5 Things I Learned Taking My Dog To A Dog Beach

5 Things I Learned Taking My Dog To A Dog Beach

How taking my dog to a dog beach taught me about my mental health.
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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.

Cover Image Credit: Alexandria Pallat

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To The Parent Who Chose Addiction

Thank you for giving me a stronger bond with our family.

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When I was younger I resented you, I hated every ounce of you, and I used to question why God would give me a parent like you. Not now. Now I see the beauty and the blessings behind having an addict for a parent. If you're reading this, it isn't meant to hurt you, but rather to thank you.

Thank you for choosing your addiction over me.

Throughout my life, you have always chosen the addiction over my programs, my swim meets or even a simple movie night. You joke about it now or act as if I never questioned if you would wake up the next morning from your pill and alcohol-induced sleep, but I thank you for this. I thank you because I gained a relationship with God. The amount of time I spent praying for you strengthened our relationship in ways I could never explain.

SEE ALSO: They're Not Junkies, You're Just Uneducated

Thank you for giving me a stronger bond with our family.

The amount of hurt and disappointment our family has gone through has brought us closer together. I have a relationship with Nanny and Pop that would never be as strong as it is today if you had been in the picture from day one. That in itself is a blessing.

Thank you for showing me how to love.

From your absence, I have learned how to love unconditionally. I want you to know that even though you weren't here, I love you most of all. No matter the amount of heartbreak, tears, and pain I've felt, you will always be my greatest love.

Thank you for making me strong.

Thank you for leaving and for showing me how to be independent. From you, I have learned that I do not need anyone else to prove to me that I am worthy of being loved. From you, I have learned that life is always hard, but you shouldn't give into the things that make you feel good for a short while, but should search for the real happiness in life.

Most of all, thank you for showing me how to turn my hurt into motivation.

I have learned that the cycle of addiction is not something that will continue into my life. You have hurt me more than anyone, but through that hurt, I have pushed myself to become the best version of myself.

Thank you for choosing the addiction over me because you've made me stronger, wiser, and loving than I ever could've been before.

Cover Image Credit: http://crashingintolove.tumblr.com/post/62246881826/pieffysessanta-tumblr-com

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Public Health May Be The Most Important Area To Focus On As A Society

I saw with my own eyes the importance of public health initiatives in villages throughout Honduras and Nicaragua.

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Medical exploration and healthcare management has thrived throughout the 21st century, with major developments in epidemiology allowing organizations such as the World Health Organization of the United Nations to track the spread of preventable diseases such as malaria and influenza across impoverished countries worldwide. I saw with my own eyes the importance of public health initiatives in villages throughout Honduras and Nicaragua when I traveled there as a Brigadier with Stony Brook's Public Health Brigade, a coalition organized by Global Brigades during the Summers of 2016 and 2017.

Working alongside other university collaborations such as Boston University, I was mesmerized by the impact that improvements such as clean water through mountain pipelines and sustainable housing could do in reducing the severity of Zika virus outbreaks in the region, as accentuated by the near 8,400 villagers with access to clean water as a result of our efforts.

These experiences demonstrated to me the value of preventative measures highlighted by the public health approach — by attacking the origin of a disease and the medium through which it spreads instead of merely treating the manifestation of its symptoms, a holistic approach would allow for the eradication of a malady throughout an entire region whilst educating the local populations about the importance of proper hygiene practices and fortified infrastructure to prevent its re-eminence. It is for this reason that I feel inspired to pursue a graduate degree in Public Health as a professional, so that I can help contribute to the eradication of preventable illnesses across the globe.

A specific area of interest that I wish to target as a field of study would be the impact of sustainable housing in the eradication of illnesses such as lead poisoning through contaminated water sources. My own experience in this particular aspect of Public Health Administration as a Brigadier with Stony Brook Public Health Brigade showed me the importance of secure infrastructure in the reduction of preventable diseases as an especially pertinent area of community health in the United States, highlighted by the water toxicity crisis in Flint, Michigan.

A recent study released by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha at Hurley Medical Center noted an uptick in the blood-lead concentration of Flint Children from 2.4% to 4.9% after changing their water source, with spikes as high as 10.6% in correlation with elevated levels of lead in Flint water. These elevated blood-lead concentrations put these children at higher risk for lead poisoning, characterized by reduced growth rate and learning difficulties. Purification of the available water sources throughout the region would be a comprehensive long-term solution to reducing elevated blood-lead levels amongst Flint residents.

My goals after my master's degree in public health would be to pursue a medical education and become a doctor, or go into Healthcare Administration and eventually work with the WHO of the UN to establish a more easily accessible Healthcare system across various countries to increase the number of people in impoverished areas that can be reached by doctors, nurses and other primary care practitioners. I feel that a proper understanding of public health would, therefore, be essential to establishing my career in service to humanity.

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