Dogs have a certain je ne sais quoi that makes a home feel more complete. Although I have never been a die hard animal lover, I always enjoyed having a family dog throughout childhood. After much vacillation over the past year, I finally concluded that I was ready to make the plunge to become a dog owner and I've never looked back. Knowing how many dogs need homes, the choice to rescue was a no brainer. Truthfully, I must admit that I've become obsessed with my dog. I have transformed into the kind of person that I once made fun of. I used to wonder how a dog could possibly take such priority in anyone's life... now my life is planned around a little guy named Jetson. At this point, I can't imagine how I ever lived without him.
Ever since I adopted Jetson, the universe seems to be constantly trying to prove to me how therapeutic dogs can be. I stumbled upon 3 different specials about ways that dogs are a major support for people who struggle with a wide variety of issues. It has become apparent to me that dogs can be trained to do almost anything to protect their owners, whether it is sensing seizures, leading the blind through life, or sniffing bombs. In one television special, a young boy that was a quadriplegic described his heartfelt feelings about his best friend, Duke. Since the boy could not move most of his body, Duke was trained to assist him with daily life activities, like picking up a pencil when the boy dropped it on the floor and couldn't manage to reach for it. Dogs without a doubt have allowed people with special needs to have a better quality of life. Studies show that dogs can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, elevate mood, and even add years to a human's life. As a result, pet therapy has become popular. In my professional experiences, I have seen the positive effect that a bond with a pet can have on reducing symptoms of mental illness. Children and adolescents who have been neglected and abused find their relationships with pets to be incredibly healing. Unlike people, pets don't talk back and they often love you completely unconditionally. Many children and teenagers have expressed to me that they have turned to their pets when they felt like they couldn't talk to any of the people in their lives. Some have even reported that they find their dog to be their only real and healthy relationship. In my personal experience, having a dog has reduced my stress and forced me to become more active. I have a better understanding of why children find such comfort in their relationship with their dog, since I too have that now.
Now that I realize just how much dogs help humans, I am appalled by how poorly some of us treat them. According to LA Animal Services, in 2009, 7,623 dogs in Los Angeles were euthanized. Fortunately, almost 15,000 were adopted. Many of these dogs were abused, neglected, and/or abandoned. Thankfully there are shelters, like The Lange Foundation, that frequent the pounds of LA and take in as many dogs as they can afford. The process of rescuing a dog couldn't be any more rewarding. Although there is a part of you that fantasizes about saving all the dogs in the shelter, reality kicks in and you remind yourself that saving one is better than saving none. I often wish that Jet could tell me about his life experiences. When we first adopted him, he was skittish, shy, and hated cuddling. The woman at the shelter referred to him as their "nervous nelly." He cowered and ran from other dogs on the street. Within a month of living in his new home, he has become king of the castle. Today, Jet is playful with dogs and people. This experience has proved to me how powerful healthy attachment in relationships, human or canine, can be. I prepared myself that it may take months or a year for Jet to open up and I was pleasantly surprised at how healing a little tender love and care truly is. The parallels to the foster care system are beyond bizarre. Each dog, like foster children have their own tragic journey, some worse than others. At the shelters, there are older dogs with health problems who have no choice but to permanently call the concrete floor they sleep on home. When meeting these sweet mannered dogs, I couldn't help but think of foster kids with special needs or are older and have not yet been adopted. Chio is a dog who has been at the Lange Foundation for 7 years. He is cute as can be, but has major health problems. Whether you are an animal or a person, health problems are expensive. Like many others, I lack the money and time to care for a child or animal with special needs of any kind, which leaves one question.... who will take care of them?