The Most Consistent Form of Emotional Support Is Available to Everyone
Dogs make everything better.
Today’s newsletter is all about dogs, and Nom Nom (best name) has offered all readers 50% off of their dog-approved food!
My dog Busy offered a testimonial.
“Complaints about my breath have gone down, while compliments about my shiny hair have risen! Plus, I have so much energy; I went to a rave last night and danced until 5 am, even though I told my mom I was in by my 11:30 pm curfew.”
When I’m afraid, when I need succor and grounding, I turn to my dog.
The Sterns are an allergic brood. We did not grow up with animals.
As kids, my brother, sister, and I adopted some stray cats off the street (by, um, deciding they should live with us), only to discover that Kara, my older sister, is violently allergic.
Not long after, we discovered she was also allergic to dogs and horses. Dashed were my dreams of getting around town on horseback like Pippi Longstocking.
The closest to a dog I got was Ozzy, the hamster, who died under mysterious circumstances. The investigation is ongoing.
Kara, Eddie, Amanda
Fast forward to adulthood…
I always assumed I’d have a baby. I wanted a baby. But I did not want to have a baby alone, and—I learned late in the game—that timing was not on my side.
Still, despite not wanting a baby on my own, I felt compelled to scour California Cryobank for donor sperm.
Night after night, I scrolled through descriptions of sperm donors cataloged by which celebrity they resembled.
I added Idris Elba to my cart. I added Paul Rudd.
Then, in my early 40s, as I began dating someone new, I realized it might be too late to have a biological baby. Perhaps I should go to an IVF doctor.
The IVF doctor told me I had a 1% chance of getting pregnant, but with my history of panic and depression, IVF “might just do me in.” He warned against it.
When you tell someone that something might “do you in,” you have effectively decided for them.
My choice, it seemed, was to live without a baby or die trying.
Around this time, I became consumed by thoughts of getting a dog.
This was unusual. Like I said, I wasn’t an animal person. I grew into a cat allergy and was decidedly “Meh” about dogs (if not a little afraid)
Despite that, I swapped out websites, and instead of adding donor sperm to my California Cryobank cart, I began adding dogs to my Petfinder cart.
I wanted a big dog, but I’m not a big dog myself, and traveling with a pet I couldn’t carry would mean leaving my dog behind. Still, I was unenthused about having a small dog. Late one night, though, I saw this dog named “Penny.”
“Penny” in 2014
I applied for her.
Or whatever it’s called when you get chosen to be an animal’s parent.
It was not love at first sight. I wasn’t even certain I’d keep her. But over the two-week trial period, the dog I renamed Busy and I made our way toward one another, and we fell in family love.
The first month of living together, a new feeling emerged inside me. I realized that the empty ache of wanting was now fulfilled by having this new being in my life.
We played, got to know each other, and developed our own games and ways of communicating, and soon, we were so bonded that I’d miss her when I dashed to the deli on the corner.
Eight months after I adopted Busy, I got the phone call that my dear friend Maggie Estep died suddenly (also a dog person); I hung up, wailed, and fell to the floor.
Busy raced over to me, put her paw on my arm, and then sat with me, keeping me company as I cried. She didn’t leave me alone that entire day.
Me and Maggie
Another time, I hammered my thumb instead of the nail, and she raced to me and began licking my thumb. Then sat with me until the pain subsided.
When I put out her dinner, she waits to eat until I’m eating.
When I put on dance music, she jumps off the couch, anticipating the many dance parties I host for the two of us.
As time passed, I realized that Busy calms my anxiety. When I need grounding, she models grounding for me. When I get into bed to cry when I’m sad or depressed, she lies next to me until I stop crying.
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Busy is my emotional support dog. But more to the point, all dogs are emotional support animals. In fact, I discovered in the book The Purest Bond by Jen Golbeck and Stacey Colino that science has proven my theory.
Being in the presence of an upbeat dog for even a short amount of time can lower people’s blood pressure, improve their mood, decrease their anxiety, and boost their overall well-being.
Dogs’ comfort is reliable; we never fear they’ll abandon us when we need them most.
I know many people who confide in their animals, talking to them about difficulties that feel too shameful to share with friends.
Our animals, especially dogs, provide a secure base and a safe harbor, offering us opportunities to take emotional risks. Golbeck and Colino write, “There’s a feedback loop of positivity that enables us to feel even more closely connected to our dogs.”
The comforting effect is mutual.
We don’t judge our dogs, and they don’t judge us.
In times of despair, dogs can be our greatest teachers. They don’t hate anyone. It doesn’t matter what race, religion, or creed you belong. Dogs are there for us unconditionally, and when their person or their dog friends cry, they will run to protect or care for those in pain.
But the most remarkable thing about dogs is their ability to care for themselves. I see Busy do it all the time. When something scares her, she shakes the trauma off her body, which allows her to try again. Her body won’t allow her to hold on to fear.
A few times a day, every day, I watch her shake off her fear.
This is a constant reminder to me that to move forward; you cannot let the past hold you back. Even Taylor Swift knows we must shake it off.
She learns from me, and I learn from her. (Busy, not Taylor Swift.)
Every day, she models patience as she waits on the bed while I gather things in preparation to go outside. Inevitably, I forget something and have to turn around and return to the apartment. Busy is so used to this that she now remains on the bed. She somehow knows—even when I’ve called to let her know I’m ready—that I’m not actually ready.
Busy is this happy almost all the time
She knows when I have all my crap together and comes bounding off the bed.
Busy didn’t save my life, and I didn’t save hers, but her existence in my world filled a hole I thought only a person could.
People often say how hard it is to have a dog, that it’s so much responsibility.
But having someone else to tend and care for besides me fills me with a sense of purpose, grounds me emotionally, and creates a new dimension of meaning to my daily existence.
While people abandon dogs all the time and each other, dogs never do. They will be there for you, no matter what anyone else thinks of you.
Dogs only want to offer love and have it returned.
Is there anything more beautiful than that?
Taking care of this loving little being has made me a better person.
If you don’t have a dog or can’t have a dog, you can access their endless support by volunteering at a local dog shelter, visiting with a friend’s dog, or going to the dog park as often as you can.
And you? Have you felt emotionally supported by an animal?
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🥲 Not in love?