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Animal Comfort

10 ways our pets enrich our lives

Jordan Laughlin and Honey.

Our animal companions make us healthier, happier and saner.     
    Animal lovers have always held that truth to be self-evident. Now, research is backing up that heart-felt conclusion. Benefits range from reducing allergies, blood pressure, stress and loneliness … to increasing self-esteem and activity … to drawing other people to us.
    Here’s how those benefits play out in the lives — and words — of Bay Weekly writers and friends.


Melded Minds

    Ever had so close a connection with a pet you could read each other’s minds?
    That’s how close a bond I built with my yellow Labrador.
    She was among nine puppies appearing outside our window when we returned to Oregon from Hawaii. We took her name from Hawaii’s Mam’ane tree, or M’ane (MAH-nay) for short.

M’ane was one of nine Bicentennial Puppies.

    She was born July 4, 1976, in a litter of Bicentennial Puppies marketed by neighbor Ted, a journalism professor who owned the parent dogs. We chose the girl calmly watching the others tussle.
    We married three months later — but my relationship with M’ane lasted three times longer than my marriage. Perhaps we had better communication skills?
    Verbal training became hand signals for standard lie down, sit, stay commands. But I soon found M’ane could simply read my mind or see in my eyes what I was thinking. I could look toward her bed, and off she would go. Roll my eyes, and she would roll over — but bark to protest the indignity of it all.
    M’ane also trained me. In prepping to run 26.2-mile marathons, she pushed on, running on bloody paws while I wore waffle-sole Nikes. As a result, she never got fat, remained athletic until age 13, outliving her father, sister and mother by four years.
    On our last visit to her favorite place, the beach, she could no longer walk in the sand or swim. I knew it was time. I didn’t mourn the loss of the dog she no longer was but the loss of a shared history — a marriage, the late 1970s and 80s, and all of my 30s.
    In the song, Mr. Bojangles loses his dog, and “after 20 years he still grieves.” For me, it’s 36 and counting.

–Thomas C. Hall, Takoma Park

Healing Touch

    Three times I’d awakened parched and gasping, unable to breathe or swallow. Each time, finger poised to call 911, I hung up when all returned to normal.

Jane Elkin and Cache-Cache.

    Cache-Cache sat vigil, green eyes glowing in the dark just as when he’d hid in the basement for two days after his adoption. Cache-Cache, French for hide and seek.
    I crawled to the couch, sicker than I realized. Viral vocal cord paralysis, I later learned, can be lethal.
    Cache-Cache hopped lightly up on my lap, regarded me and sighed. I groaned, memories of our first meeting skipping through my dream state. He was playing the SPCA road show after eight months in lock-up, the bad-luck black cat tucked out of sight in a Winnebago while the puppies frolicked outside. He rubbed against the cage, expectancy writ plain as the whiskers on his face, his mews proclaiming, you’re here. I knew you’d come.
    Now he set to work. Starting at one hand, moving up one side and down the other, he licked my arms, neck, face, ankles and feet just as a mother cat licks her kit. Every inch of exposed skin tingled in the wake of his rough tongue.
    Cats, I knew, lick for many reasons: anxiety, salt cravings, affection, illness. I was sweaty and sick, and he was anxious for the one he loved. Licking was all he could do. Afterward, he curled up at my feet. I’m here for you, his eyes said. You knew I’d come.

–Jane Elkin, Arnold

A Reason to Rise

    In February 2006, we adopted Piper from Calvert County Humane Society. She had come to Calvert after Panola County Humane Society in Battesville, Mississippi, had put out an urgent request to help with the burden of so many animals homeless after Katrina. She was only a bit over a year old but had seen enough trauma to last a dog lifetime.

Hurricane Katrina rescue Piper.

    As she settled in with us, Jim didn’t want to leave her alone on Thursdays while he delivered Bay Weekly, so she became a regular on each trip. She quickly came to know that papers day meant a long ride with her best friend from her lookout on the stacks of papers in the back of the van. When she was about two miles from the Fairview Library south of Dunkirk, she’d pace, wagging her long majestic tail, with bright alert eyes, knowing she would get her first walk of the trip, then a good roll in grass followed by a long drink of water.
    After nine years, her enthusiasm for papers day is as strong as ever. She still greets every opportunity for a long walk and a roll in the grass as a discovery. She will always be our best reason to get up every morning and share her joy.
    I’m still not sure who rescued whom.

–Peggy Traband, Mimosa Cove, Deale

Expanded Possibilities

Canine Companions Service Dog Mahler
October 5, 2005-June 15, 2015

    Mahler was a good dog. This is what my aunt said when we told her Mahl had gone on to get his angel wings. Yes.
    Every day, every hour over our seven and a half years, Mahl and I were together. We were a team, a family but even more. Mahl was the best part of me. He was my heartbeat, my arm and legs. Forever and ever, wherever we are we are together, I spoke to him. He wagged! He wagged a lot.

Mahler opens a door for his companion, Nancy Patterson.

