by Jan Dunlap
I know that sounds like a pretty pretentious claim on behalf of a big black mutt who spent her first two years in and out of rescue facilities until she landed in our home, but it’s absolutely true. Gracie helped me lose ten pounds, lower my stress levels, reduce my heart rate and regain my spiritual and emotional health.
And did I mention that she helped me overcome one of my biggest lifelong fears, which happened to be a fear of dogs?
Especially big black ones?
Okay, I admit, it almost sounds like I’m writing an infomercial here about some slam-bang, guaranteed-to-work, amazing miracle cure for whatever ails you, but the fact is…that’s exactly what Gracie did for me. She helped me overcome a growing anxiety disorder that was destroying my life. She cured me. And once I realized that, I knew I had to share my dog-saves-woman story with others who I thought might be in similar straits. The result was the publication of my international best-selling memoir Saved by Gracie: How a rough-and-tumble rescue dog dragged me back to health, happiness, and God (Authentic Publishers, 2014).
Little did I know, however, that Gracie’s healing me of anxiety was just the beginning of how she would change not only my present, but every day of my future as well. Thanks to the bond I have with this big girl, I’m convinced that I’m a different person than I might otherwise have been. Here’s a short list of the ways my dog makes me a healthier, happier person than I was Before Gracie (BG):
- Rain or shine, snow or heat, I walk miles every day to insure that Gracie, a Labrador mix, gets the exercise and fresh air she needs to be healthy and content. (Believe me, 75 pounds of bored, high energy dog is NOT a recipe for peaceful species co-existence.) That exercise improves my physical health as well. My vital signs are better now at my 61 years of age than they were six years ago BG. You know all those studies you read about how having a dog can improve your health? They’re true, and I’m living proof.
- I live in the present. Anxiety and ruminating (dwelling on negative memories, ideas, fears, etc.), which is a common complaint of many in our over-achieving and over-busy culture, regularly drained energy and happiness from my life BG. Spending time with a dog, however, teaches you that the moment right now is when you live, not in the past or in the future. RIGHT NOW. Granted, I don’t chase squirrels, but I appreciate every breath of fresh air as I take it, and I admire every tree as I pass it. I am a happy woman.
- As a result of my increased outdoor engagement thanks to Gracie, I feel more connected to the natural world around me, and that brings me an uncomplicated sense of peace and contentment I rarely felt BG. I learned how healing nature itself is, long before the research on nature’s effect on human health began showing up all over the media, as it currently is doing. Having a dog in my life gave me a jump on becoming a mentally and emotionally healthier person.
- The connection to nature that Gracie has engendered in me has led me to pursue activities I’d never considered: two years ago, I took courses to become a state Master Naturalist and that experience has further nurtured my connection to, and care for, the natural world. I’ve met a whole new circle of friends who also advocate for conservation, which has become one of my favorite activities. I’ve also taken up vegetable gardening for the first time in my life. Since Gracie likes to be outside so much of the day, I figured I might as well find something to do while she’s exploring the yard, and raising my own vegetables sounded like an interesting option. Last, but not least, I’m now an involved volunteer at our local animal shelter, where I help walk rescued dogs, assist with social media/public relations, and manage a donor program. Again, I have new friends I never would have met BG, and the ways those people and activities have expanded my personal horizons continues to amaze, and bless, me.
- I LOVE dogs, and that love has grown so big in me that I want others to know what it means to commit to a life-long relationship with a canine companion. Sure, it’s hard (and I didn’t know just how hard it could be until we adopted a puppy this past spring to join Gracie in our adventures – ankle bites, eaten shoes and shredded carpets were nothing compared to the running-after-cars issues we had to deal with). But it’s also one of the most gratifying feelings in the world to come home to a dog that knows you love it and loves you back even more. BG, I thought nothing could compare with the joy of raising my five children, but now I know differently: while I still wouldn’t say having dogs is better than having children, I will say at least with dogs, you don’t have to worry about them getting a driver’s license. Dogs take you places you never knew you’d go, just by being dogs. And we are better people because of that.
Jan Dunlap is the author of the best-selling memoir Saved by Gracie: How a rough-and-tumble rescue dog dragged me back to health, happiness, and God (Authentic Publishers, 2014) which recounts her reluctant adoption of a dog that quickly (and surprisingly!) helped her overcome a growing anxiety disorder. She also writes the humorous cozy series, The Bob White Birder Murder Mysteries, which follow the adventures of expert birder Bob White, who has a bad habit of finding bodies while birding. Now living in the Texas Hill Country, Jan speaks at libraries, birding festivals, pet events, and women’s groups about her books and the value of the human-nature bond whenever she’s not plotting murder or walking the dog. She welcomes visitors to her website at www.jandunlap.com, her Facebook author page at Birder Murder Mama, or @BirderMurder on Twitter.