Dogs or Antidepressants?

I have not tended my Blog for a while because I’ve been waiting for a decidedly dark cloud to lift from my mind.  It is taking its time – so much so that I have decided to wait no longer.  This time of year has always stirred up a malevolent host of demons in my world.  The darkening evenings actually seem to suck the life out of me, and I feel myself sinking into hopelessness.  Real sink or swim stuff.  Yet here I am, still alive enough to write.

When all is well I throw myself into daily life  – making plans, embarking on courses, committing to dates and appointments, acting on ideas.  Then depression strikes and within days all my excitement has died.  I can feel the demon’s claw seizing my spirit and attempting to strangle it.  Suddenly I cannot go out, I want to shut myself away from my friends, I lose the motivation to do the simplest tasks, and slowly things begin to fall apart.

So where does Trudy fit into this?  My black and white choice is to find somebody to look after her while I wallow in misery, or to stumble onwards and continue caring for her myself.  Unable to part with her, I’ve chosen to keep things as they are.  The upshot is that I have   to continue with a daily routine for Trudy’s sake.  That means getting  up at the usual time to feed her and take her outside for her “busy busy”.  More often than not I meet a neighbour and we spend a few minutes engaging in chit-chat.   Having a bouncy Labrador makes it impossible to hide away from the outside world.   Thanks to Trudy, the skeleton of my normal routine has remained intact. 

I have learned to lower my expectations during times of low mood.  My current goal is to survive this rather bleak period and to continue to look after Trudy – not because I have to, but because I want to.  The love I have for Trudy makes me glow inside, and even when my mood is dark and I can’t feel the warmth from that glow I know it’s still there.  When Trudy bounds over after I’ve popped out for a few minutes, I can feel the glow stirring, and it gives me hope.  Trudy is a gift, and the bond we have is a gift.  Being on the receiving end of the unconditional love which just spills out of Labradors is very precious. 

One of the great things about dogs is that they are so tangible.  Trudy’s warm, soft fur has an instant feel-good effect – and that’s before I get to the silky ears, and the wagging tail.  Research has proved that stroking animals can increase the levels of serotonin in the brain.  In addition it can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, and decrease pain.  This is why there is an increasing number of Therapy dogs being assigned to hospices and retirement homes.  In fact when I have visited such places myself in my capacity as a Speaker, I have witnessed the positive effects that Trudy has had on some of the patients.  Trudy is synonymous with Life.  Just being around her makes life livable.

Perhaps her ability to inject humour into my bleakest moments is the thing that strikes me most.  If Trudy wants to play hide and seek with items from my laundry basket, she won’t take no for an answer no matter how depressed I feel!  And the fast-beating thump of her tail has such an upbeat rhythm that my mouth smiles without me even thinking about it.  Then there are the numerous feats of Labrador mischief that prove to me how priceless Trudy is, and before long I realise that I’m actually glad to be alive.  Sometimes I surprise myself by my own spontaneous laughter – thanks to Trudy.   Trudy ignites hope inside me, and hope is what stops people from drowning.

So despite the waves of gloom which permeate my days at the moment, I have the means to stay grounded, focussed and connected with other people.  When I’m in the park with Trudy, fellow walkers see the hurtling Labrador before they see me.  Even when they notice me and we strike up a conversation they are unaware of my inner struggle.  This in itself is a true bonus.     Antidepressants can set right the chemical imbalances in your brain, but having a dog like Trudy is a reason for living and thriving.  Merely wanting to look after a dog takes your thoughts away from your own troubles.  Actually having a dog reduces those troubles to the bare minimum.   Trudy’s role as a Guide dog at this time is secondary to her therapeutic role.  The very fact that she gives me so much makes me determined to do what I can for her.  This has prevented me from caving in on myself.

Trudy provides me with so much more than freedom and mobility.  I know she understands me as I do her, and it feels like we’re joined together by something magical.  She is not just part of my life, she has become part of me.

