As a psychiatrist who practices from a standpoint of holistic (whole person) care, I am always thinking of interventions that aside from medications and therapy, that can benefit my patients. After reading a Facebook post by Zach Snow of Marley’s Mutts, I thought about the power of dogs to heal emotional wounds, especially when individuals are resistant to reach out for help in the traditional channels of Western medicine. By writing about this topic, I hope to reach the person who stumbles across my website that might not be in a place to click the ‘request a new appt.’ button. Facebook has to me boiled down to a means to follow my beloved animal rescue organizations and certain individual bull dogs/ pit bulls who have become ambassadors for their breeds, having been pulled out of dog fighting and abuse, yet still embodying an indomitable love and patience for humans; in addition to comical personalities that their adoptive parents anthropomorphize through Facebook posts.
The gentleman in the picture below is Zach Snow of Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue, one of the groups I follow on Facebook. Zach and his team take abused dogs into prisons to help rehabilitate both humans and dogs. He also rescues dogs from shelters and abuse to connect the animals when ready with new forever homes. In the links below, Zach tells his moving story of living as a severe alcoholic, nearly dying from liver failure, but through rescuing Hooch (the red Mastiff below who had his tongue cut out as part of dog fighting) and other neglected dogs, Zach found inspiration for sobriety and a new life. It’s a reminder to me of the power of dogs to heal. This is a theme I embrace in my life with my own dog Lucy who is featured on this website. Lucy is always there, patient and generous in her love, to brighten my day.
Even if a person is locked into solitude or despair, seemingly unreachable, a dog can uniquely accept them exactly where they are, for however long it takes, to ever so gently draw them into an emotional connection. And in so doing, heal and strengthen the best parts of the human spirit. Dogs freely give of themselves even when abused, asking so little in return; yet we as a society forget about them in shelters and reach for more medications or other substances to numb, we reach for money and acclaim, status and attention from our partners and friends. We wait for approval from society but it is never really enough because conditional validation by this or that, it only goes so deep and it can be taken away. What if the true remedy is simply in a set of floppy ears, a wiggly butt, and big brown loving eyes greeting you at the door, showering you with all the approval you need so that you know today, there is a living being who relies on me and who will love me unconditionally, braving the world by my side.
The reality is some can’t adopt a dog and/or don’t want to take on the responsibility of pet ownership. I get that. But you can still share in the uplifting experience of engaging with animals in need by volunteering, donating funds, or in advocacy against destructive practices like bully breed bans. The discrimination against Pit Bulls, Mastiffs, and other similar breeds is based on stereotypes that tear the deep bonds between families and dogs apart, forcing owners to decide between obtaining housing and their pets, leaving animals suffering and lonely in shelters. Those dogs in shelters need a friend to take them on a walk, so if you can’t have a pet, you can still be a recipient of their healing powers by volunteering at a shelter or with a rescue agency.
If you already know of this which I speak, don’t forget to write your legislators to support bills strengthening animal abuse laws and join in with others to strive to eliminate breed bans which devastate people and animals. We have to ask ourselves, how do we feel when we are stereotyped and distilled down to a category, a label? Because a dog has a block head, they are associated with people’s fears and biases but the reality is that aggressive dogs are a result of abuse or neglect, improper socialization, and/or irresponsible breeding. It is not surprising that aggressive people pick dogs to reflect them in the guard dog breeds and then impart to them negative traits. When dogs are given love they reflect back the same, which is in fact the source of the healing. The dogs reflect back our love and amplify it. As evidenced in Marley’s Mutt’s stories, dogs like people, can be rehabilitated which helps us remember that there is none of us who is a lost cause.
If you think you have what it takes to bring a dog into your home, think through that commitment first to make sure you are ready and then adopt, don’t shop! Buying expensive puppies, especially at pet stores or from breeders who have not been vetted by agencies that regulate responsible breeding, fuels the rise of puppy mills, a place where dogs are a commodity who’s sole purpose is for profit and to that aim, dogs are abused and neglected. There are so many dogs waiting in shelters for a home through no fault of their own, waiting to give of themselves unconditionally. See if you fall in love with those eyes staring through the links of a kennel, if you don’t you can always keep walking. Plus, puppies are a lot of work and an adult dog gives more, takes less.
Consider adopting a foster animal who has been temperament tested, in that way you can better predict if an animal will fit into your lifestyle. If you aren’t a runner or hiker, don’t adopt a sporting breed. Often times pit bulls and other bully breeds make for mellow, low maintenance pets for people who work outside the home during the day. A foster agency near you can be found at petfinder.com and they can help you decide if you ready for a companion animal and what type of pet would be best suited for you.
Lastly, read about Hooch pictured below and vote for Hooch as an American Humane Association ‘Hero Dog’ at http://herodogawards.org/dog/hooch/ . You can read about Zach Snow at http://www.marleysmutts.org/zach-skow/ or by following Marley Mutt’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MarleysMuttsDogRescue/ .
Michelle Zipperman M.D.