Between the time I was born and the time I left for college I was always living with at least one dog (and at one point 9 dogs!), which is something I took for granted until I was actually without one when I left home. Now, when I come home one of thing things I look forward to is seeing my dogs again. I think it can be hard to articulate what it is about dogs that can heal us, but I’m going to try to do that here. I think that some of what I say can apply to cats, horses or whatever other domesticated animal you prefer. To me, there just seems to be something about animals that represents something we lost in our fast-paced culture.

The most recent time I came home, I remember watching one of my dogs sit underneath my dining room table for 20 minutes, just looking around. That’s it. Even if a dog is doing something else like eating, playing, hunting, running around or going to the bathroom, it is as if all they’re doing is exactly what they’re doing, no more, no less. Which isn’t to say they don’t have moods, personalities or intentions, because they certainly do in my opinion. Its as if the only time dogs aren’t Zen-masters is when there is some kind of human tampering going on like in any form of dog abuse, but dog fighting in particular comes to my mind.

So imagine you’re petting a dog, and the only thing that dog is doing is being petted by you, stopping only to get petted by other people. I’d say that feels pretty good on my end, getting that kind of attention. But I think the coolest part about hanging out with a dog is that the way a dog relates to you, in a way, calls you to do the same to the dog. I remember when I was home over Christmas break most recently, I was just hanging out with one of my dogs and I realized that I hadn’t thought about anything outside of what was immediately in front of me for a solid 15 minutes. This rarely happens to me, especially in the midst of a difficult semester.

I think that this is the value of therapy dogs, or any other therapy animal. While I don’t think that animals can necessarily understand the complexity of human suffering, I think they can heal by almost making it less complicated. They don’t ask us to be anything other than who we are in a given moment and I think we are inclined to return to favor, both to the animal and to ourselves. I’ve had dogs help me through some tough times but when I think about it, they didn’t really do anything. Its almost like they taught me without teaching me.

In a perfect world (or my perfect world at least) everyone would have a dog. Obviously this isn’t possible today as having a dog is such a commitment of time and money. But I think the moral of the blog is to try and take something from animals which many of us don’t get in our culture.

Written by Kevin Sprenkle, M.A.