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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