I was worried about one of my pets, as I always do, when my mother said to me in frustration “Why don’t you just give away all your pets and. . .”

“Be miserable?” was my reply.  Because despite my anxieties on their behalf (are they sick, are they happy, are they getting all that they need????) I can’t imagine living a life without the little critters. 

Though I am not one of those delusional people who thinks of my pets as kids, they are certainly an important part of my family.  I smile even while getting mauled by the dogs each day when I get home (what human would ever greet you with such happiness?).   When away from home I cannot sleep, ironically, because it’s too quiet.  Though a purring cat can be loud, it sure is comforting.  Being flanked on either side by warm felines bodies leaves some folks cold, but I’ll take the subsequent crick in the neck for a few glorious moments of a group cat nap. 

Though I spend a lot of time attending to my pets’ needs, as an chronic worrier, it’s nice to have a respite from my own issues, even if it means worrying a little about someone other than myself.   When the dogs need to be fed or walked or the litter box cleaned, there is no time for self involvement – and that’s ultimately healthier than the alternative.

I’m not the first to delight in the soothing affect of pets. Ask any pet owner and you’ll get a litany of reasons why their pets are good for them (you may even get melodramatic or just highly dramatic accounts of noble acts and miracles, depending on the pet owner).  And more recently science has supported such anecdotal evidence with studies that show pets lower blood pressure, decrease depression and increase feelings of social support in those who live alone.

So it’s not surprising that Bruce Goldstein’s therapist suggested that Goldstein, a manic depressive, get a dog.  Where medicine and therapy failed, a tiny black lab puppy named Ozzy succeeded. 

Puppies need structure; they need constant care.  There are no holidays with these creatures and if you think there are you’ll soon find puppy poop in places you don’t want it.  Ozzy made Bruce get out of bed when he didn’t want to.  He made him keep a schedule when he couldn’t even get dressed in the morning.  But more than that Ozzy sent Bruce out into the world (in the city a dog must be walked). Once out there, the adorable puppy attracted crowds of admirers forcing Bruce to deal with others, instead of isolating himself.  Surely this is what saved him.  And all the while, Ozzy forgave Bruce his inevitable mistakes and loved him without asking him to change.  Sounds like something every person is looking for.

Though there are sure to be readers who are surprised at Ozzy’s power to bring Bruce back to stability, especially when modern medicine failed him, I am not one of them.  I know that every day I live with my pets makes me happier, calmer and more focused on things outside myself.  While that may not be a guaranteed prescription for physical and mental health, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.