I just heard that stressed-out law students at Yale and a few other universities can now check out a therapy dog from the library, just like (but not for as long as) they check out books. At the end of my \”wellness\” visit last week, my doctor–who thinks I\’m his star CFS patient–learned that I have three dogs. \”That\’s why you\’re doing so well!\” he exclaimed, beaming. I could tell that he is up to date on all the research on dogs as psychotherapists, exercise coaches, and all-around guardian angels. The general consensus these days seems to be that, whatever your problem, a dog can do you good.
I\’m not so sure about that. To tell the truth, my three dogs add a lot of stress to my life. Lexi is getting old. She needs regular appointments for chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture, as well as daily aspirins and acid reducers. She doesn\’t like being brushed, and since she has a ton of cloud-like, fuzzy hair, she needs to be brushed a lot. She won\’t hear of my clipping her nails, so I have to file them, which takes forever. She has developed selective hearing loss, so I can never tell, when she\’s slow to obey, whether she hasn\’t heard me or is just resisting. And, despite the substantial amount of money I have spent on anti-coprophagia remedies, she continues devotedly to eat poop.
Wolfie is in his prime. He needs exercise; he needs mental challenges; he needs discipline. He needs good food–all three dogs do–which I have to drive thirty minutes to get (nobody buys dog food in the grocery store anymore). He still hopes that Lexi will play with him the way she did when he was a pup, so I have to watch carefully, when I take them for walks, that he doesn\’t body-slam her and knock her over. He has a lot of cloud-like, fuzzy hair as well, so needs frequent brushing, but at least he lets me use the clipper on his nails. His teeth are enormous, so I brush them almost as frequently as I brush mine, to keep them white. I brush Lexi\’s and Bisou\’s teeth too.
The Red Baroness, Bisou, needs to run a lot, which means that these days she comes in from outdoors transformed into a mud mop, which requires endless drying with towels. She also needs sustained, physical human contact, which means that I don\’t like to leave her alone for long. For a lap dog, she\’s rather well behaved, but tends to err on the side of enthusiasm, jumping up before I can stop her and moaning and crooning and yodeling when she has to wait to go outside or to get her food. She would benefit from another course of obedience or agility instruction. I feel guilty about not doing this.
In the morning, the instant I take my first conscious breath, the dogs are on me to let them out, let them in, give them water, give them food. In my house, at any given time there\’s one dog who wants to sit on my lap, one who wants to go outside, and one who is lying down right where I need to put my foot. During the day, the minute I close a book, all three dogs rush to the back door. The minute I log off my laptop, they rush to the back door. The minute the end titles come on after a movie at night, they\’re off to the back door, squealing and scrabbling, to be let out just one more time.
So what do I get out of this–buckets of unconditional, single-minded devotion? My dogs have never met a human being they didn\’t love unconditionally, especially the two shepherds, despite the breed\’s reputation of being one-man dogs. Do my three dogs relax and de-stress me? No more than three children under the age of ten relax and de-stress a parent. Do they bring me into closer contact with Nature? Yes, but I\’d much rather take my morning walk in the yard without a pooper scooper and a bucket.
The day before we leave on a trip, I put the three dogs in the car and take them to their B&B, which they love better than anything in the world. That entire evening at home I have nobody watching me, keeping track of my breathing, sending me mute entreaties, shifting to piteous moans when those fail. I bask in the absence of my dogs, and, for a change, experience true relaxation.
But I think about them every minute, until they come back home.