My four-legged therapist is called Nell. She is a strong-willed, eight-year-old collie who takes me for the most beautiful walks. I know about the obvious benefits of love, companionship and exercise being a dog owner brings. For me, welcoming Nell into my life has given me so much more because I have suffered with varying degrees of anxiety since my teens and since having her around, life is calmer and definitely more fun. She makes me laugh literally every day and has taught me many valuable lessons.
Nell has the ability to totally zone me out when she is on the hunt for something (usually another dog who’s going in the opposite direction). I call Nell and whistle but it’s pointless – nothing penetrates those cute furry ears. It’s infuriating – she generally does it if I need to get to a meeting or it’s tipping down with rain. When she comes back, eventually, full of fun in her eyes I feel pleased somehow that she has had the time of her life. As someone with a tendency to please those around me, sometimes to my own detriment, I try to channel my inner Nell and do what feeds my soul even if it means others may be less pleased with me.
Another habit of Nell’s that suits her and not me is a bit grim: she poops directly on top of her balls. My partner Tom thinks it’s an unfortunate consequence of walking forward as she is pooing (many dog owners will know this joy) but I know differently. The way the poop is perfectly balanced like a little totem on top of her bright pink ball is no accident – it’s so she can find it in the heather around where we live. Although it’s a funny little habit, it’s taught me two things – to take hand sanitiser on walks and that it can be useful to really get to know your own shit – it can help you navigate through tricky terrain.
I get teary thinking about how much I enjoy riding my bike next to Nell as she runs full pelt through nature. She puts literally everything she has into every stride. It’s so energising to be next to something that is so utterly full of happiness. You can see that this is what Nell was built to do – run free with her pack, her tail wagging so wildly that it does big bushy full circles. When it’s time, we’ll go home, we’ll light the fire, Nell will eat, drink and then curl up for a good long satisfied rest on her bed. I’m a pretty obsessive person, so watching her helps remind me to do the things that you most naturally want and are meant to do. Her way of being inspires me to do things with all of my heart and energy, then settle down for a lovely rest so I can do it again tomorrow.
Start the day well
Every single morning, once I give the slightest impression that I may have woken from my slumber, Nell will jump straight up to welcome me to the day. She climbs over me wagging her tail then does a downward-facing dog into a full body cuddle. It’s hard to wake up in a bad mood to that. Even Tom, can’t resist her and he is known for his lack of grace in the morning. We humans will have a coffee, while Nell wags her tail and then the three of us set off for the day. Once we are up, we head out for a nice walk, generally at the same spot every day where we watch the seasons pass. This routine has become central to my emotional and physical wellbeing.
Boundaries for love are there to break
Nell came into our lives around four years ago when she needed a home. I had always had dogs around growing up and I knew putting good boundaries in place was important. The plan was Nell would live in downstairs at the back of the house, and I would take her for two lovely walks each day. After a couple of weeks, it seemed a bit chilly in the kitchen so we brought her bed into the living room where she could hang out and have a little tickle between her ears. After a month or so, I was teaching her to climb stairs with a treat on every step. This was to make sure she could sit with me whilst I worked in my office upstairs. After about six months I couldn’t believe how much I loved her and how much she seemed to like us. Four years on, Nell and I pretty much spend all our time together. Where she’s not welcome, I’m not really either, or at least that’s how it feels. This has taught me to try and avoid places that are not wild enough to allow dogs – they might not really suit you or me (unless they serve very fancy food).