There’s a reason dogs are called “man’s best friend.” But my story is about a “girl’s best friend.” With their playful and positive energy and wagging tail, it seems like our furry family members are always able to brighten even the worst days. It’s a two-way street – they give us unconditional love and we pamper them and ensure they are happy, safe and calm. Happiness on both sides is a beautiful thing.
Dogs provide us with much more than just cuteness and cuddles — they have the ability to make us better people. According to Time Magazine online, dogs bring mental and physical health benefits to their owners, including reduced stress and increased exercise, among others. A recent survey also suggests that dogs have played a crucial role in their owner’s overall well-being throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been a stressful and challenging time for us all.
Dogs Are Great Teachers
Having a dog is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child. Any pet can teach kids responsibility, but dogs teach us so much more.
For the first 17 years of my life, I was lucky enough to have my best friend, Kacy, a Shih Tzu, who was literally by my side every day. My parents got Kacy just a few months before I was born. After she passed away, my family got Coco, a Cavachon puppy. Both of them have had a positive and irreversible impact on my life.
As a very shy girl, I often depended on Kacy for friendship and a shoulder to cry on. I had some learning disabilities and so I struggled in school and was always placed in the “special readers” group. It was hard work for me to overcome my disabilities and read and learn. For years, I came home from school frustrated and exhausted, but Kacy was always there. She’d lay right by my feet through every tough homework assignment and then snuggled with me all night afterwards – a huge reward!
Out of all my family members, it was my bed Kacy chose for the night’s sleep. There was no doubt, I was her favorite and this was perhaps because she knew I needed her. The unconditional affection and companionship helped give this shy, insecure girl the confidence I needed to succeed as a young adult, and I miss her to this day. I’m also incredibly grateful for how long she lasted on this earth. Not many dogs make it to 17, and I can’t help but believe that she did so because she knew I still needed her.
New Pup Coco
After Kacy passed away, my brothers and I were heartbroken and wanted to fill the void with a puppy. My parents quickly said “no” and emphasized that we were “never getting another dog.” But we begged and bargained until, one day, they came home with a tiny, teacup-sized puppy they named (without us!) Lucy. Not liking the name so much, my brother decided to call her Coco, and for the next few days, continued to call her Coco – forcing my parents to change her name since she now only responded to Coco.
A few weeks later, I tricked my youngest brother into thinking that Coco would only come if you say her full name: Coco Chanel. For a brief time, it was fun to watch my 10-year-old brother chasing her about the yard demanding “Coco Chanel, come! Coco Chanel!” Of course, living in a house dominated by boys, her name never was going to stick as Coco Chanel.
Coco taught me that a dog’s behavior often matches the energy of the household. Being seventeen when we got Coco, I wanted a chill dog that would hang out with me much like my senior dog Kacy. Instead we got 10 pounds of never-ending energy. Seriously, as a puppy and to this day, she thinks she’s a golden retriever!
In fact, just last winter, a coyote came into our yard and Coco, being the assertive ball of fluff that she is, tried to protect her territory by running after it. My mom, watching from the kitchen window, flew out of the house so fast, running barefoot through the snow to protect Coco from being a coyote’s lunch. Coco is fierce, loyal and protective of her property, and since then, we’ve kept a close eye on her when she goes outside (if only to protect the local wildlife).
Like so many parents my mom knew that having her four children care for and train a dog would teach us responsibility. That was a smart move and while it was challenging, it helped all the youth in our household learn the responsibility of caring for another.
I am very thankful for Kacy and Coco. They helped shape me and were my best teachers in life. As a child, I thought having a dog was a point of pride and a “thing” to show off to others. I never realized that it would be like having another sibling…a family members that takes as much time and care as anyone else does. In times of both happiness and sadness, it feels good to have my dogs take care of me and know that I can do the same for them.
My dogs taught me responsibility and accountability, but perhaps more importantly, they taught me to love unconditionally, forgive, teach, learn and respect all living beings. My advice, get a dog -- they can teach you these important lessons that for many can take a lifetime to learn.
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