My husband and I had to put down our Labrator-Chow mix this morning. He did exactly what his sister did nine months ago: went out to our backyard on a cold and rainy night and just stood there, with his tail down, and wouldn’t come back in. It’s as if they both knew it was their time and wanted to die in peace. He was almost 15 years old, so we knew it was coming, but you’re never really ready for that feeling of emptiness or hollowness you feel when they leave your life. Only then do you realize how much they gave to you.
Dogs, of course, are good for depression. Both of my dogs have helped me with my moods more than I thought was capable of things that don’t speak English. In loving memory of Sonny and his sister Sara (who we lost nine months ago) here are just six ways dogs improve our mental health.
1. Dogs offer unconditional love and acceptance.
As far as we know, dogs are without opinions, critiques, and verdicts. Even if you smell like their poop, they will snuggle up next to you. In a Johns Hopkins Depression & Anxiety Bulletin, Karen Swartz, M.D. mentions a recent study where nursing home residents in St. Louis felt less lonely with some quiet time with a dog alone than a visit with both a dog and other residents.
The study enrolled 37 nursing home residents who scored high on a loneliness scale and who were interested in receiving weekly half-hour visits from dogs. Half of the residents had quiet time alone with the pooches. The other half shared the dog with other nursing home residents. Both groups said they felt less lonely after the visit, but the decrease in loneliness was much more significant among the residents that had the dogs all to themselves. In other words, at times we prefer our four-legged friends to our mouthy pals because we can divulge our innermost thoughts and not be judged.