Our dog Buckley was a Chocolate Lab with deep, soulful eyes. We brought him home before the girls. When he died, so did a piece of my heart. Best dog ever.
“No more dogs” my husband declared. And he thought the matter settled.
While my daughters loved Buckley, they weren’t as connected to him as I was. He had just always been there, in full grown form. He was my dog, in every way. And yet, they still felt his absence.
“Can we get another dog? Please?” It literally became my daughter’s obsession. Her OCD landed on “dog” and did not let go. Stuffed animals did not suffice. She would zero in on any dog she happened across. It wasn’t long before I was singing her song.
My husband, wise and loving man that he is, knew he was losing the battle. One night he whispered, “OK, you can get a dog.”
The search was on.
At the time, Daughter #2 was going through a stage of high anxiety, a dog would help, but our household could not deal with a puppy right then. I set my sights on adopting a “middle aged” dog, but not a Lab like Buckley, because-obviously- no Lab could be as great as he was. A neighbor had brought home an English Springer Spaniel. Cupid had struck.
After a little Googling, we discovered the amazing English Springer Rescue America and began our third adoption process. A few weeks later we were driving to South Bend to pick up two bonded sisters, both 6 years old.
That’s right, 2 dogs.
Molly and Sassy joined our family 2 years ago. They are sweet, well-behaved dogs, each with their own set of issues. Sassy has anxiety, Molly has lethargy, due to years of obesity. It’s like living with Tigger and Eeyore.
But they have been THE BEST things for our girls. When Daughter #2’s anxiety is cresting, Molly calms her down. Stroking her fur, feeling her warmth, hearing her breath—it’s like magic. This is no surprise; research shows that petting a dog (or cat) lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels (the hormone causing stress) while raising endorphin levels (the “good mood” hormones). That’s why therapy dogs are used in hospitals, nursing homes, college campuses, and elsewhere.
Both dogs follow the girls everywhere. They greet them at the door, they follow them to their rooms, they hang out with the girls 24/7. They defeat a teenager’s loneliness.
When it’s bedtime, Molly takes her spot next to Daughter #2 and Sassy snuggles in with Daughter #1. Everyone has their assigned place for the night.
“You got enough room there?” I ask as my daughter struggles to position herself around the dog hogging her bed.
“Yes, I’m fine. Don’t move her!”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that my daughters often talk about the day we “adopted” the dogs. It’s another special bond these four creatures share.
Of course, walking the dogs, feeding the dogs, and cleaning up after the dogs teach my daughters responsibility. (Even the Junior National Honor Society agrees.)
But more importantly, I’ve seen that caring for a dog with anxiety helps a teen with anxiety learn how to care for herself, and realize that she’s not the only one who struggles.
Sure, there’s hair all over the carpet and the house gets a funny smell from time to time. Yes, they’re expensive. But they are a necessary part of our household. They are family.
As my husband noted the other day, we may have rescued these dogs, but these dogs have rescued our girls.
For more on the benefits that pets can bring to our teens, check out this article.