How dogs can save us from ourselves

30 June 2016

By Pan Macmillan

In Dog Medicine, Julie Barton tells us how her dog Bunker was the key to turning her life around. She gives us her take on how to be happy.

What if I told you that the secret to happiness is to let yourself feel sad? For years, I resisted the deep sorrow that clawed at my bones. When I was twenty-two years old and living in New York City, I tried to pretend I was happy, but inside I was crumbling with fear, self-loathing, and sadness. Eventually, the sorrow I’d tried so hard to fight and flee swallowed me whole, and I collapsed on my apartment floor. I went back to my childhood home and was soon diagnosed with major depressive disorder. The shame was overwhelming.
In my desperation, I decided that the only thing that might help was adopting a puppy. I’d always found great comfort in animals, and connecting with a puppy was the only hopeful idea I’d had in months. I found my dog at a farm. He was a rust red golden retriever, and the minute I saw him, I knew he was mine. I took him home and with him by my side, I finally felt safe enough to let myself feel whatever I needed to feel, because my dog didn’t care if I was sad. My dog didn’t need me to explain my malaise. He just wanted to be with me no matter what. He was wildly perceptive, and he noticed when I was feeling down. He would slow down too and lean against my shins or lie down next to me. With this remarkable animal by my side, I felt safe enough to truly feel whatever emotion came, and when I let myself feel all those things I’d been avoiding, the most amazing thing happened: the sorrow began to dissolve.
Resisting our emotions is like putting a stopper on a pipe. The flow doesn’t stop; the pressure just builds. Let the emotions flow and the pressure releases. When did we decide that it’s best to be happy all the time? When did sorrow lose its value? What if we unconditionally accept ourselves no matter how we’re feeling? I have found that when we do that, when we’re loving and accepting of ourselves, the way our dogs are of us, the relief is immense, and eventually, peace and joy can return. 
Dog Medicine