked ribs and nerve damage to his right front leg. After a night in the hospital where they put him in a respirator he came home. For the next few days I had to carry him outside so he could go to the bathroom. At night I slept with him on the bed in our separate bedroom as I had to give him pain medication every few hours. 

Over the course of the next few weeks I unsuccessfully tried to save his leg by taking him to a pet acupuncturist and by purchasing various, customized leg braces that never seemed to work. Eventually I lost the battle, but with three legs Charley is even more adorable and he seems to get along just fine. 

Through it all, Charley and I became bonded.

Charley was no longer my granddaughter's dog. He was my dog. Nothing was said about this but it was clearly understood and accepted.

Three years later, Charley and I are best buddies. I walked him 2-to-4 times a day and he goes everywhere with me. Because of Charley, I have met and talked to hundreds of people in our neighborhood. 

When we go to the neighborhood coffee shop where we can sit outside together, the people working in the shop take turns coming out to pet him and sometimes give him treats.

No surprise, I've gained an appreciate of what owning a dog can mean and not just for companionship and "love." 

Owning a dog has health benefits, too, particularly for older people including caregivers and those being cared for. I've created a list of these:

Health Benefits of Owning a Dog
  • Daily Exercise. When you own a dog, you have to walk the dog as well as clean, feed and play with it. And unless someone else is taking care of your dog there is no holiday from pet care. Walking the dog isn't the same as going to the gym but the regularity of it makes it very healthy.
  • Stress Reduction. The love felt by caring for a dog or any pet has a calming effect on people. 65% of seniors in a recent survey said that just touching their dogs make them feel better. 
  • Improved Heart Health. In a study of coronary disease patients who have had heart attacks, the mortality rate was reduced by one third for those who had a dog. Other studies indicate that all else being equal, dog owners have lower blood pressure.
  • Less Isolation. Your dog is your constant companion and here's a little secret: people talk to and even confide in their dogs! Dogs are not judgmental, they love you and accept you even when your are otherwise being less than pleasant. Nothing but positive feedback here. 
  • Sense of Purpose. Dogs are completely dependent upon their owners. If you don't make sure they have fresh water every day, they won't have fresh water every day. They need you and if you love your dog you will make it a priority to do all the things necessary to take good care of your dog.
  • Mood Enhancement. The unconditional love you get from your dog will help make you feel happy. At end of a trying day, your dog is there to cheer you up. 
  • Safety and security. Even little dogs (especially little dogs) bark when someone is at the door, or when someone is trying to come though a window. Your dog has a mission to protect you. 
  • Longevity. Research has found that owing a dog is the one of the strongest predictors for survival. Older people who have the responsibility for caring for a dog and in return receive love and companionship live longer. It's as simple as that. 
If you have to choose who to be with if when you are stranded on an island, you may not choose your dog. But after reading the above, I hope you understand why I answered my friend in the gym the way I did.

Upon reflection, I might feel guilty about my answer and choose my wife or one of my children or grandchildren instead, but then....maybe not.

--David Bunnell

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