May 20, 2024
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May 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Living in the Dog House: The Emotional Benefit of Dogs

“Can we get a dog?” No. “Why not?” Because I do not like dogs. (My friend Elisa kept saying we should get a dog.)

“Can we get a dog?” No. “Why not?” Because I really do not like dogs. (My friend Elisa kept saying dogs are good for children.)

“Can we get a dog?” No. “Why not?” Because we already have four children. (My friend Elisa kept saying that dogs are therapeutic.)

“Can we get a dog?” No. “Why not?” Because you have two working parents and we are exhausted. (My friend Elisa had a list of what kind of dog we should get.)

“Can we get a dog?” No. “Why not?” Because I said so.

For three long years, three of my children asked us every day for a dog. They promised to walk her, feed her and clean up after her. It seemed sincere. The idea of getting a dog to give children responsibility was mildly appealing. However, one of our daughters was adamantly opposed. She was very clear she would have nothing to do with it. No walking, no cleaning up poop, zero responsibilities. The other three children promised to take care of the dog knowing she opted out.

So, as all good parents do, we put no thought into it, went back on our word and got a dog. On a random Sunday, on an impulse, we all got into the car, drove to a dog store in New Jersey and yes, “bought” a dog. Please do not judge us about the dog not being a rescue dog. We did not fly her in from an another country. We did not drive eight hours to a specialty breeder. We had no plan and we had no idea what we were doing (sort of like when we had kids!).

Our criteria were simple: We chose the cutest dog in the store. After we got the dog, we realized we had no clue what dog ownership entailed. With the dog on our lap, no leash, no collar, peeing in the car (the dog, not us) and no crate to put her in, we drove to Petco with “sucker” written all over us. Several hundred dollars later, we were ready. Our child with zero responsibility for the dog of course got naming rights and settled on the name Yogi (as in one who does Yoga—not Yogi Berra or Yogi the Bear). It was a huge compromise; her other choice was Lulu (the ultimate cliché). Our son wanted to name her Schwarber. My husband wanted to name her Xanax or Extra Time. He felt that she would fit into the family perfectly.

We brought Yogi home and our refusnik daughter ensured that every room in the house was properly doused in essential oils (except her room, which was to remain Yogi-free). She was very clear that she didn’t dislike Yogi; she just hated having a dog in our house. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one.

For us, it was like having a newborn all over again. Waking up in the middle of the night to take her to the bathroom outside, early morning barking and walks, eating all of our shoes and scratching furniture (to be fair, only one of our kids did that). We literally had no idea what we were doing. We were too cheap to spend money on a trainer. After all, we trained four kids without help! Rather we spent money at the vet—every visit cost $400. She was diagnosed with intestinal issues, anxiety, allergies and recently had root canal. Somehow, it seems she has our genes.

Me, the dog hater? I barely paid attention to her. My husband was caregiver number one, our babysitter was caregiver number two, three kids combined were caregiver number three and I was caregiver number four. And the other daughter completely ignored her. For months. Pretended she did not exist. And our house continued to smell like dog, lavender and essential oils.

As for Yogi, when we first brought her into our house she was petrified. She hid under the sofa and trembled a lot. Slowly, she started to feel comfortable. We had to teach her how to climb stairs and not to jump on everything and everyone, and we were determined to have her toilet trained outside the home. The kids enjoyed teaching her tricks as well. She was like a circus dog.

And then her personality starting emerging. She became the cutest, sweetest, funnest and most lovable dog. She is the dog that kids in the neighborhood who are afraid of dogs come to visit to get over their fear of dogs (she even cured my friend Shari). She also became our watchdog. As my husband loves to say, if someone comes to rob our house (and by all means, take anything) she will bark at them and then lick their feet. She is all of 10 pounds of white mush.

So what are the emotional benefits? Every day when we come home, Yogi waits for each of us by the door and welcomes us with her paws, tongue out with excitement and expects a tummy rub. Each child comes home from whatever they experienced in the school day and knows they can come home to a welcoming, non-judgmental dog that just wants hugs, playmates and snuggles. She is like milk and cookies coming to life. After navigating their school days, academic and social pressures, there is nothing in the world for a child that compares to coming home to an excited dog that is happy to see them. The dog is there when they have a tough day and offers an escape from a world that at times can be cruel, including daily social exclusion, rejections, academic pressures and feelings of loneliness. Yogi doesn’t leave anyone out. Yogi doesn’t ignore texts. Yogi doesn’t post on Instagram to let you know she excluded you (but she does post on Instagram!! Follow her at Yogi doesn’t care what you look like. Yogi doesn’t care about college or grades. Yogi simply offers love, comfort and stability. And these feelings bring about calmness, kindness, peace and affection. The emotional support that a dog can give to a child is so simple and pure. It is priceless.

So why dogs? Because our daughter that would not look at the dog for the first year now FaceTimes her every day from Israel. Because the dog offers the children consistent love. And obviously, because the dog has imprinted herself on to me—the ultimate dog rejecter. My friends still crack up that I have a dog. Yogi follows me everywhere. I would say the most surprising part of having a dog is that not only does Yogi continually provide comfort for my children but she has won my heart as well. If you aren’t sure if you want a dog, come visit Yogi.

However, please do not mistake me for a dog lover. I love my dog. But since everyone on earth seems to have a dog these days, I want to warn you that while I definitely enjoy my dog, I only tolerate yours!

By Michal Agus Fox, PsyD

Michal Agus Fox is married to Dr. Natie Fox. They have four children and live in Englewood. Michal is a school psychologist at a private Jewish day school in New York City.

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