There is a saying in the rescue dog community that goes, “who rescued who?” My story with Katara isn’t quite like that but the sentiment holds. She has improved my life in myriad ways that go beyond just being an awesome four-legged companion. Katara is a really special rescue dog, a unique mixed mastiff breed that was rescued from the dog meat industry of South Korea. You can read Katara’s story here. When she came to me, she was very shy and scared and a little shutdown but she and I bonded immediately. I aim to do well by her. I believe she is happy in her new rescue dog life. In turn, she gives me back so much. Here are five things Katara has done for me just by being in my life.
1. My Dog Shattered My Stagnation With An Abundance of Joy
Perhaps it would have been a case of “who rescued who” if Katara had shown up earlier in my life. But I wasn’t really ready for a rescue dog before she came along, and I really had to rescue myself before I could properly care for one. After a long battle with depression, I finally came to a point where life was good. I was in a solid relationship. My work was going well. Life was even, balanced, content. I didn’t need any rescuing. What I did need was more emotion.
Things were just a little too boring, verging on stagnant. I didn’t want to rock the boat and risk a slide back into depression. But I didn’t really enjoy the middling emotions I seemed to have about everything. When Katara came home with me, I swelled with emotion. It was like falling in love. Being with her made me so happy that I didn’t want to do anything else for months. My heart beat in a new way. It stimulated my creativity and brought me a renewed sense of all-around purpose.
2. I Grow Because I Want My Dog To Grow
Katara’s ability to facilitate my growth didn’t stop when those early falling-in-love feelings faded a little bit. The thing about a rescue dog with her kind of background is that her trauma caused her setbacks. Although she is three, she is still growing by leaps and bounds. I have had the opportunity to see her learn to trust and gain her confidence.
In the beginning, she was so terrified of new people and new places. There is a wooden baker that stands outside of a bakery around the corner from me and for several months she was terrified of that guy, slinking past him, as far away and as low to the ground as possible. Today, she usually doesn’t notice the baker, but if I take her up to him, she approaches without concern. I saw the daily changes that led to that … and of course it’s just one example of many.
If Katara had it her way when she first came to me, we would have stayed in the house forever and never left out of fear that it isn’t safe outside. And truth be told, I constantly have to force myself out of my house and out of my neighborhood and out of my comfort zone, because I would rather be inside where I’m certain that it is safe. But Katara spent her first two years in a tiny cage with no exercise or change of scenery. I don’t want that life for her; I want her to see everything there is to see. This pushes me, of course, to see everything there is to see myself.
3. My Dog Facilitates Mindfulness
Having read this far, you can probably guess that I spend just a little bit too much time in my head. I’m not nearly as embodied as I’d like to be. My periods of depression are characterized by a ruminating mind. I am far more likely to read a book on mindfulness than to practice it. I’ve learned to cultivate it over the years, to find different ways to be in the present moment. But it’s always an effort, a conscious struggle …
Except when I’m with Katara. I take that girl to the park and the whole time we are there I’m just watching her and laughing and amused by her and right there in that park in that moment without having to try. There are, of course, so many benefits to being in the moment including benefits that are physical as well as those that are psychological. I am healthier because I spend time just being with my dog.
4. My Dog Reduces My Attachment to Material Things
Other than being safe and comfortable, Katara really doesn’t care about material things. Don’t get me wrong; she has lots of toys and bones. Too many, I’m sure. And she loves to play with them. But her very favorite “toy” is a cardboard box. She is also partial to plastic bottles. It is particularly thrilling to go through my recycle bin each day and see what might be in there for her. She promptly sets about destroying whatever she finds there. And it gives her immense joy to do so every single time. $20 toy or $2 recycled bottle: same reaction. Just watching this is a lesson in being aware of overspending when the same joy can come from finding a new use for what I already have.
And then there is the whole issue of Katara getting into my things. She’s a pretty good girl. She quickly learned what is hers (meaning allowed to be destroyed) and what is mine. She also knows that she can make a big statement by destroying something of mine. It is the quickest way to make a statement about feeling abandoned if I leave her alone too long.
I haven’t lost too many things to her teeth, although we have had to go apologize to the library a few times since books are a particular fondness of hers. But when she has destroyed things, I find that I really don’t care. I just look at that little face and know she was bored or scared. Therefore, I can let it go. Easily. Because if the house was on fire and I had to save something, Katara herself is the only thing I’d really need to save.
5. Physical Health Benefits of Having a Dog
Mostly what Katara gives me is emotional. She offers all of those things that make humans love dogs – unconditional love, terrific cuddles, endless silliness. She has that uncanny ability to make me feel like the most important person on earth … and like nothing going on in my life that feels stressful actually matters at all.
But having an awesome rescue dog like her also offers some great physical health benefits. I feel terrible when she doesn’t get out for her walks and exercise, so most days we spend an hour or more at the park. I walk more, I get more fresh air, and I get myself away from my computer/ tv/ devices. She gets me out of bed when I don’t feel like it, and she also reminds me that I need to nap if I’m tired. I’m sure she lowers my blood pressure and stress levels and all of those other things I’ve read about when researching the benefits of therapy dogs.
And I also eat far healthier now that Katara is in my life. I usually share bits of my food with her. And while I’m not always consistent about what I put in my own body, I don’t want to give her gross, processed, over-sugared, weird chemical stuff. Mostly we get delivery of farm fresh food. We eat a lot of fruits and veggies and pasture-raised hormone-free organic eggs. And while I occasionally feel silly being one of “those people” (the kind that knows my rescue dog prefers Romanesco cauliflower to boring broccoli), I also know that I have significantly improved my own intake of healthy foods since my pup’s nose started sharing my plate.
Katara doesn’t try to do these things, of course. She is just herself. And maybe that is the most important lesson of all. Be your authentic self. Don’t worry about the rest. “Paws” and enjoy every day for what it is and who you have to share it with you.
You can follow Katara’s everyday activities on Instagram @RescueDogKatara.
This post was originally written for Fempotential in August 2016.