Column from Finland: Pets are God's good gifts - A story of how I found a dog lover in myself
Sari Savela, CNE.news
I have never been a dog person, but in the spring of 2009, the idea of getting a dog came up. It was something that had been on my mind for some time, but now the timing seemed right. The previous months had been hard for our family, and we needed extra joy.
As the spring progressed, we began to search the internet for information about puppies that were born or of surrender age. The breed choice was clear. A poodle would not shed hair and would be slightly more allergy friendly. It would also be an excellent companion dog. We had allergies in the family, so getting a dog was a bit risky.
However, we took the risk because the idea of a pet seemed to be given from above. A few times, I had felt in prayer as if God had spoken to us about getting a dog. The idea was so strange to me that I trusted it had come from God. I didn't even like dogs to begin with. The children wanted a dog, as children often do, but in the end, I was perhaps the most eager to become a dog owner myself.
By the end of June, we went to see a litter of three puppies. And it so happened that we bought one of the little poodles.
Denny arrived by the end of July. For the first six months, we lived like a family with a baby. We had to make a safe space for the puppy. Stairs had to be blocked to prevent the tiny dog from hurting himself. The carpets were rolled up and put in storage, and replaced with newspapers.
I'm so glad we got Denny, for we have had so many good years together. Our poodle has specialised in providing happiness services. His puppy-like nature is a joy to behold. Stroking his fur relaxes the mind. When sitting on the sofa, the dog boy comfortably curls up right next to you, and you feel its warmth. If you're feeling down, he'll come to comfort you. When you come home, even after a short absence, he wags his tail and whirls around wildly with joy. It also encourages you to go outside, even when you don't feel like it.
Denny generously offers happiness to other people too. Children are usually particularly excited to see a four-legged friend. Their admiration is heightened when he spins, wags his tail and tries to reach out with his tongue to reach the face of a child. At the same time, it's a way of spreading dog fever which seems to be contagious.
But now, our poodle is a little slower in his steps and calmer in his behaviour, not as lively and playful as when he was younger. His sight and hearing have also deteriorated. Dogs get older too.
When we got our dog almost 14 years ago, we thought it would bring more joy to our lives. And it has been true. How much joy a pet brings and how much it strengthens the bond between family members. Nowadays, when our grown-up children come to visit, they first greet the dog, and they often ask us to send pictures of Denny to our family WhatsApp group.
Dogs are important friends and family members for many people. They are also popular in animal-assisted therapy. Animal-assisted rehabilitation has often been used as part of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and psychotherapy. International studies have found that dogs can help people to rehabilitate and feel better. They can help deal with unpleasant issues and situations. In Finland, dogs are also used successfully in residential care for the elderly. They have been found to have a refreshing effect on the elderly, and they also leave a positive impression on the minds of elderly people with memory problems.
According to Outi Vainio, a Finnish professor of veterinary pharmacology, humans and animals are not so different in their basic functions. Animals also feel different emotions and recognise them in others. In recent years, research has shown that dogs can read emotions from facial expressions and thus adjust their behaviour to the situation. Dogs can distinguish between happy, neutral, and angry expressions on human faces. Dogs can read people very well, so they are good comforters.
Brain scans in the US research have shown that human brains respond almost equally when looking at a picture of their pet as they would to an image of their child. Affection shows up in the brain.
Touching a dog brings pleasure. Studies show that the production of the pleasure hormone oxytocin increases when you sink your hands into a dog's soft, warm fur.
Pets are God-given gifts of joy to man. Still, even though dogs and other pets are important family members, they are, after all, only animals, not humans. That's also important to remember. But still, the thought of losing a pet is painful, even when you realise it is inevitable. I pray that there will still be as much time together as possible.
About the author
Sari Savela is editor in chief of Seurakuntalainen, a Christian news website in Finland. She is also active as a photographer. In her free time, she is involved in municipal politics.
She is married and mother of three grown-up children. Together with her husband, she does marriage work.
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