My Dog is an Anti-Depressant

I’d read that owning a pet can improve mood, but it surprised me how quickly adopting our dog Maggie helped alleviate my depression. I still feel anxious sometimes, but Maggie has brought a sense of security to my life that I didn’t realize was missing before.

Maggie and Kaylee

Just two days after we adopted Maggie, my seven-year-old son Zach melted down for an hour, making me late for my exercise class, then taking up my attention for the rest of the class so I didn’t get to work out at all. My four-year-old daughter Kaylee was making him more upset, and after I’d finally calmed down, she pooped so I had to change her pull-up.

Normally, I would have lost it, yelling, feeling bitter and resentful, and laying guilt trips on my kids. Instead I showed more patience and kindness than I knew I had. I came up with idea after idea to try to comfort Zach and help him regain his composure. It helped that I knew that he was tired because it was only the second day of school, and it was the first full day.

Even though I know I am loved by my friends and family, there really is something special about a dog’s love. It is so innocent and complete. Maggie has bonded the most with me, probably because I feed her and spend the most time with her, but it does feel special to be someone’s absolutely favorite person in the whole world.

I’m hopeful that Maggie will bond more with the kids. Last night she did lean against Zach’s leg while we were reading books.

It’s been especially helpful for Kaylee not to be “the baby” anymore. Zach is so easy-going, he gives Kaylee her way a lot because it’s not worth the bother, but Maggie’s walks and feeding take precedence over Kaylee demanding attention every minute. I think Kaylee also feels more grown up because she doesn’t need as much help as Maggie in some ways.

Taking care of Maggie has of course triggered my perfectionism, but it’s also given me an opportunity to practice letting go of trying to do everything “right.” Some dog owners highly recommend feeding your dog in a “Kong” or other feeding toy that makes your dog work to get their food out. It keeps them busy and mentally stimulates them.

I tried repeatedly to feed Maggie from a Kong, then felt like a failure when she showed little to no interest. Then I took her to the vet and found out that she’s missing a bunch of teeth. I remembered that when she was found, she’d been covered in foxtails, including having some in her mouth.

I imagine there are dog owners who train their dogs to be super well-behaved and to eat their environmentally-friendly organic food out of feeding toys instead of dog bowls. Maybe there are, but I don’t have to be one of them. We’ve created a home and a family with Maggie, and if there’s anything I want to celebrate, it’s that we are all great, interesting, and extraordinary, each as our imperfect selves.

How does having a pet help you cope with stress?

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2 thoughts on “My Dog is an Anti-Depressant

  1. Mara Migraineur September 2, 2014 at 10:20 am Reply

    This so sweet and lovely. I was hoping to adopt a dog when we moved to the mountains – only to find out that because of the drought, it’s a high flea season and we are already struggling with them because of the deer in our yard. I’m sure that getting a pet is much like having a child – there is no “perfect” timing, but I’m not *quite* ready yet. Soon, though. I wonder whether a dog would calm our youngest down a bit, too…hmm.

  2. Julie S. September 3, 2014 at 8:32 am Reply

    Dogs are amazing anti-depressants for sure! As are cats. All pets are awesome :)

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