 Hetty is Britain’s first dual Guide dog and Seizure Alert dog http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/news/uks-first-dual-guide-dog-and-seizure-dog-graduates-with-new-owner/

Children with autism and OCD benefit from assistance dogs  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/11/giving/11DOGS.html?_r=2&partner=TOPIXNEWS&ei=5099

Therapy dogs in Psychiatric services http://drdeborahserani.blogspot.com/2010/10/therapy-service-dogs.html

Paws for a Snack

I'm so hungry!

All Guide dogs are noble when they need to be, but I think the best Guide dogs possess that “lovable rogue” quality which brings out the funny side of life.

My Guide dog Trudy has those Labrador eyes which melt the most hardened hearts, and she knows precisely who will fall for her “please rescue me, I’m starving” act.  The Postie has got used to her head appearing round the door with an empty food bowl hanging from her mouth.  But people who aren’t used to Trudy never cease to tell me that they think “she might be hungry”.  The empty bowl with its well-chewed edges is the picture of neglect when it’s dropped at the feet of a stranger.  She looks up at the unsuspecting newbie with sorrowful eyes, which I’m positive she has learned to enlarge just to increase the pathos.

The starved Labrador act comes into its own when we’re out and about.    When we’re walking through a busy street I always have to be ready for the sudden lurch of the harness – it invariably means she’s spied a discarded sandwich crust, or a lone chip.  As I know her tactics I can usually grab her back before she’s reached the edible item, but she still occasionally manages to outwit me.

Sometimes she’ll lunge for something dramatically, but when I prize it from her mouth I find it’s nothing more than an apple stalk or a dried piece of orange peel, or a till receipt.  I can almost hear the “Ha ha, fooled you” snigger as I pretend the incident never occurred (I have to maintain my own street cred…).

In the early days of our partnership Trudy committed some worthy food crimes.  One late evening I was walking down the hill towards Hereford Town centre and Trudy suddenly appeared to be limping.  I was alarmed, and stopped her to check her paws in case she’d trodden on some glass or chewing gum. I was unable to find anything, so gave her the command to continue.  As she did so I noted that she was definitely walking peculiarly, and became quite concerned.  After stopping her again and checking her more thoroughly, I discovered a dirty great doughnut hanging out of her chops.  She’d procured it without even stopping so I hadn’t noticed the crime take place.  And she was so determined to hide her stolen booty that she was trying to eat the doughnut on the hop before she got rumbled.  Unfortunately for Trudy, walking in harness whilst munching a doughnut requires considerable practise, so she didn’t get away with that one.

At home Trudy is a seasoned thief.  Her bed is a hoard of socks, gloves, shoe laces and other items which may come in handy later.  Stealing underwear from my laundry basket and presenting them as “gifts” to visitors is one of her favourite antics.  I’ve had to buy a Trudy-proof laundry basket to protect my dignity…  (Trudy is a canine expert on the topic of “how to embarrass the parents”).

She has only thieved from a shop once.  This particular crime occurred in a local pet supplies shop, in which ironically I was purchasing some rawhide chews.  Just as I was paying for the multipack of pressed rawhide, I was aware of a rapid crunching sound in my left ear.  Torn between ignoring it and facing the inevitable, I reluctantly plunged for the latter.  I reached down to Trudy’s muzzle, and felt the thin end of a gluten-free chew disappearing into her mouth.  She looked up at me with such imploring “I couldn’t help it” eyes that the shopkeeper actually offered her another one!  “They’re only 43p” he said, chuckling at the notion of a shoplifting Guide dog.  That’s Labrador psychology for you.

Trudy is untrustworthy whenever there is unsupervised food.  (The 5 mince pies left unwittingly too near met a grisly end last Christmas).  But despite the fact that she has earned the nickname of “The Hoover”, I have never felt unsafe when I’m out with her.  She has never once led me over a kerb into the road, or put me in any danger.    I am 100% certain that Trudy’s professional role as a Guide dog overcomes the scallywag Labrador when my safety is in question.    Trudy is a synonym for mischief, but the fact is I know I can trust her with my life.

Although there have been times when Trudy’s antics have caused me to cringe with embarrassment, there is nothing about her that I would ever wish to change.