The undercover therapy dogs

I recently finished a marvelous book about depression — The Noonday Demon, by Andrew Solomon. I don’t personally struggle with depression, but I have friends and family members who do, and it was an insightful and thought-provoking perspective into this widespread and insidious illness.

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As I was reading, I was struck by a particular thing, a dog-related thing. Solomon covers the history and various treatments of depression, but he also spends a large portion of time interviewing people who struggle with depression. In the midst of many of their dark stories, I was struck by one recurring factor. Several people said that, in down times, nothing could get them out of bed — except their pets. Their family members, their spouses, their jobs, even their children were not motivating or comforting, but their dogs and cats alone provided a measure of sanity and connection with reality.

Solomon doesn’t address this at all in the book, but the fact that it kept coming up obliquely — the sole comforts of a companion animal — in these anecdotes stood out to me.

Therapy dogs, obviously, do important and specific work, for which they have been extremely well trained. But what about the rest of the dogs, the ones that live in our homes and chew up our shoes? I posit there’s a reason that humankind keeps adopting dogs as household pets, even though there’s not a lot of cold, hard rationale not to (dogs are messy, expensive, troublesome, liabilities, parasites, etc.). It’s because dogs offer us an emotional bond that we can’t find in humans. I was so struck by the repeated mention of how these normal dogs, unlicensed non-therapy dogs, helped these people with depression, in quiet, ordinary ways.

In our own home, I think about the emotional bond that I’ve developed with Pyrrha and Eden. I love them both endlessly, but I feel differently about them and about their emotional strengths. Pyrrha is my nursemaid when I’m sick or down; she is very sensitive to my moods (and on the flip side can be very weighed down by them). Eden, however, is the buoyant class clown, bringing joy and energy into every situation. They are essential members of our family, and they are doing the good work of dogs: loving people in a way that they are uniquely equipped to do.

What do you think? Do you think your dogs do any “undercover” therapy work in your home?

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8 thoughts on “The undercover therapy dogs

  1. Oh, such a perfect post for me to read. My girl, Ruthie, is like your Pyrrha. She is so sensitive. She is my official emotional support animal, but I have to be very careful with her, which took me a while to learn. She feels so much, and I have an ongoing level of depression that rises and falls, which means she and i both really need extra time to ourselves and peace during down times. She also needs other people, who are not depressed, or doggie friends to keep her spirit up.

    Also, thanks for reminding me of the book too. I read it years ago, and might like to read over it again.

    Last night we took a walk with a neighbor. I was sad and when I cried a little, Ruthie started doing funny things and right away I was laughing. I took note, stopped the tears, and laughed. Thanks to my dog! She is one awesome dose of daily medicine. Truly, she is my main therapy. Even with serious fibromyalgia pain and chronic fatigue syndrome, somehow there is a place inside me that can move me to walk her. I am grateful every single day.

  2. Animal companions helps keep us sane, imho.It seems that the world is moving faster and faster these days – every task needs to be done as quickly as possible, every day needs to be packed with productivity and leisure in suitable measures – but the time it takes to play with a dog, stroke a purring cat, snuggle with a bunny…that’s the same as it’s always been, and it’s a little island of sanity in a sea of “musts”.

  3. I completely agree with you! Tucker is actually a licensed pet therapist through Therapy Dogs International, although he is not actively working anymore. However, both he and Phoebe provide me with a great deal of therapy on a daily basis. They also come to the office with me most days, where they share that same brand of therapy with my co-workers. They are always there to snuggle or cuddle with if someone is having a bad day, and Phoebe’s silly facial expressions are always good for a laugh.

  4. I have Bipolar disorder and Kasper especially helps immensely with my illness. Not only are the pups a reason to get up in the morning (they *need* their walks), but they also help me to focus on tasks when manic (doing a little training is an obvious example, but even something so simple as getting their kibble for them) and are there to offer love when I’m low. I imagine my illness would be much more devastating without them.

  5. I love this! Norman is always the one getting the attention from others between my two. Kaya is sort of spazzy, she loves a little too hard and then checks out just as fast. But she reminds me of a combination of Pyrrha and Eden for you. She’s quietly comforting(only to me) and she is certainly the nutty class clown of the family. Both dogs are great at getting me out for some fresh air when I need it and I love nothing more than giving them a hug when I’m down:)

  6. My dogs absolutely do. My Neeko is similar to Pyyrha, while Faolan is like Eden. (Bruce is just Bruce.)

    I am very fascinated by mental health, I will have to check this book out.

  7. The more I read your posts, the more I am leaning towards adopting one soon! One good thing about them is that they’ll make you go out once at least everyday (which helps if you are sad) and you can’t say no those loving eyes!

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