Guest post by Kristin Offiler
Anyone who owns a pet can tell you how rewarding it is. What’s even more special? When your pet teaches you a thing or two about life.
My husband and I had been married for only three weeks when we started browsing PetFinder.com in search of a dog to adopt. We went back and forth between feeling like it wasn’t the right time to adopt a dog and feeling like it was the perfect time. We had moved into our house a few days before our wedding, so why not make three huge life changes all in the same month?
We found Mia’s profile on PetFinder on a sunny Saturday afternoon in August last year. Earlier in the day, our friend had been telling us stories about the previously abused dog she’d adopted. My heart broke thinking of all the animals in shelters that would be put to sleep if no one took them in. We had a new house with a backyard and I work from home—who were we to not adopt an animal in need? That’s when we found Mia.
I called the rescue league listed on her profile, which was based in Tennessee (we live in Rhode Island). The league’s founder called me back the next day and we chatted for at least an hour. I filled out the necessary paperwork, she called our references, and by Monday night we were picking up our new rescue puppy at the foster home 45 minutes away in Massachusetts.
The past fourteen months with Mia have been a time of great learning and growth for all three of us. I’d like to share some of the most precious lessons with you and hear what others have to say about the joy of owning and learning from a pet.
• Be filled with curiosity about the world. Like I said before, I work from home. This means Mia and I can take walks whenever we feel like it during the day, and the one thing I always love about our walks is Mia’s endless curiosity. We walk different routes around our neighborhood, but essentially we tend to walk through familiar settings. That hardly seems to matter to Mia, who follows her incredible sense of smell and sharp eyesight with such joy and curiosity that you’d think we were exploring new territory! It’s hard to keep this lesson in mind as humans who often fall into routines and ruts, but the world is truly a fascinating place worth exploring and enjoying. A simple walk with my dog always reminds me of this.
• Remind the people in your life that you love them. Mia wakes up and wags her tail at the sight of us. She affectionately nuzzles our faces and licks our hands when we talk to her. And when we get home from running an errand, she cries with excitement, even if we’ve only been gone an hour. She reminds us constantly that she loves us, and we remind her (and each other!). Life is so short and so fragile—take a lesson from your pet and tell someone you love them today.
• Rest when you need to. Ah, if only more humans could follow a dog or cat’s cue on napping, the world would be a better place! Maybe you can’t doze off at work or in the middle of a hectic meeting, but you can take time to rest and restore when you need it. Mia has the ability to be both full of energy and completely relaxed in the same moment—she can curl up and nap, but spring to her feet if we say the word “walk.” I try to keep this in mind when life gets stressful. If I need to unwind and relax, it’s best to take care of myself instead of stressing myself out more. Mia would never push herself without resting. Animals are smarter than us sometimes!
• Be patient with yourself and have a little bit of fun every day. When we were training Mia as a puppy, she learned her commands very quickly. But we had to be patient because even the smartest dog takes a little bit of time to learn new tricks. And even now, a year later, there are still commands she understands but resists because she’s impatient and wants that cookie you’re holding now! When she’s patient and we’re patient, she gets into the right frame of mind to do her trick. And she always makes time for a little bit of play every day. It’s never a bad idea to treat yourself with patience and do something you enjoy every day.
• Go outside. The best part of having a dog is the built-in excuse for taking a break from work and chores to get outside! Mia is always thrilled when we ask if she wants to go for a walk. Not once has she said no (and I doubt she ever will!). After our walks, my head feels clearer and my muscles feel more relaxed. I’ve learned from my dog that a simple 45-minute walk around the neighborhood and down to the beach can be exactly the thing I need to reduce stress and feel happier. And you can see it in her, too. When we get back from a walk, her energy is high and she’s happy to run a few extra laps around the yard or chew her favorite bone at our feet. It’s enough to motivate me to enjoy my chance to get outside with her and then come home to a cup of tea and a good book.
Life is full of lessons, but some of the most important ones are the small ones we learn from unlikely teachers, like our pets. On a daily basis our pets can inspire us to be better people and can show us how to truly enjoy life. Then there the astonishing stories of animals beating the odds by overcoming illness, abuse, or disfigurement and going on to live each day with joy. There are a million worthwhile lessons in every happy wag of the tail and affectionate nuzzle.
Kristin Offiler is a freelance writer in Rhode Island who writes for a site that helps students find the right psychology degree.