Jun 3, 2020

The Way I See It Blog Series: In Praise of a Dog


My name is Marlene Cust. I am a senior citizen, and legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In my writing, I want to acknowledge both the challenges I face and the positive coping strategies I have developed over time. Blindness is experienced by individuals in unique and various ways. There is no ‘one size fits all!’ Always there is that hope for a cure sometime in the future. In the meantime, for me, hopefulness lies in acting with courage, competence, confidence, and decisiveness every day.  My blog entries present living with blindness ‘the way I see it’.

In Praise of a Dog

My dog’s name is Charly. Although Charly is not a guide dog, she has often helped me, metaphorically speaking, find my way. She is an 8-year-old, 15 pound mutt: black with prominent white whiskers and eyebrows, floppy ears, a white chest, white paws, a sharp little brown nose and a long black tail which wags happily when she greets people.

Charly’s breed is anybody’s guess. Many, upon meeting Charly, speculate. “Oh, she’s a schnauzer — look at that beard,” one person declares. Another asserts, “She’s got some dachshund in her for sure, with that long body.” Still another says, “She reminds me a lot of my Jack Russell.” A young boy thinks her face is that of a raccoon.

I rescued Charly and she rescued me. Coming into my life shortly before the unexpected and untimely death of my spouse, she saw me through a period of grief and loss with her comforting presence. During that difficult time, Charly gave me a sense of purpose. I fed her, groomed her, walked her, played with her, gave her affection and received hers in return. The need to care for another being offered me a reason to get up in the morning and do what needed to be done.

Charly contributes significantly to my health and well-being. She encourages me to be physically active and gets me out into nature and green space, which in turn relieves my stress, boosts my mood, and soothes my pain. My friendly Charly often leads me into social interactions I might not otherwise have, giving me a sense of belonging in my community, and diminishing occasional feelings of loneliness and depression. Charly inspires me to be mindful and to live in the moment, to find joy in small things, to enjoy sensory input, to appreciate everyday events, and to follow my heart. In addition, I have read some research studies that document the physical health benefits of dog ownership: improved cardiovascular functioning, lower cholesterol, and decreased blood pressure.

I have learned much from Charly about ‘loosening up,’ letting go, and enjoying my life to the fullest. I think it is fair to say that I have learned many life lessons from my dog. Perhaps my experience is best summed up in the following poem:

“Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joy ride.
Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy. When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
Run, romp, and play daily.
Be loyal.
Never pretend to be something you’re not.
Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.
If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently. Thrive on affection and let people touch you – enjoy back rubs and pats on your neck. When you leave your yard, make it an adventure.
Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t pout – run right back and make friends. Bond with your pack.
On cold nights, curl up in front of a crackling fire.
When you’re excited, speak up.
When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
If you stare at someone long enough, eventually you’ll get what you want.
Don’t go out without ID.
Leave room in your schedule for a good nap.
Always give people a friendly greeting.
If it’s not wet and sloppy, it’s not a real kiss.”
(Author Unknown)

-Marlene Cust

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