Lessons My Dog Has Taught Me About Living a Peaceful Life

A tribute to Andy, columnist Shawna Barnes' assistance dog

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by Shawna Barnes |

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Did you know that Sept. 21 is the International Day of Peace? The United Nations established it in 1981, and it’s celebrated every year on that day.

When my world’s in chaos, as it’s been for the past several weeks (or months, really), do you know where I turn to restore peace in my world?

My dogs.

We have two: a German shepherd named Shadow and a Great Dane-Labrador retriever mix named Andy, my service dog. On Sept. 10, I celebrated Andy’s fourth “adoptiversary.” He’s a rescue who was matched to me through an organization called K9s on the Front Line, whose mission is to pair rescue dogs with Maine veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Though I’m now in Wisconsin, we were still living in Maine when I got Andy.

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Andy has seen me through some of my worst times. He was cross-trained for PTSD-related tasks as well as mobility assists to help with some of my symptoms of myasthenia gravis (MG). He supports me in standing if I end up on the floor, assists as a counterbalance when needed, and picks items off the floor and hands them to me.

But most importantly, he’s taught me much about finding inner peace just by being Andy, a silly, playful, 110-pound, almost 6-year-old lapdog. So this week, I wanted to bring a little lightheartedness to my column and share five lessons Andy has taught me about peace.

Lesson 1

Nap. Anytime. Anywhere. On the couch or on the floor. In a loved one’s lap or on their bed, hogging the blankets and leaving drool kisses on the pillows.

Sleep when you’re tired. Rest when your body tells you to. If someone tries to tell you that you don’t need the rest, it really is as simple as looking at them, rolling your eyes, and going back to bed. Andy is a pro at this.

Lesson 2

Whine until you’re heard. Be the squeaky wheel until someone listens to you and takes your concerns seriously. Sometimes we don’t know what we need to feel better, but we know we need to be heard.

Maybe we need help to get in some light exercise outside. Or maybe we need help with getting our meals prepared. Perhaps we just need to feel loved. Regardless, make some noise until someone listens.

Lesson 3

Ask for what you need. Andy is a snuggle bug, and if there are days when I’m not giving him the snuggles he needs, he has no qualms about interrupting me. Often this happens when I’m doing something important, like writing an article late at night before a deadline. He makes his need known by putting his big ole chin on my elbow or in my lap and looking up at me with his big, pleading, golden eyes.

Until he gets his loves and snuggles, nothing else matters. He reminds me to take time to love myself where I’m at and to ask for the attention I may need when I feel like I’m not getting it from those I need it from.

Lesson 4

Play hard when you can, even if it’s only for five minutes. Since moving to Wisconsin, Andy has become much more active and playful, especially with Shadow. He never used to like going for walks around the driveway with my husband and Shadow, as he was always by my side — until I started encouraging him to go out, or I’d go out on the porch to sit on my swing while my boys walked.

Andy now loves the routine of the walks, and when I can join him, I do. He matches my pace even if moments before he was just racing about doing zoomies with Shadow. Do what you can when you can, even if it’s only for a minute. Soon a minute becomes two, then three, then five. Progress, no matter how slow, is still progress.

Lesson 5

Live for the moment. Every day is a new day to start fresh without the burden of yesterday’s mistakes or the fears of tomorrow’s what-ifs. Today is today, so make the most of it. Andy doesn’t hold yesterday’s lack of attention against me; he just wants all the snuggles today.

I wish you all had an Andy; he has brought me peace when I’ve been in chaos.


Note: Myasthenia Gravis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Myasthenia Gravis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to myasthenia gravis.

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