Setting: Stereotypical post-World War II Baby Boomers suburban household. Cast: Mom, Dad, three girls and a boy, born between 1949 and 1961. However, no pets, despite Dad being a bona fide dog and cat lover. Mom had often declared that it was her or a pet. While the kids at times considered the potential advantages of such a trade, Dad never challenged it. He was devoted to Mom, so the household stayed furry pet-free, though fish, birds and an occasional turtle were allowed. Dad and the kids lavished attention on neighbors’ and friends’ four-footed friends, but Mom stayed firm. The occasional stray dog found its way into the backyard and was allowed to stay there while the owner’s number on the dog’s tag was called. Mom didn’t hate or abuse animals—she just didn’t want them in her house.
She had her reasons—the family knew them and reluctantly respected them. She had been severely bitten on the leg by a dog while riding a bike as a kid, and when pregnant with her first child, she was chased down the street by a neighbor’s retired police dog. He didn’t get her, but it shook her up badly. She was now deathly afraid of dogs and just didn’t like cats.
As the kids grew up and left the nest, each one quickly acquired what had been denied to them as children. Dogs, cats or both became treasured members of all four households. Mom tolerated the furry creatures, as long as the big Lab at the oldest daughter’s house or the son’s Golden Retriever stayed out of her lap. Dad was in heaven when he visited the kids’ houses and showered his furry grandchildren with attention.
However, all was not idyllic. Dad had developed some severe anxiety issues, mostly brought on by a high-stress job, which became even worse after a close friend died unexpectedly in his late 40’s. Dad self-medicated with a cocktail or two every night along with prescription tranquilizers. The stress took a toll on him physically, and at the age of 60, he began to develop symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. The disease progressed quickly, and at the age of 67, Dad passed away from complications.
When the children got together after that, comments were often made that Dad would have lived a lot longer if Mom would have let him have a dog, particularly after the kids had all left the house and things had gotten so bad at work. Caring for the dog and receiving unconditional love back would have helped release and relieve some of his stress. All the kids freely acknowledged how much emotional support their pets provided them when they needed it—not just dogs but cats as well. “I even offered them one of Brandy’s puppies,” the oldest daughter remarked. “I would have had it trained as a support dog. But it was no-go.”
But Is It a True Story?
The historical aspect of the story is 100% true; it applies to the lead author’s family. But would a pet really have helped this man cope with his stress and live a healthier life?
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