Dogs: A give & take

            Sprinting across a field, happy as can be, dropping a ball at your feet, itching to play, automatically wagging its tail at the sight of you.  This is what comes to mind when people think about dogs, but they’re much more than that.

            Owning a dog can be extremely beneficial.  It can be a loyal and loving companion that will always be by its owner’s side.  It can also be a protector, a service animal for the disabled, or a hunting companion.  However, an underrated area where a dog can be highly beneficial is mental health.

            Struggling with depression, anxiety, or stress is commonplace for people these days.  That’s why having someone there for you can be important, even if it’s a furry friend.

            I remember back in high school when I was feeling overwhelmed.  Bad grades, approaching deadlines and family tragedies were all beginning to take a toll on my mental health.  However, amidst the storm of melancholy, one thing kept pushing me forward – my dog, Max.

            I knew that he depended on me and that I was responsible for his well-being, and this was enough to give me purpose.  As I spent more time with him, I started to feel the pressure evaporate from my shoulders, like water on a hot Arizona day.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he was the reason I started venturing out into the world again.  He was a lifeboat on the grueling sea that was my mind.

Max was a German Shepherd mix who was as cunning as he was big.  A serious look was always plastered on his face, so strangers assumed that he was mean.  But those who knew him knew that he was a loveable goofball.  He was a wondering spirit who didn’t particularly like that we tried to keep him inside our fence.  Any moment he had alone, he would snoop around the perimeter of the fence, looking for any gap or crevice that he could use for his escape.

He would occasionally get out but would return in an hour or two – that is, if I hadn’t already gone after him. There were improvements I could’ve made to the fence, but for some reason I didn’t make them.  Maybe it was too much work, or it would take too much time, I’m not sure. What I do know is how guilty I felt the day that Max never came back.  I looked for him for hours, desperately yelling his name out through my neighborhood and into the desert but to no avail.

A dog is loving, intelligent and loyal, and owning one can be among the most wonderful experiences a person can have.  However, I’ve learned that we can’t just take;  we must give back everything they give to us.  That way we can build a truly great relationship with our canine companions and give them the life that they deserve – a life of happiness, safety and love.

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