Guest Post: The healing power of dogs


This guest post was written by Charlotte Underwood. Charlotte is a 22 year old from Norfolk UK. She is a growing mental health advocate and writer with a mission to end the stigma through her words. 


 mental health blog

There has been a lot in the media about mental health support dogs lately, and honestly, I think it is great as our furry friends are certainly comforting. However, I do have to question, aren’t all our dogs ‘support dogs’?

As a child I was surrounded by cats and by default I became a cat person, I always wanted a dog but my parents just wouldn’t let me have one. When my father died, I found myself quite wounded and I know that my mum was too, months after his death my mother found herself a dog. I was very happy to have a new member of the family, Storm, but I suppose we just didn’t connect as well as he did with my mother.

6 months after my father’s death I began to feel to empty, the house and our family just wasn’t the same. A part of me considered having children but I was 18 and I knew that I was not ready for that, the broody urges were very real. At some point I just thought, what if I get a small dog, one of my own, I could raise it and take care of all the finances for it, it’s more reasonable than having a baby, right? So off I went to knock on the door of my mother’s room, scared of her response and rejection but when I explained that I would be responsible, she agreed and became excited. It wasn’t soon before we were on our way to meet our new puppy.

 mental health and dogs

My heart was filled with joy the first time I saw her, she was so small and sleepy – I could relate. She was just the sweetest thing I ever did see and when she crawled onto me, I knew I had been chosen and that she wanted to come home with me. I have to admit though that I also wanted to bring all of her sibling’s home – if only I could.

The first few months were hard, I ended up spending over £1000 to make sure I had everything for her, I was watching her every second of the day and checking if she was breathing. My dog, now named Sooty (She looked like a ball of soot) was very much my own baby and I believe I fell in love with her as strongly as I would with my own actual child.

Finding Sooty was the best decision of my life, it was a learning curve for sure as I was so used to cats, but as time went on it got easier and I found myself more confident in my maternal nature and Sootys own strength. I cannot say that we always had a good relationship, for two whole, long, years she seemed to prefer anyone to me. It really just made me laugh as it was so typical that I was feeding her and keeping her healthy and yet she just wasn’t fussed by my existence.

Sooty is now 3 years old, she looks and acts completely different but she is my soul mate. I am always woken up by Sooty jumping on the bed and wanting to play, we will spend the day cuddling and she will follow me around the house. She will jump in my arms and give me so many kisses. The bond I have with her has given me so much unconditional love and purpose that she has helped fill the loss I found when my father passed, she really has helped me through my grief. Sooty is the person I come home to, I always end up missing her when we are apart and I’m known to go home early from holiday just so I can give her a cuddle. It’s kind of bad but me and my husband have this joke that Sooty is at the top at the hierarchy while he is at the bottom – it’s true. Dogs just give us this relationship and love that a human just can’t seem to give, it’s magical.
 

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I believe we often take our dogs for granted, yes sometimes they will misbehave and do things that we wish they didn’t. However, dogs are always there for us and only want to give us love, they are so pure. Sooty is the first to cuddle up to me and lick away my tears when I am hurting, even when I am anxious, just having her next to me helps me to heal. I do fully believe that dogs have healing powers and can be an asset to a person with mental health, I can’t count how many times Sooty has prevented me from giving up or falling into a relapse. I don’t feel alone or in pain when Sooty is near by.

I will contest that Sooty may not be an official support dog but she is still my support dog because she does as the label states, she supports – and she is very good at it. Dogs are companions and will stay by your side till death do you part, they care unconditionally and can tell when you are hurting (physical or mental), really, we owe a lot to our furry friends and maybe they are too good for this earth but I am glad they are here. The world is a better place with our furry friends in it.

- Charlotte Underworld 

Twitter - @CUnderwookUK

Blog - charlotteunderwoodauthor.wordpress.com

(Photos taken by Molly Boulding)