A home is not a grill

NOTICE: The views expressed in The Vermilion's opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect those of The Vermilion staff or of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

My family has two dogs: Bentley, a miniature salt and pepper schnauzer, and Braxton, an all-white shih tzu/maltese mix. Bentley is not a smart dog in the slightest sense, which I find endearing, while Braxton can be pretty keen and sometimes too smart for his own good. Bentley is very active and always wanting to play, while Braxton is a little tubby from a preferred sedentary lifestyle. They are great dogs that absolutely love to be loved. After moving out of my parents’ house, I was unable to bring them with me and did not realize how much I would miss them.

Close to a year ago, I wrote an article for our special mental health issue on the effects our work environments have on shaping our mental health. In it, I described how the place where we spend 40-60 hours of our week needs to take into account not just physical health as many places do, but also our mental faculties — we need proper work-life balances and proper physical and mental safety precautions. (There is a reason we say “going postal” and not “going homestead.”) I also portrayed the home environment as the standard of comfort and calm that the workplace should attempt to emulate. I did so because home is where I am most comfortable and most at ease. When I wrote that article I, like many people, felt that way in no small part because of my pets, specifically my dogs, but because I have since moved out and away from my parents and dogs, I no longer have that same complete sense of comfort.

Moving out did not cause me much anxiety. In fact, it did not cause much of a stir for me, besides having to move all of my things. I could and do talk regularly with my family, my work and school schedules stayed constant and since my roommates are my friends, I see people I know and love regularly. I overlooked, however, how much I would miss my dogs. I think I took for granted how much I actually enjoyed having my dogs’ company. It seems weird, right? They don’t really do much of anything besides napping, eating, going outside and occasionally playing with a toy or two. Yet, their presence leaves an impression that just can’t be replicated.

The human-canine bond is strange but fulfilling. Dogs provide unconditional companionship and a bit of emotional stability in exchange for food, a home and scratches behind the ear. They can recognize certain emotions from their owner and respond in helpful ways. Emotional support dogs are trained for this exact job, but even your average household dog seems to have some sort of inherent ability to pick up on their human’s cues. I feel that my dogs can pick up on when I feel a bit down because they never then miss an opportunity to jump on my lap and force my focus on to them and away from whatever it was clouding my mind. That is for sure something I miss.

I say all of this with my dogs being alive and well, having probably about ten more years of life left in them — plenty of time for me to visit and pet until their hearts are content, but I don’t think I could imagine the pain of having lost a dog or pet permanently. It would be no large stretch to suggest that losing a pet is akin to losing an emotional companion. Though my story is dog-specific, any pet that brings anyone joy is a treasure. Pets are more than just pets; they are an extension of the family. I wish I had mine here bundled up and crowded on my lap now as I write this story, but I can take some solace in the fact that they are safe, sound and loved back home.

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