I open the door after a long day of work and peer into my apartment. It is dark and quiet. One might even call it gloomy to come home to after a tiresome day. I sigh and throw my keys onto the table. What a lonely feeling. Except- I flick on the lights and-wait for it- there is the faintest sound of jingling from the next room. Then he appears. Or more aptly, he all out sprints towards me, a ball of warm fluff and legs and happiness. He barrels into me and just about knocks me over, and begins the daily ritual of attempting to lick me from head to toe. No, I am not talking about a boyfriend or a husband (are you relieved?) I am talking about my dog Ollie.
Dogs are good for the soul. I maintain that they can be one of the most healing pieces of recovery. In essence, they are better than human beings for a few key reasons. For one thing, they don’t care about appearance. Weight, bed head, zits- whatever you are feeling insecure about, you can rest easy that your dog truly, truly doesn’t care about any of it. They will love you the same whether you roll out of bed and spend the day in old sweats or dress up in your highest stilettos and get a professional blowout. It doesn’t matter to them. Additionally- they don’t care about your standards of perfection. In fact they will probably challenge them daily, without tying to or realizing this. For example, when I got Ollie, I had to, shall we say, let go, of my obsessional need for a pristine white bedspread that you could bounce a dime off of in the morning. Ollie didn’t care about my compulsion to keep my bed wrinkle/stain-free. He proved this very well when he would take running leaps onto the bed, complete with hysterical digging/thrashing around, seconds after I finished making it each day. Thirdly, dogs are one of the greatest examples of vulnerability that human begins can take on. They will likely pass away before us, yet we willingly jump into relationships with them and make them our family members anyway. Most of us dog owners are fiercely devoted to our buddies, and develop an intense love and protectiveness for them that rivals that for our children/spouses. The same can be said of how our dogs feel about us. They love us. And I mean love us, love us. Love in the most unbridled sense of the word. They gaze at us adoringly, follow us from room to room, cuddle up in our laps long after they are far too big to do so, all because they just think we are the greatest thing since sliced bread. They are also great at showing us what unconditional positive regard really means. They don’t hold grudges. Ever stepped on your dog’s tail? Ollie will let out a little yelp and then turn around and start voraciously licking me as I start to apologize as if to say, “I get it, you didn’t mean to!” Finally, they teach us about what it means to have an open heart. I often watch Ollie with other dogs and even with other humans. He approaches everyone in exactly the same way- extreme friendliness, enthusiasm, and the assumption that you are all-around absolutely awesome. I have thought about what the world would be like if we all approached each other with the same open mindset and extreme levels of gregariousness (*Sees person on other side of the street. Runs over to them smiling widely. Extends hand to offer hand shake then immediately pulls person in for a hug* “Hi! So nice to meet you! You look like you would be so much fun to hang out with, lets be bff’s!”)
It is for all of these reasons and more that I believe in the power of recovery dogs/puppies. Taking care of, say a puppy, can become an excellent model of how to take care of yourself. For example, your puppy will need to eat three times a day, every day. No exceptions. This mirrors how you should be treating yourself! She will also need lots of patience from you during the housebreaking and training period. You will learn patience for her, which will in turn, show you how to be patient with yourself. There will be ups and downs during her training, much like there will be ups and downs during recovery. She may make you feel hopeless some days, when she has four accidents in a row, then other days she will have little breakthroughs that show you the sun may just be peeking through the clouds. All in all, the whole experience can be extremely healing, and an excellent metaphor for recovery.
In conclusion, consider the idea of a recovery dog. We can learn a thing or two from these animals- Patience and self-love being two of the most important lessons!