If you have owned a pup or have loved a pup, you will appreciate the book, “Beloved Dog” by Maira Kalman, illustrator, author and designer. She wrote: “When I go out for a walk, there is so much I see that makes me happy to be alive. Breathing. Not thinking. Observing. I am grateful beyond measure to be part of it all. There are people of course, heroic and heartbreaking, going about their business in splendid fashion…. There are trees. Glorious and consoling. Changing with the seasons. Reminders that all things change. And change again. There are flowers, birds, babies, building. I love all of these. But above all, I am besotted by dogs.”

Maira speaks to me through her words and her incredible paintings. She writes:

“You, reading this book, most likely have, or had, a dog. You certainly know that your dog is, or was, the dearest, funniest, lovingest, loyalist, friend you ever had. Your eager playmate, your fresh-air companion, your anchor, your pride, your personal trainer, your baby, your antidepressant. Your Zoloft…. Your family. Your solace. Your pal…”

Like Maira, I, too think of dogs in my life and in the lives of my family and friends and I love them. Whenever I happen upon a furry canine, something comes over me. My heart soars while I speak/squeak in a soft high-pitched voice to acknowledge a furry head or happily rub a pink freckled belly while a wagging tail and a wet tongue signals mutual appreciation of the interaction.

Just looking at a dog lifts my spirits. I get high on joy when gazing into the eyes of a dog. My level of oxytocin elevates, and I can feel it every single time I greet or meet a dog. I can’t help it. Dogs provide their owners with unconditional love, devotion, companionship, delightful entertainment and a more full and active life. My heart goes pitapat, my mood improves, and my blood pressure and stress levels decrease. The bond I feel is good for my heart. If I wake up in the middle of the night, and peek at my phone on the nightstand, I linger on cherished photographs of dogs in my life or the ones I follow on Instagram.

Somewhere I read that puppy faces trigger an innate caregiver response in humans. There are studies in gerontology and geriatric research that find positive benefits of pets and animal-assisted therapy for the health of older individuals. I remember when my sister-in-law Brenda attended programs at the Brown Center, a special dog owner came to visit and allowed the participants to mingle with her pup. I will never forget how Brenda came alive in a truly deep and joyous way.  It is true that Pet therapy can improve the cognitive function of people with mental impairment.  Another study showed significant decreases in agitated behaviors in seniors with dementia, as well as improved social interaction. People may think we’re taking care of our dogs, but it’s mutual. Dogs also take care of us, and science confirms it.

Fleischman’s Residence pooch, Bella, greets residents, families, friends, vendors and staff each morning at the sliding door. I witness her aging along with the rest of us. I note the smiles on the faces of JSL residents who take their furry pets for strolls around campus, 365 days a year. Our dogs encourage us to move, take long walks on the sidewalks, trails and paths and offer us opportunities to meet the daily physical activity guidelines so healthy for us. Dog walking brings joy to strangers and friends we meet along the way. People who are dog lovers are attractive to other people, making them appear more sociable and friendly. It’s a great way to make new friends. Strangers can become friends when dogs are matchmakers.

In addition to all the interactive brain building activities on campus that offer stimulation and wellbeing, pet ownership provides residents with affection that brings good health. We can hold our pets during moments of happiness and find comfort from their sweetness during sad times too. Dogs allow us to feel less alone, reducing loneliness. We can cuddle them during thunderstorms and offer them sympathy during firecracker season just as much as they provide us with unconditional love and kisses. We can help each other cope in times of crisis, reducing the stress hormone cortisol.

Sending all the best to you – our readers – during this week of patriotic remembrance of Independence Day – the annual celebration of nationhood, commemorating the passage of the Declaration of Independence by The Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

Speaking of independence…. I wonder if cat people feel the same way about their pets.

Shabbat Shalom!

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