Told ya so. From WebMD:
People in stress mode get into a “state of dis-ease,” in which harmful chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine can negatively affect the immune system, says Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health.
Studies show a link between these chemicals and plaque buildup in arteries, the red flag for heart disease, says Justice.
Like any enjoyable activity, playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine — nerve transmitters that are known to have pleasurable and calming properties, he tells WebMD.
“People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature,” says Justice, who recently hiked the Colorado Rockies with his wife and two dogs.
Agreed. There’s nothing like running or walking with my dog, Haze while the sun sets. Marion joins us sometimes for a family walk as well. He gets to go out three times a day and I usually do the morning and evening walks. On days I don’t get to the gym I at least walk an extra time with Haze during the day, sometimes sneaking away for a quick jaunt during the work day if I’m traveling between campuses.
But how, might you ask has haze furthered my ministry?
I have but five examples of things my dog reminds me of each day. They all have made me a better minister:
1) Hospitality: No matter what Haze gets up and runs to the door every time I come home (or when anyone comes over). Sometimes he’s sleeping and he wakes up and makes his way over a bit more slowly but he still comes over. He’s excited to see a friend at the door and I put my hand down to him and he lowers his head in submission. This can be translated loosely from dog language into English as: “My house is your house, what can I do for you.”
2) Empathy: If I’m having a bad day or if I’m simply sad, Haze will jump up on my lap, give me a quick lick on the face and then settle in to my lap and simply be there with me. Somedays he just sits next to me touching my leg to feel the heat from me (Chihuahuas get cold) and we share a symbiotic relationship. He gets heat and I get to pet him and calm down.
3) Care for the Elderly: There’s two little old men in our neighborhood who Haze visits regularly on his walks. The first one gives him cookies and Haze can’t pass his house without bounding happily even if he’s not around. The second is man with a deep drawl who asks Haze to talk to him each time he comes around. Haze yaps happily knowing intuitively what he wants. Today, in fact, he ventured over to him and got a nice back scratch for a long time while we all talked together. That dog has made me a lot of friends.
4) Give thanks for food: All I have to say is “Haze? Food?” or “Haze? Treat?” and he jumps up like it’s the only meal he’s ever going to get. I often imagine people who are hungry are quite thankful for food, any food. The joy of being fed is always joyful. Am I as joyful for my meals?
5) Forgiveness: I once clipped Haze’s skin in his harness and he yelped uncontrollably for a few minutes and when I’d try to release the harness, he’s snap at me because I was hurting him further. Finally I jimmied the thing off of him bringing relief and he ran away from me into his crate. I thought the dog would never want anything to do with me again. I sat on my couch and cried because I had hurt the dog. He came running up to me and literally started licking the tears out of my eyes. “It’s OK pal. It’s over.” I do believe that God forgives us the same way. Our sins are completely eliminated and we have no need to hold on to our past. Don’t we all sometimes hold resentments against others? God doesn’t. God completely forgives us 100%–no lingering of resentment is there. Dogs do the same thing reminding us of God’s mercy and how we’re called to the same kind of forgiveness.
So I am better… a better minister in the church, a better husband (after all, my wife got the dog for me), a better friend…and healthier to boot because of my dog. I’m so glad that Chihuahuas live a long time, but even a dog with a short life can bring joy that lasts forever.
So what are you waiting for? Go rescue a dog. And you’ll get a friend who’ll make you just a bit better than you already are.