We have a 21 month old black Lab, Ridley. She is a complex mix of simple needs which run the gamut from play with me, feed me, and let me sleep, right up to and including play-with-me-some-more-play-with-me-again-play-with-me-keep-playing-with-me-let-me-sleep-play-with-me-feed-me-again, and of course play-with-me-feed-me-play-more-and-let-me-sleep.
There were a number of reasons behind our decision to get her, not the least of which was a series of brazen daylight break-ins in our (now former) neighbourhood.
The idea of having a dog around as a deterrent,
even a big, goofy, love-everyone-Lab,
became really attractive.
Ridley is a fairly large dog, incredibly protective of the kids, and, on the rare occasions that she uses it, has a bark that is primordial. But security is just one of the benefits of having brought her into our lives.
To name but a few others, she
- inspires laughter – often unintentionally
- instigates play – often unpredictably
- gets me up and active and out of the house in all types of weather – often when I’m unwilling
- steals food – often unsuccessfully, occasionally unnoticed, but always unashamedly
- loves us all unreservedly
I have of course heard that dogs can alleviate stress, anxiety, loneliness and all manner of other concerns, but it has been a revelation to experience this first-hand.
I’m the type of person who is always at war with life. Emotionally, financially, spiritually, socially, politically, intellectually, I always seem to be up against it, whatever it is. And recently, the ‘it’ that has been my most consistent foe has been my health.
Chronic pain is exhausting. I will always recognise that others have far worse issues, but
pain takes a heavy toll.
Pain wears away at the bedrock of a person; it erodes confidence, happiness, focus, enthusiasm, you name it.
I often write late into the night, well past the point when everyone else is in bed. And there are nights when, during the dark quiet between finishing work and heading upstairs to bed, my thoughts become complicated and sombre.
It’s only natural, I suppose, and I am sure that everyone has times when the transition from the waking day to sleep is delayed by the stresses and anxieties of life. The discord that pain brings to the party simply adds another thick layer to the worry-cake.
I can go hours without realising that I am in pain. It becomes a kind of physical white noise, and though it affects my mood, I am not necessarily aware of it. This is particularly true if I have been concentrating on my work. But once I stop working, the barriers come down.
That’s when I turn to pills or ice-packs or hot water bottles, or some combination of all three, to try and alleviate the discomfort. But by then the pain has done its insidious work on my emotional well-being and set the stage for feelings of emptiness and sadness to strut their stuff.
And then along comes Ridley.
There are nights when she seeks me out, and (sleepily) nudges and paws at me until I follow her to the sofa. When I sit down, she jumps up beside me and curls up to sleep, often with her head on my lap.
It is amazing how quickly my thoughts settle and the pain recedes as I pet her and stroke her ears. It’s a powerful form of meditation, and I always feel better for it; though I do occasionally find myself waking up on the sofa, and then have to groggily make my way up to bed at some ungodly hour.
The cynical part of me argues that she has simply learned to recognize the signs that I am done with work for the night – the shutting down of the computer, the putting away of the bric-a-brac of notebooks, pens, books, headphones, water, et al. that I have around me as I work, but the romantic part of me started to wonder if there wasn’t more to it than that.
So I started to keep track, casually anyway, of the times she came over to me. To be honest, I would invariably forget all about keeping track until she was actually nuzzling my hand, but a pattern did emerge. With few exceptions, she only came over to me on nights when I felt most weighed down. Most of the rest of the time, she just slept.
I have seen her become tense and watchful when the kids are clambering over a play structure or are (to her mind) running too far ahead when we go for a walk, and I know that she would never allow someone to burgle our house in peace. But to realize that she won’t even allow despondent thoughts to break into my mind unchallenged has been a surprise.
I still walk down the dark alleyways of my overactive thoughts,
past the fears and worries that lurk in shadowy doorways, grinning like Dickensian thugs cleaning their fingernails with daggers, I suppose we all do. It’s a part of the price we pay for being human, but it has been life-changing to discover that when I do I let myself be drawn too far into one of these alleys, Ridley will lead me out.
Her way, perhaps, of making up for the stolen birthday cupcakes.