And then he crept up on the couch with us in this funny way he has, where he gets on the couch an inch at a time, kind of sliding himself onto it, looking off in a different direction, like it’s all happening by accident, like he doesn’t intend to get on the couch, but all of a sudden, there he is.
—Opal describing her dog in Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo
Forests of stories about dogs have been written over the years. Some of these may even date back to the days when cavemen in France painted images of themselves using Paleolithic scoopers to clean up after their dogs around the neighborhood. Yes, the human experience is intricately entwined with our canine friends. Dogs seem to like hanging around us, and we seem to get great pleasure from being with them as well. Personally speaking, I know that I truly enjoy the company of our family’s dog, Sandy.
If we look closely at our histories together, we find that dogs and people have shared many great adventures. Some of these have been documented on screen, featuring famous dogs such as Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Benji and Scooby Doo. I’ll bet that most of us, however, prefer the adventures we’ve had with our own dogs. In my house, there’s never a dull moment when Sandy and my nieces get together. Sandy, you see, is a 70-pound yellow lab. All it takes is one little hip check from his wagging end to send a kid flying across the room. My daughters are older now and have learned how to stand their ground. They can even hang on to the other end of the tug-o-war rope without being dragged across the kitchen floor.
I have found that dogs are used for more productive purposes than just knocking children over, though. Ranchers, for instance, use dogs to help herd cattle. Some dogs are hired to pull sleds. Others help the blind by giving them greater mobility. And some dogs are used in therapy to improve cognitive, emotional, and social health. The Brody Project is a non-profit
organization that uses therapy dogs to help patients get well. Research has shown that when dogs and people interact, the human brain releases good chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins produce happiness and relaxation and reduce depression and anxiety. I wish I could say that this organization is in Ann Arbor. It’s not. But if you’re ever in the Collier County, Florida area, check them out.
I don’t care what you call all of the science behind how dogs make you feel good; I just know that it’s true. I sometimes employ Sandy to help chill out my teen and pre-teen daughters. When they are feeling extra adolescent, I suggest a walk with the dog. It’s amazing how a trip around the block with Sandy can bring them back from the Dark Side.
Guarding the fort
Whenever we go out of town and need someone to look after Sandy, my mom and dad always volunteer. They love to pal around with him. My dad calls him his “buddy” and takes him into the office. Recently, due to a scheduling conflict, my wife and girls went to visit my in-laws without me. It was up to Sandy and me to guard the fort. Although I missed my family that week, I can tell you it would’ve been a lot worse had it not been for Sandy to keep me company.
Caring and compassionate
While I love my dog, I’m not the only one in Ann Arbor who cares for the canines. Now that the weather is getting warmer, notice how many downtown stores set a dish of water outside their entrances. These aren’t swimming pools for the fairy door residents (well, maybe they are—what those little creatures do on their own time is none of my business). Ann Arbor is also home to two official dog parks: Olson Dog Park on the north side of town, and Swift Run Dog Park on the south side. Check out the city’s web page for more info: www.a2gov.org/government/communityservices/ParksandRecreation/Pages/DogParks.aspx
Without dogs, what would our lives be like? I’m sure cat people have an idea about this. But for those of us who enjoy the company of our goofy, often slobbery, loyal companions, the answer is a tough heartworm pill to swallow. Like I said before, Sandy was a great help to me while my wife and kids were out of town. He and I hung out together and played tag around the house. And just like in Because of Winn-Dixie, Sandy somehow managed to squeeze onto the couch while we watched movies. Although this was a clear violation of the rules, he promised me he’d wash the dishes if I let him up just this once.
Jim Keen is a freelance writer and life-long Ann Arborite. He lives in town with his wife, Bonnie, and daughters, Gabbi (15) and Molly (11). He is the author of Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner’s Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family (URJ Press). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him on Twitter: @jckeen