I took on a bit of weekend work in my friends lovely cafe a couple of years ago, living alone is sorely expensive so extra pennies were needed while I found my feet in my new home. The cafe is within a local park which meant that many of the customers were of the furry, four legged kind. There, was where I fell crazy in love with dogs.
I'm an absolute animal person. Always choosing the company of animals over people, they make more sense to me. I positively thrive on seeing animals happy, and beam whenever I see a furry face to befriend. I’ve had cats all of my life. Growing up I was a bit scared of dogs (most notably due to a big Boxer dog staring me down in a shop doorway on a family holiday in France, making me unable to get to my Mum) so I always considered myself as more of a cat person. But nowadays if someone asks me if I'm more of a cat or dog person, I balk at the silliness of the question. To me that’s like asking if I prefer the moon or the stars. I love both and each provides their very own brilliance. My answer would be that I love ALL OF THE ANIMALS!
Working weekends in a busy cafe is hard work. Long shifts running around leave you just about on your knees by the end of the day, I found it a huge challenge. Not just physically, but socially. I'm not naturally sociable, or at least have never considered myself to be. Lots of local regulars came in every day whilst walking their dogs and surprisingly I found myself genuinely happy to engage. But mostly, it was with the dogs. I should probably have kept my eyes up looking at customers, but my gaze was predominantly fixed at floor level, watching and waiting for my furry pals to appear. I greeted the dogs with the excitement of a child meeting that pink piggy called Peppa, and people noticed. “Our dog comes to the park just to see you”, “my dog always looks through the cafe window to see if you're there” and, “we say we're going to see Shona at the cafe, and he goes crazy” were just some of the things I got told. It seemed my affinity with animals was being put out for the public to see and even I was impressed with my apparent dog whispering skills. I knew them all by name, I learnt so much about breeds and behaviours, and all their different life stories. I wore my signature denim dungarees, with handfuls of doggy treats in all the pockets, the dogs knew I was there primarily for them. I've never been one for much eye contact or small talk, but the dogs made it achievable for me. Chatting to someone while their dog is present means no awkward pauses. I include the dog, talk to the dog, about the dog, they ease my social anxieties just by being there. I became like a party hostess, keeping all my dog visitors fussed and fed. It made working at the cafe something I skipped towards at the start of the day, and it made it very hard to leave when I decided to move on. But when I left the cafe, I took with me a newfound devotion to doggies, and a new side hustle which I never would have started if it weren't for this new found love.
One regular customer had a dog whom I especially adored. Rixie, an older Romanian rescue dog who looked like a wolf, had wisdom in his eyes. His owner had mentioned that she needed a new dog walker and without hesitation I offered to do it. She knew how much I loved Rixie, and I began walking him from then. It became a part of my day that I looked forward to. An hour of mooching round the park with my buddy, sharing each others space and time. A pause in my day which, I began to notice added both an energy and sense of calm.
There’s the obvious benefits of exercise and daylight raising your serotonin levels and stimulating dopamine -both of which help stave off sadness and regulate your mood- but add to that the grounding sensation of being out in nature, and there you have some of Mother Nature’s finest medicine. Which when taken as a daily dose, is really helpful for a girl like me with a lifelong history of depression. My walks with Rixie were a time for thought clearing and reflection. He sensed my moods and somehow seemed to listen to my thoughts, it felt as though he was silently offering advice and understanding. He helped me more than I did him, he was perfectly content to mooch alongside me knowing he had a good companion and treats on demand. A knowing soul, he taught me to be in the present and appreciate the simple pleasure of just being. Rixie passed away earlier this year, after a long and wonderful life. When I went to spend some time with him on his final day, I knew he was aware of how important his friendship had been to me, he made a mark on me that boy, a precious pal.
I now have a little collective gang of doggy clients that I walk every lunchtime, and regardless of rain or muddy mess, they never ever fail to make me smile. They are each so excited for me to arrive and take them out for fun times, their love for life is contagious. They are full to the brim with glee, loving every second of our time together, literally jumping for joy. They inspire happiness in me, and make me match their enthusiasm. I’m very vocal and animated with them, possibly to the point where maybe they believe I’m actually a dog; albeit one who is dressed in a human costume and can drive a car. Walking dogs isn’t without its stresses for me, some days my anxiety is in overdrive and I fear they’ll get lost or hurt, but they teach me to ride out the fear and make the most of the moments we share. Watching them do full speed zoomies around and around in circles with smiles so big you could fit ten balls in their mouths, and tails wagging like a tin toy that’s been wound up and set off, is as close to pure happiness as it gets. It’s as if a dogs sole purpose on a walk is to enjoy that instant, to excel at existing, feeling the energy of being alive. Surely if there’s a lesson to be taken from dogs, it is that.
The difference between cats and dogs is like the different sides of my personality, which is why I love them both. Dogs have zero interest in complying to social formalities. If they want to run up to another dog and play with their ball, they will. If they want to run in circles until they’re out of breath, they will. They have childish abandon and don’t worry about what others may think; the embodiment of being carefree. They resonate with my extroverted self, the one which deliberately says the wrong thing at the wrong time, and dances on the spot in public when I’m excited, not caring if people think I’m impolite or odd. Cats suit me better to live with, they’re like me in the long haul. Solitary, sleepy, often coming across as anti social and snobbish. Sometimes I’m more cat, sometimes I’m more dog. Seeing the doggies for an hour each day helps me keep balanced, injecting a shot of up time into my schedule. Without it I think I’d miss that release, its like an exhalation of all my uptight anxieties and worry. But I always love coming home to my cats, to my nest, after my walkies. Maybe I’m more like a dog than I realised, needing my hourly jaunt to expel energy that would otherwise become misdirected and lead to depression. One thing I do now know though, is that it’s incredibly hard to stay depressed when you’re with a dog.
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