CHANNEL YOUR “INNER DOG” TO HELP A FRIEND IN NEED
By Sue Nielsen, MD
In 2017, an estimated 11 million U.S. adults aged 18 or older had at least one major depressive episode. Of adults with a major depressive episode, 63.8% had severe impairment. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. In 2017, over 47.000 people died from suicide with 129 completed suicides a day. Staggeringly sad statistics. We don’t have hard statistics, but any dog owner knows in their heart, a dog is prevention, treatment, and wonderful medicine for depression.
Dogs have an innate skill in dealing with our human emotional needs. We could learn from their loving example. My own Long-Haired Chihuahua, Rico, is better in supporting me in my depression than any friend or family member. My dog is not alone in this skill. If you get on the internet, similar stories of a beloved dog saving their loved one’s life with just a touch, a look, or in even more drastic ways as detailed below.
Byron Taylor’s life may have been saved by his dog, Geo. After a painful break-up with his partner, he was depressed to the point of suicide. He created a noose from a piece of rope and then went downstairs to write a suicide note to his family. When he returned, Geo had taken the rope and would not give it back. He growled and tore the noose to shreds. Byron didn’t commit suicide.
A pit bull puppy named Cheyenne saved Air Force veteran, Dave Sharpe. The vet survived two near-death experiences serving in the military and came back suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). One especially bad day, Dave reported Cheyenne came up behind him, licked his ear, and gave him the all too familiar look, ‘What are you doing man, who’s going to let me sleep in your bed? Listen, if you take care of me, I’ll take care of you.'”
If you remember when I first wrote for SarasotaDog, I wrote an article called, “Who rescued whom?” At that time, I had Rico for just a few years. He had supported me through a divorce, a personal tragedy and several difficult life events.
Little did I know how important he would be in actually saving my life. I have suffered with recurrent depression my entire life, it comes and goes, but suicidal thoughts can creep in. However, in the past, when I have even toyed with a suicidal plan, Rico finds a way to get on my lap and looks at me directly with those large beautiful brown eyes, and I swear I can hear him say telepathically, “You can’t do that. Who will take care of me? I need you. We have been together for as long as I can remember, I don’t want to live without YOU. Please don’t leave me.” I cry now detailing the effect he has on me. He has kept me from throwing in the towel on life. I’m not alone in this experience.
What is the power of dogs?
- Dogs offer physical touch – they love to cuddle – stroking a dog is calming for people suffering anxiety or panic attacks and can improve mood and lower blood pressure.
- Dogs give unconditional love – they don’t have their own agendas and don’t give advice. We were often not treated with unconditional love as children, dogs give us the emotional vibrational resonance we all so desperately need. They provide a silent witness to our sadness and grief, and that’s extremely comforting.
- Dogs live in the present moment – not in the past or the future. Joy is living in the present moment, not ruminating about past difficulties or future challenges. When playing with a dog, you are enjoying the presence of a joyful soul…. It’s contagious.
- Caring for a dog is great for self-esteem and the responsibility is hugely rewarding – A dog needs activity and the health benefits of exercising in nature are particularly beneficial. This is exactly what a depressed person needs to get themselves out of bed or off the couch. Exercise reduces the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
We could take our cue from how dogs behave around people who are struggling. They don’t stop us from crying, they don’t tell us to “get over it”, they exist with us in our pain, sharing it with us. They don’t actively try to make us feel better with distractions; they help us feel our pain to get over our pain. The only way over it is through it.
I thank Rico every day for being my saving grace in life. I’m working harder to become more DOG-like. As a good friend of mine pointed out to me not long ago, DOG spelled backwards is GOD. I’m not necessarily talking about the Christian or any other theological GOD, but the Spirit Source that is present every day for us upon which to draw strength.
***Maybe next time a you find a close friend or family member in need, think before you speak and channel your inner DOG***
Definition of depression – A period of at least two weeks when a person experienced a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, and had a majority of specified symptoms, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, or self-worth.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255 – Available 24 hours every day
For a contemporary take on the human-canine bond and how dogs can keep your feet rooted in the present moment, you might like to check out Afterlife on Netflix with long-time animal advocate Ricky Gervais.