Written By: Rev. Scott Morris, MD, is the founder and CEO of the Church Health Center in Memphis, TN. He blogs about health at www.drscottmorris.com.
“On Tuesday, January 29 at 4:22 p.m., we put my dog Sullivan to sleep. His head was lying in my wife’s lap, and I stroked him while the vet injected the liquid that stopped his heart. During the last few seconds of his life, Mary said to him, “Do you want to go for a ride in the car-car?” I could see his eyes perk up as my eyes began to pour out tears that landed on his soft fur. And then the vet said, “He’s gone.”
I realize he was “only a dog” but he was my dog and the one living creature that loved me no matter how bad my day was or what happened. He made me smile and laugh and look forward to coming home. Mary always made sure he was on the front porch waiting for me at the end of the day.
Sullivan was a 150-pound Bernese mountain dog. He never met a stranger, loved children and loved to meet new people. He and I once won the prize in a dog show for being “Most Like Owner.” He had hip dysplasia and I have two artificial hips. The judges saw the resemblance and he won the ribbon.
Our friends were especially kind to us in the weeks after we let Sullivan go because most of them have gone through a similar loss. Pets are not people, but they do matter in our lives. Because they depend on us so much, the bond becomes intense. Sometimes we feel closer to our pets than to people in our families whom we are “supposed” to love.
Much has been written about how animals can be important for our health. Anyone who loves a pet does not really need to be told that. But it has made me think more intensely about the way love in general affects our lives and health. All of us know we just feel better when we have a healthy love life, and I don’t mean only in a romantic sense. Loving friends, family and even pets energizes the way we feel. We are more inclined to exercise, less inclined to overeat junk food and more likely to be mentally focused in our work.
I don’t think most of us do a good enough job of nurturing and taking care of those relationships that matter most in our lives. Sadly, we tend to do a better job with our pets than with the people who give us joy. I think we realize the animals are totally dependent on us and are always forgiving, whereas people do not implicitly need us to the same extent and do not so easily forgive our foolish behavior.
So my health advice for you is this. Make a list of ten relationships in your life from which you draw love. Now, find a way to let those people know your gratitude for the role they play in your life. Do it now and not on their deathbeds. If you cannot get to ten, then maybe it is time to expand the circle of people you trust—or you might consider getting a puppy.
When we add up the things that matter in our life, who really cares about being healthy if there are not those who love us and whom we can love? I am certain Sullivan would agree. (And I hope he would like the new puppy we got a few weeks ago.)”
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