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Commentary: Life's better with pets

The benefits of owning a dog or cat appear to be positive from a scientific look at the lifestyle. From a non-scientific aspect, which is where I come in, the benefits are immeasurable.

For most of my life I've reaped the benefits of having a dog in my life. My dogs have not always followed commands, often dug holes where flowers were apparently planted and typically ran off with a number of hats and gloves that did not belong to them. As frustrating as those moments were, those are not unusual behaviors for our pets. And at least from my experience, the positive interactions far outweigh the occasional stolen stocking cap.

What is unusual is the feelings of joy that a pet can bring to us.

No matter what mood I wake up with, I guarantee my dog will never be at the door with that don't-even-think-about-it look. Everyday, his tail is wagging enough to make his entire body sway. His mouth is open with that huge lab smile. His low growling and whining declares, "I don't care how cold it is—I want to go walking, running, and jumping all over today! I'll go anywhere with you!"

This is a behaviour that most adults just can't fathom. How can you always be happy to see me? Why do you always want to be near me? I just shouted at you for making a mess of the garage and yet you still want to lean up next to me and look at me with those big brown eyes, telling me all is well?

For many breeds, this is just who they are. You are a part of their pack, and especially if there are no other dogs in this pack, they need you for socialization.

I've lost a lot of important people in my life in recent years and while these people were a part of my entire life, I was able to say goodbye. The dogs I have lost in my life, I must say, were equally if not harder to lose. It must be because of that undeniable love that these animals give off no matter what. I have no recollection of them ever being mad at me, ever holding anything against me, or ever knowingly hurting me. Not that I haven't been hurt.

Science has proved that a dog in motion stays in motion especially if they are a 120-pound lab at full speed. When my dog starts running laps and you take a step in his path—you are going down. That goes for kids, adults and small trees. Camping chairs don't stand a chance. I have an entire collection of broken leashes, chains, cables and kennels to prove the strength.

While studies have shown that dogs get us to perform more physical activities, the studies I reviewed did not take a close look at the characteristics of those dogs. Sure, owning a pomeranian gets you outside and down the block regularly. But my bird dog has led me across miles of open grasslands, through cattails so thick I couldn't even see the pheasants he was flushing. When we go for a walk (I know this is not the sign of a trained dog) but he walks me. He pulls me down forest trails at his speed and promptly stops to smell an acorn just as I get in my stride. He's led me straight into the tail of a skunk, which brought me to achieve a personal record in the sideways triple jump.

As far as mental health, how can you not be lifted up to have a creature that wants to hang out with you all the time—that treats every day as if they have not seen you in years.

There are moments where I've felt like going mad at his actions. He's not without healthcare costs. He's caused me to fret for his life as he crossed a small lake in an effort to retrieve a duck. And I am still baffled at how he stepped off the edge of a riverbank falling 8 feet below, only to turn around and jump back up the bank smiling ear to ear as usual. And that day I found him in a neighbor's garbage can, with his head covered in frosting, dragging behind his 300-pound-breaking-strength cable. Upsetting then, perhaps laughable now.

I can't tell you yet if the pets in my life are helping me live longer, but I can tell you they have brought me to places I've never been. They've brought joy that I haven't found elsewhere. They've led me to wake up with at least one purpose each day of their existence.