Like most dog owners I struggle each day to keep my home as clean as I can. Some days here at the sanctuary it is a losing battle, but we manage to maintain a home we can be proud of. This morning I read an article concerning the microbiomes that our dogs bring with them everywhere they go. Microscopic bacteria, viruses, and fungi are everywhere in our environment, and our dogs can be an extremely plentiful source. Thinking about it makes me want to get out the bleach bottle. But according to some new studies being conducted in Europe many of these microbiomes can actually be beneficial.
Apparently, children that are raised around dogs, especially from birth develop stronger immune systems. They are exposed to these bacteria, and their bodies learn which are harmful and which are not. Amish children who are raised around all sorts of animals including farm animals have a lower chance of having asthma and allergies as they grow. Their immune systems grow stronger each day as they fight off the harmful germs and learn to accept the beneficial germs.
Years ago when we first moved to the country I tried to keep my young children clean, most especially when their Granny was coming to visit. She seemed surprised each time to find my children in clean clothes with scrubbed faces. So one day she told me to let my babies get dirty. She said, “Let them roll in the dirt, let them get grime under their nails, and let them enjoy the land you and Rick are proud to own.” I thought I was a bad mother if someone saw my children with mud on their clothes or dirt in their ears. It was one of the many lessons my step-mom taught me that helped me relax and enjoy my babies. I now know that my children’s memories of growing up almost always include wonderful stories of things they did in the dirt, in the water puddles, and in our old barn with our dogs right by their sides. They have both enjoyed mostly healthy lives, and I like to think that dirt in their ears, and the dog hair on their clothes might have helped just a little to make that happen.
The article I read this morning confirmed what my children’s fabulous Granny taught me years ago. Now, when I look at my beautiful grandchildren, I smile when they have a smudge of dirt on their nose or grass stains on their knees. I know that their Great Granny must be smiling down on them from heaven as they grow strong and healthy.
We all know that no matter how often we bathe our dogs they are going to bring in things on their coats that we try not to think about. So I don’t worry too much about it, and with over forty dogs there is no danger of me bathing them too often. Rick and I rarely become ill, and I’m crediting our lives full of dogs with that health.
Our pets bring many other aspects of health into our lives that we might take for granted. One example of that is fresh in my mind. This last weekend a special lady named Susan came to the sanctuary to adopt one of our rescued puppies. Sadly, she lost her beloved fourteen year old dachshund, Lady Bug, just weeks ago. Susan brought her remaining dog, Cricket, with her to help pick out just the right puppy. Cricket has been grieving the loss of her older sister and had not been eating well or playing at all. While we played with the puppies my foster arrived to return Princess (pictured above) from her three week vacation in south Texas. When Susan first set eyes on Princess she began to cry. I was ill prepared for anything to upset Susan, and she quickly explained the similarities between Princess and her beloved Lady Bug.
We all sat and visited for awhile, and Susan held Princess while the tears rolled off her cheeks. I offered to take Princess to the other room to remove the reminder of painful thoughts, but Susan said no. She enjoyed loving on our little chubby baby in spite of the tears, and I would not deny her that. Princess was in her element and certainly enjoyed all the special attention.
While we visited, Cricket slowly began to play on the rug with several of the puppies and eventually with Princess too. I wondered what went thru her mind. Did Cricket realize how much her playing with Princess was a perfect picture of her playing with the sister she lost? I know the familiar scene was not lost on Susan, and I could feel her heart healing just a little while they played.
Soon Cricket and Susan picked out their puppy and went on their way. The next day I wondered about Cricket, Susan, and their new family member. Later that evening I received the sweetest text from Susan. She said Cricket was playing again with an enthusiasm that had not been seen for awhile, and that she had eaten her dinner with no hesitation. Cricket and the new puppy were busy forging a new friendship. This relationship will not replace the sweet memories of Lady Bug, but it is helping to heal the void in Cricket’s heart and in Susan’s. The emotional healing they both received from their visit with Princess, and the addition of the new rambunctious puppy to their lives touched us all.
We’ve all seen the wonderful pictures of therapy dogs helping our children, our wounded warriors, and our seniors as they put their pain aside if only for a little while. Many studies show what we all already know in our hearts, that our furbabies help keep us physically and emotionally healthy. They help restore our self-esteem after a hurtful rejection or failure. They help our seniors live in the present and give them a reason to remain as active as possible. They help us with our stress, our high blood pressure, and our heart disease. They help us with depression, physical injuries, autism, anxiety, and anti-social leanings. They also help us get the exercise we need, and they open doors to new friendships that make our lives more fulfilling.
Dogs bring lots of things into our homes and into our lives. Bacteria, fungi, viruses, and occasionally a dead bird (YIKES), along with any number of other things we would hope they would leave outside. But they also bring joy, understanding, acceptance, loyalty, and companionship. These things help to keep us all healthier and happier no matter what stage of life or state of health we are in. I’m sure many of you will agree with me when I say that I will happily mop up the mud footprints in my kitchen in exchange for the smile on my face and in my heart when my babies are cuddled up by my side.