Looking for love

Calgary Herald, May 5. 2018: I scroll down looking for handsome faces, long legs and strong backs. I like the big guys and I fall half-in-love with each picture I see, imagining evenings snuggling on the couch and taking long walks by the river gazing into each other’s eyes before I bend down to pick up his poop.

I am online dating for the next big love of my life. A dog. A big, beautiful, rescue dog. My last fella, ‘Rocky: The Best Dog That Ever Lived,’ died two years ago and I’ve been making do with loaner dogs ever since. We get regular visits from our dog nieces, Lucy and Zuri, dog-sit the neighbour’s pooches Lucy and Jenny and are looking forward to having Labradoodle Lexi coming to stay for a few weeks this summer. The old leather couch that Rocky beat up with 10,000 naps left the house not long after he did, so when dogs come over I put blankets on the new(er) couch and let them have at ‘er.

Having a dog can be hell on the furniture, but man, it’s good for the soul. And researchers have spent loads of time digging into why. They’re finding bucketloads of benefits that more than make up for all that dog hair. You non-dog people who are still reading may be interested to know that having a dog reduces your blood pressure, alleviates anxiety and makes you more mindful.

Just gazing into your dog’s eyes boosts the levels of the so-called “love hormone.” Oxytocin got its nickname because it shows up when you fall in love, make love, give birth and breastfeed babies. Japanese researchers found that when you look into your dog’s eyes, both you and your dog produce more of it. And the more dogs sniff the oxytocin with their super-powered doggy noses, the more they’ll gaze at you. The researchers call it “interspecies oxytocin-mediated positive loop facilitated and modulated by gazing.” I call it “making googly-eyes with your doggo,” and I miss it.

Over the years, researchers have explored how dogs can help all manner of different groups of people. Little kids exposed to dogs have less risk of getting asthma, dogs decrease isolation for elderly people and help those struggling with depression. Now, researchers in Alberta are starting to look into how having a dog may help people with chronic lower back pain, and Eloise Carr, a professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary, has found a few “interesting connections” in their preliminary work.

She was intrigued to find that talking to their dog seems to help people with chronic pain cope with their situation. “People get tired of telling their family about their pain and the family gets tired of hearing about it,” she says. “They often talk to the dog and they talk about how the dog was non-judgmental, a great listener, had good eye contact — all the things that we know are important for interactions with humans.”

Carr and her colleagues have also found that people with chronic pain benefit from the simple routine of having a dog — having to get up to feed the beast and get them out for a little walk. “That meaning was important,” says Carr, who has been studying pain for 30 years.

She reviewed a lot of existing research on the health benefits of having a dog and found a kink in the common wisdom that it automatically means you get more exercise. “We always think that if you get a dog you’ll be fitter and slimmer but it’s not true,” says Carr. “Interestingly, 62 per cent of people who have a dog don’t walk it regularly. There are subgroups that walk really well with their dog and others that never do.” One study Carr found suggests the best dog walkers are post-menopausal, single women. If that’s the case, I’ll bet you a couple of rounds of hormone replacement therapy that they’re the most up on the neighbourhood news. Yet another study shows that people with fur kids are 60 per cent more likely than those without to get to know people in the ‘hood.

Walking my loaner dogs recently, along with seeing a handful of new houses that have sprung up seemingly like mushrooms, I chatted with a few far-flung neighbours that I guess I haven’t seen since Rocky left for the big dog park in the sky. One couple had a beautiful set of twin boys that didn’t exist the last time I walked by their house and a woman a couple of streets over has had, not one but two, new four-legged family members join the clan. I look forward to introducing her to my new dog, Trapp, Buddy or maybe that handsome devil Oden, and saying goodbye to my clean couch.

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