Last summer, I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of Bruce Goldstein’s Puppy Chow Is Better Than Prozac: The True Story Of A Man And The Dog Who Saved His Life to review. Puppy Chow is the candid and raw tale of how Ozzy, a gorgeous black Labrador, played a key role in saving a man’s sanity – and quite possibly his life. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it.
I’ve been a dog owner for nearly three years now, so I fully understand the joys and miseries that accompany the role. (Yes – miseries. My dog has made me cry. Actually, during the first few weeks I had her, I seriously thought I was experiencing some kind of canine postpartum depression.) Since the day I rescued her from the animal shelter, my own adorable mutt (Chopper, pictured above) has been responsible for more emotional highs and lows than I can quantify.
Rescuing her has also been one of the best – and greenest – mental health decisions I’ve ever made.
Dogs actually have many things going for them that aren’t so green. Over a dog’s lifetime, you’ll see more puppy pads, clean up baggies, forgotten chew toys, empty shampoo bottles, and cleaning products than you can wrap your brain around. Fortunately, many companies, like those listed at GreenPeople.org, are dedicated to providing earth-friendly dog products.
Perhaps more important than the sometimes negative environmental impact of a dog, though, is the oftentimes positive mental impact. Positive? But your dog made you cry! Yes, but hear me out: A dog makes you care about more than just yourself, and makes you realize your own stress, worries, and fears aren’t what makes the world go ‘round. Owning a dog means you don’t get to say “no” when fresh air (or nature) calls, but you always have someone there saying “yes” when you need company, a shoulder to cry on, or a good laugh.
The mental health benefits of companion animals isn’t a novel idea. This is only one reason I was shocked to read that dog rescuer and trainer Silvia Jay once wrote a blog post stating that people with mental health problems shouldn’t own dogs. She actually went as far as claiming “rescue groups and humane societies should make no exceptions and deny such people a pooch.” (Hmm…is “Do you have a mental illness?” a question humane societies normally ask potential adoptive pet owners? I must have missed that.) A few days ago, however, Jay backtracked with Dog Ownership and Mental Illness, a post in which she confesses her mistake and even admits to deleting the original post.
I applaud Jay for admitting her mistake. Still, as I’m sure she, Goldstein, and anyone who’s ever owned a dog will agree, dog ownership is certainly not for everyone – sparkling mental health or not. Animals aren’t toys, and if you can’t dedicate a significant amount of time to taking care of a pooch, you shouldn’t get one. This doesn’t make you a bad person; rather, it makes you a responsible one.
If you think you do have what it takes, do some research before you head to Pets911.com to find animal shelters and rescues in your area. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) offers an extensive library of helpful pet-related articles, and the People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), despite all their faults, is generally an excellent resource for information about pet care.
Do you have a story to share about your adventures in pet ownership? Has a companion animal proved to be a great asset – or liability – to your mental health? Let’s hear about it!