    Mahl brought me the world. I have immeasurable gratitude.
    Strength. Love. Independence and dependence. We had it all. With him there was nothing I couldn’t do. Yes, he did over 100 tasks like opening doors, carrying anything and pulling my wheelchair. But our partnership was bigger than that. He made the impossible possible. Together we served to bring opportunities for independence to people with disabilities.
    I will not let him down. He touched many in our community. We will all continue to make this world a better place. One person, one dog at a time. No limits.
    Love. Peace. Joy. Always and forever.
    Rest in peace as you lived in peace.
    Canine Companions for Independence provides these extraordinary dogs at no charge. If you’d like to help and make a donation in honor of Mahler, please send to cci.org/dogfestwashingtondc/mahlandme

–Nancy Patterson, Annapolis

Friendship When You’re Feeling Down

     My brother and I went to my mom’s friends’ house because they had some puppies. I had a hard time choosing. They all looked cute, but one was sorta goldish. My little brother liked that one so we chose her (it was a she, by the way).
    My little brother kept calling the dog Honey, so her name is Honey and will always be.

Jordan Laughlin and Honey.

    As with most babies, the puppy had trouble sorting everything out the first few weeks. But we had another dog who was a lot older. Ziggy was basically a mentor for Honey, showing her new things.
    We had to move from Virginia all the way to Louisiana and ended up staying with my mom’s mom and stepdad in Shreveport while my dad had a job in Monroe, about an hour and a half away. She acted pretty well and she was always there to greet me after I started school there. Then my dad lost his job so I had to move back. We were sad that we had to leave my MeMe and PaPa, so Honey and Ziggy helped cheer us up.
    I always fed them. But then Ziggy started getting being-old side effects. After he died, Honey seemed more mopey, so I thought, After the year she spent cheering me up, I think I should cheer her up. So I played with her and brushed her more.
    Now that we have moved to Maryland, she has helped me once again, when I am feeling down. We have been together for two years now, since I was eight, and she has earned my trust and respect.

–Jonah Knotts Laughlin, Shady Side

Unconditional Love — Plus Every-Ready Excuses

    Everyone writes about how dogs give us unconditional love; they’re always happy to see us, etc. etc. Me, I’m coming clean, admitting I use my dog for my excuse. Here’s how you can, too.

    Scenario 1: You and your wife are at a dinner party and a guest is explaining, going on now for 20 minutes, how paint gets its different pigmentation by altering the bio-tri-aluminum theosuflate kryptonite mixture. Suddenly you jump up staring at your watch and yell, “Honey, it’s almost 8:30! We have to let the dogs out! You know what happened the last time.” (Looking at your host) “It took us two days to clean THAT up. We gotta run,” as you both bolt out the door giving each other a fist pump.
    Scenario 2: After a fun and intoxicating day of watching football, you forgot to set your alarm. You’re late to work and the boss is giving you the stink eye. You apologize for your tardiness and explain that you have NO idea what your dog ate, but it sure didn’t agree with him and you can’t leave that on the rug all day. If the boss owns a dog he’ll understand. If he has a kid, he’ll still understand.
    Scenario 3: The oldest one in the book. “Honest Ms. Yelsalot, my dog ate my homework.”
    Of course, I could write a hundred more scenarios how we use our dogs to get us out of a myriad of situations but, um … I’ve got to let my dogs out.

–Allen Delaney, Prince Frederick

Be-ing in Time

    A workaholic, computer addict and desk-chair warrior, I’ve spent too much time sitting and not enough exercising. I would use work as an excuse. I saw walking, running or getting outdoors as procrastination.

Sue Kullen and Bean.

    Then came February 26, 2013, officially Bean’s Day in our family. That day my husband and I adopted an 11-month rescued pit mix named Bean, my first dog as an adult.
    Three times a day, every day, that dog requires a walk. Not just a short around-the-block walk, but miles and miles of terrain. I have burned through three pairs of hiking boots and two pairs of walking shoes. We average three to four miles a day. My husband, Steve, does the morning walk and easily gets in two miles before breakfast.
    At first I was surprised at how much productive time Bean was eating up in my day. I was out of sorts thinking of all that I had to do once back home. Then I embraced the Zen notion of appreciating the moment. I was exercising my body and feeling better each day. I was losing weight without even trying. I started doing my best thinking at the hind end of a dog.
    Now I appreciate the changing seasons and get to spend more time in nature than I have in past years. Woods, water, trees and sky, Bean is my constant reminder that we live in a beautiful world if we take the time to appreciate it.

–Sue Kullen, Governor’s Run

Salve to the Aching Heart

Leigh Glenn's teenage angst kept Pooh near, and tears drew him closer.

    Sometimes a dog is serendipity. In late 1984, back-to-back deaths coursed through my life — my grandmother the year before, our family dog that fall. I was 14, weary of the proselytizing at the religious school I attended. Mom found a Lhasa-poo breeder and that is how Pooh came to us, the curved-over tail his only bit of Lhasa. He had short, wavy fur, long legs and a squat torso. Yet he tore around the yard, a brown blur among the Hamlin oranges and canna lilies. I, too, was a runner. My mind liked to sprint; it was too scary to be still.
    Like many dogs, Pooh read moods. My teenage angst kept him near, and tears drew him closer. His lankiness made it uncomfortable for him to be held, yet he’d cuddle to nap.
    Pooh was a godsend, a being with whom I could just be.
    He still comes to me in dreams, when I am feeling moderate stress, as if he’s reminding me how good it is to be still, how love has no limits — except those we two-leggeds choose to impose.

–Leigh Glenn, Arnold

Time-Traveling ­Companionship