After a couple week hiatus, the holiday season and a new year, I’m back with a new blog post. I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays – I know an abundance of family and friend time can be more stressful than it is enjoyable for some. As for me, I just came back from a long weekend up in Collingwood, ON with my family and my 3.5 month-old dog, Comet (the star of this blog post).

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Dogs have been a constant in my life; my parents got a dog before they had children, and have had at least one dog in their household ever since. It wasn’t until my first day of Frosh Week at the University of Guelph that I realized both how freeing and how lonely life can be without a furry, four-legged, creature. While I was no longer responsible to walk (especially in the dead of winter), feed, train, and play with one, I also missed the constant affection and planned-exercise that inherently exists with a dog. But, alas, I did get used to my freedom.

It took 11 years, 8 apartments, 4 cities, 4 jobs, a mental health diagnosis and a fantastic boyfriend before I felt established and ready to own my own dog. I could spend the rest of this blog telling you all how awesome my dog is (he really is), but what I really want to demonstrate are some of the powerful mental and physical benefits of owning a dog (or any animal, really), and the impact that it’s had on me as a mental health patient. Comet offers me:

1. Unconditional Love: I never worry about hurting his feelings or receiving unsolicited advice from him
2. A Sense of Responsibility: Sometimes, taking care of myself is hard enough. But taking care of Comet often reminds me that I’m capable. And, it gets me out of bed every morning. Comet’s need to pee is not abated by anything…not even my lack of desire to leave my bed
3. Routine: Having a daily schedule helps me. Comet’s routine — waking me up in the morning, demanding food or walks throughout the day — helps me stay on track
4. Social interaction: I’m pretty sociable; I’ve got lots of friends and a large, close, family. But thanks to depression, there are many days when talking and interacting seem like a huge hurdle. On those days Comet is a natural icebreaker, who, while at the vet or on walks, can push/force me to interact with other dog owners and gives me an easy conversation topic to discuss even among family and friends
5. Activity: While in his puppy stages, Comet needs a lot of exercise. 5 walks a day is the bare minimum. For me, this means that even if I split walks with my partner, I am leaving the apartment at least twice a day and I’m out until Comet is ready to retire back indoors

Even during the days that I struggle most, the one constant in my life is Comet. He never talks back, he’s always fluffy, and at his best he is usually attuned to my behaviour and emotions. Yes, he’s a lot of work. Owning a dog is not for everyone – the responsibility and the cost can sometimes place more undue burdens on already-stressed individuals – but for me, it’s been amazing. Comet is my go-to guy for talking, sharing, and exercising. His love and patience are limitless. His judgement is undiscerning, and his constant training progress allows me to feel capable and accomplished on days when those sentiments barely peek through.

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