I throw the ball into the Chesapeake and watch as Belle bounds into the water to fetch it. I clap my hands and call her name, encouraging her to swim back to me. It's her first time at a beach, and I'm nervous to let her go too far. But, as I watch my dog, my "little girl" as I call her, have fun swimming, I realize my smile is genuine.
Depression is a silent disease. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), it affects nearly 15.7 million adults in the United States. Whether you've been diagnosed with depression or not, if, like me, you suffer from depressive symptoms, you know how hard it can be to want to go do anything, let alone get out of bed.
According to Michigan State's Animal Legal & Historical Center, an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) "provides emotional support and comfort to individuals with psychiatric disabilities and other mental impairments."
Society has come to see the strong bond that develops between an animal and its person, and science is showing that animals can help to lower blood pressure, lower physiological response to stress with the animal present and an increase in exercise.
And that's why I have my dog, Belle.
If it weren't for her, I wouldn't be doing much of anything on my days off. I try to find things to do with her because I know if I can spend the day with her, I'll be alright. I decided to take her to a dog beach this past weekend – the dog beach at Downs Memorial Park in Pasadena, Maryland.
These are the five things I learned taking my dog to a dog beach for the first time.
1. Know your dog
Does your dog swim? Does your dog listen to you? I wouldn't recommend a dog beach, where an off-leash play is practically a must if the pup is still in the midst of beginner training. Belle started to wonder into some greens behind the beach, and, though she's an intensively curious little devil, she's pretty responsive to her name when she isn't supposed to do something (like wander too far). Also, know what your dog likes. If they don't like other dogs, maybe wait until it won't be busy. We went on a Saturday, so there were obviously a lot more dogs than there might be during the week. Knowing my dog also helps me; I have confidence in her, which means I have confidence in how I've trained her and worked with her. Knowing your dog helps you know yourself.
2. Bring toys
I don't know why I didn't think of this, to begin with, honestly. I realized as soon as we got there that all the other dog-parents brought some sort of ball to throw. Belle ended up "borrowing" someone else's tennis ball (which helped her make some friends), but I ended up going to PetSmart later in the weekend to invest in some high-quality toys for next time.
3. Bring a snack for yourself (and your pup, if necessary)
Belle hasn't eaten a mid-day meal since she was about eight months old. But I still do. And, somehow, I forgot food for myself. It took us an hour and 20 minutes to get to the dog beach, but we only got to stay for an hour because I forgot food.
4. Take pictures
This may seem obvious, but it's important. Of course, you must be able to pay attention to your pup while taking pictures. Yes, it's going to require a bit of multitasking, but it's worth it. For me, taking pictures reminds me of the day I had with Belle. When I am "having a moment," as I call it, I look at the pictures, and they make me smile. The pictures remind me that, no matter how I may feel at any given moment, she will always be there.
5. Dogs (and animals in general) incentivize us
If it weren't for Belle, I wouldn't have gone to that dog beach. Believe me, it took a lot of energy to get up in time, and even more energy to not cancel the plans altogether. But I knew she needed an adventure, and that meant I needed one too. If it weren't for her, I wouldn't go on evening walks; but she needs them, so I go. She has a regimen that I have to stick to, which means I have to get up and go about that regimen. The adage "I work so my dog can have a better life" is true: I work so I can provide what Belle needs, from food to the ability to go to daycamp. She's my incentive.