More than just puppy love


  • Opinion
  • Monday, 04 Nov 2013

You’ve never known love until you’ve been licked by a dog. So take a chance, adopt a dog – you may end up finding the best in yourself.

IT was love at first sight, and she had me at “woof”. All it took was one look and I was reduced to a puddle of “aww”.

I think adopting a pet is one of the most wonderful things any animal lover can do.

But I do agree, however, that it’s not for everyone. It’s also easy to get caught up in the emotions of pet adoption. Milo came at a time when I was going through a period of fogginess – I, too, had moments where I felt I needed to be “rescued”.

In short, we both needed someone.

Just when I thought I was financially and emotionally prepared for the responsibility of caring for a dog, God decides, “Not so fast, Reena! You still have lots and lots of learning to do”.

And learn, I did. Like any other mum-to-be, I started buying supplies. I pored through articles on puppy training, watched countless YouTube videos and asked a gazillion questions.

Still, the first few days and nights with Milo were extremely trying.

I was running on little sleep and the continuous whining and pooping everywhere made me question my decision.

But I began to think maybe it’s about having a little patience – not one of my best qualities (don’t even get me started on how much I grumble when the light turns and cars don’t move).

I realised then that it just takes time for things to get into those little lemon brains.

I enjoy training Milo and helping her figure things out. Just two nights ago, my wunderkind boyfriend Gavin and I discovered that she’s afraid of red umbrellas, not green ones despite dogs being somewhat colour-blind.

Her less-than-angelic but humorous behaviour triggers an endorphin rush. Most of all, I love how she trusts me with her personal well-being – and I am learning to trust her with mine. There’s calm in her big, brown eyes and in her presence, all my worries fade and my mind magically clears.

In fact, many health experts believe pets, or companion animals, can improve the health of their owners, at least in part by reducing stress. Therapists in the United States are now using “canine assistants” to comfort their patients.

“Coming to this office can be unnerving for dementia patients, but when they see a dog, it’s disarming. They feel comforted and safe,” New York neurologist Gayatri Devi, who takes her dogs Lola and Wolfie along with her to the office, told the Wall Street Journal.

Co-founder of Therapy Dogs Singapore Charlie Ho told the Straits Times Interactive that “dogs can do much more than us to help”.

He cited a study conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2006 which proved visits by dogs to be more beneficial to heart failure patients than visits by humans alone.

In that study, patients who were visited by a dog and human showed a 17% drop in epinephrine, a hormone produced by the body when stressed, after a 12-minute visit.

Those visited by a person alone showed only a 2% drop in epinephrine levels after the 12 minutes.

At the Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, a study of some 6,000 patients showed that those with pets had lower blood pressure and a lower cholesterol level.

Another study conducted by a Japanese Animal Hospital Association involving participants over the age of 65 found that pet owners made 30% fewer visits to doctors that those who had no pets. Says a lot, doesn’t it?

And that’s not all. Some prisons actually encourage inmates to keep pet dogs.

Progressive prison programmes, such as Paws in Prison, give rescue dogs and prisoners at the Arkansas Department of Correction in the United States a chance to change each other for the better.

The non-profit programme, which kicked off in December 2011, saves dogs in shelters from euthanisation and couples them with the prisoners, who train them to be loving, obedient and adoptable pets. The programme ultimately provides therapeutic benefits, both for the dogs and the inmates.

There can be study upon study that proves a dog’s mere presence reduces stress and lowers cholesterol levels. But there’s no explaining why dogs are so eager to share their lives with us humans, who can sometimes be so cruel.

We’ve all heard horror stories of animal abuse.

Let us not forget the suffering of the helpless stray dogs at the hands of the Kajang Municipal Council dog-catchers. Call it sadism or schadenfreude, it is happening everywhere.

That is why the tabling of the Animal Welfare Bill is so important. While the authorities procrastinate on passing the Bill, thousands of animals continue to suffer.

But in the meantime, animal abusers, could you maybe pick on someone your own size?

A few months ago, I was a different person and none of this would have concerned me much.

But something close to miraculous happened after Milo. Something has changed within me.

Thank you, darling girl, for being all kinds of awesome.

Twenty-something sub-editor Reena Nathan has learned to wear her scars from nips and scratches with pride. She can be reached at reena.n@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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