Well-Being//

Getting a Dog Taught Me the Power of Love

What I learned from my first dog is still true: Love is a medicine.

By Eo naya/ Shutterstock
By Eo naya/ Shutterstock

I took a walk one morning with my now long-gone dog, Corby. Although I like to take walks anyway, I was particularly zealous about walking on this particular day, because I’d just read an article about how it is good for your heart to walk briskly, and keep your heart rate up. So off we went, nearly race-walking through the neighborhood.

Just as I felt my heart revving up to aerobic intensity, we turned down a side street, where a young woman dressed in conflicting shades of purple (t-shirt, jacket, and skirt) approached and said hello. She reached down to pet Corby, so I had no choice but to pause briefly. I noticed that my heart was still beating quickly, so if we didn’t stop for too long, it wouldn’t return to resting rate, and I’d continue to reap the heart-healthy benefits of the walk.

“What kind of dog is he?” she asked. And then she wanted to know how old he was, and did he howl the way most beagles do, and with each question I grew more impatient to get back to our walk.

Then she began to tell me about her own dog, and I feared my ambitious plans for cardiac rehabilitation were spoiled.

She’d adopted a “Dixie dog,” she explained, and brought it home just before that year’s tornadoes. The dog was in terrible shape when he arrived, she said, but after nearly a year of care he’d just come home from the vet with a clean bill of health.

I was barely listening. I was eager to keep walking.

“It’s amazing how they respond to love,” she said.

I could feel my heart rate slowing down to normal.

“Every day we’d just show him love, and every day he’d get better and better.”

I remembered, then, a dog I once brought home. I’d gone to the animal shelter to accompany a friend, and had no intention of adopting a pet myself — especially not the scraggly creature with a hernia on his belly and a defeated look in his eyes as he looked up at me. I was in my early 20s, around the same age as the young woman in purple. I had never had a dog before, and didn’t know the first thing about caring for one. But I immediately fell in love with that battered little dog and took him home. Just a little bit of love and attention was all it took to transform that scared creature into a happy, healthy, adorable dog.

“Every day, I come home and see my dog, and it just makes me happy,” the girl in purple was saying.

I remembered now the lesson I learned, more than 20 years ago, when I adopted my first dog: that love could heal anything.

But then life got complicated. The losses began to mount, and nothing seemed so simple anymore. I looked down at Corby, who I was sharing custody of with my ex. He stared up at me as if to say, “Case in point.”

“It’s a miracle, isn’t it?” the young woman in purple was asking.

“It is,” I said. And I realized that despite the heartbreak over the recent breakup that had led me to shared custody of Corby, the lessons learned from bonding with my first dog were still true: Love is simple, good medicine. Sometimes we are made better by loving a dog. Sometimes we are made better by a dog loving us.

Finally the young woman gave Corby a parting pat on the top of his head, and we went on our way.

By now, my heart was quiet. The aerobic benefits to my walk had been lost. But no matter —  stopping to talk , and remember,  had been good for my heart. I was sure of it.

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