My dog Frankie presses his furry back against my thigh. He wedged himself beside me deliberately, turning and turning in circles. His nose twitched as he focused on finding the perfect spot for his fifth nap of the day. I delight in his stillness. I will avoid moving for as long as possible, to prolong our contact. I pet him gently, waving my fingers through his silky fur.
I only became a dog person in the last three years. Prior to Frankie, I would peer anxiously at dogs, stiff and wary. I was bitten by a chihuahua when I was seven and I never recovered. Dogs made me nervous, everyone knew this. So, when I announced we were adopting a puppy, my friends were incredulous.
“Are you sure?”
“It’s a lot of work.”
“You need to get a crate. You need to have a dog walker. You need to train him.”
Like many modern relationships, I impetuously fell in love on-line. A woman I knew began fostering puppies, and she posted a photo of Frankie. He was three months old, only ten pounds of white fluff, with dark brown eyes and a matching button nose. His photo stopped me in my tracks. My friend offered to bring him to the house to see if we liked him. The night she came with Frankie, I sat on the living room floor. Frankie ran through the door and leapt into my arms. That was it for me.
I cannot convey the comfort I get from this dog. I press my nose against his side, because I like to sniff him. He smells like earth and grass, which makes sense because he is only 12 inches high, so he walks close to the ground, white fur drooping even closer to the dirt. I love his sounds: his groans when he stretches, his high-pitched yips when he is dreaming, the neighing sound he makes when he restrains himself from barking. I don’t often love his barking. But sometimes I do. He greets me at the end of the day with an impassioned “woo woo woo woo wo-oo!” It is always five woos, as he circles me, enraptured. “Woo woo woo woo wo-oo,” I howl in response.
I love the feel of Frankie's soft fur against my palm. I pet him, my hands running down his jawline, while he looks at me with his round brown eyes. As we do this, I can feel my heart rate slow, and the muscles relax in my stomach. Frankie is my best medicine for stress, loneliness and sadness.
Because of Frankie, I know my neighbors better. I used to know the families right around me, but I rarely saw them. Now I see them all the time, and I even know families all around the block. “Hi Frankie!” they call out when we walk by. My dog struts like a little ambassador; eager to greet everyone he sees, his little ears standing up, tail wagging in frenzy. When we encounter someone who doesn’t want to say hello, he plods away, ears and tail drooping with disappointment.
An article came out recently on the happiness levels of pet owners. 36% of dog owners considered themselves to be “very happy” and decidedly happier than cat owners (18%). 63% of dog owners sought comfort from their dog, and 93% considered their dog to be a member of their family. (You can read it here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/04/05/dog-owners-are-much-happier-than-cat-owners-survey-finds/?utm_term=.5675a4106dc0. Another piece recently came out, about a man whose dog supports his sobriety (read here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/08/opinion/alcoholics-anonymous-sobriety-dog.html). Now that I have Frankie, I have begun recommending that lonely patients consider getting a dog. Having a dog won’t make a marriage happier, or make your children behave. It will be a financial burden, and a logistical headache every time you go out longer than a few hours. But dogs get you out and about. You will meet people, stay more active, and always have a creature overjoyed to see you. You will experience unconditional love from and for your dog every day. Your dog will never consider you disappointing, irritating, or chubby. His love is as steady as your heartbeat.
In other blog posts, I have given professional advice and pearls of wisdom. I have written sensitive blogs about bullying, saying the wrong thing, and grower older. I try to offer thoughtful encouragement and interesting clinical ideas. My goal is to write a blog full of unique perspectives on resilience and what helps us get through life.
To be clear, this is not one of those blog posts. Today's message is simple; maybe you should get a dog! My dog transforms my lonely days into playful romps, my anxiety into serenity, my sadness into contentment. He performs these medical miracles every day, just being his furry self. I am indeed a much happier person now that Frankie is in our family. Maybe you should consider getting a dog too. Loving a dog is much less complicated and than loving a person. And there is nothing so sweet and pure as being loved by a dog.
Lise Deguire's multiple award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.