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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Bailey Posted A Racist Tweet, But That Does NOT Mean She Deserves To Be Fat Shamed

As a certified racist, does she deserve to be fat shamed?
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This morning, I was scrolling though my phone, rotating between Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Snapchat again, ignoring everyone's snaps but going through all the Snapchat subscription stories before stumbling on a Daily Mail article that piqued my interest. The article was one about a teen, Bailey, who was bullied for her figure, as seen on the snap below and the text exchange between Bailey and her mother, in which she begged for a change of clothes because people were making fun of her and taking pictures.

Like all viral things, quickly after her text pictures and harassing snaps surfaced, people internet stalked her social media. But, after some digging, it was found that Bailey had tweeted some racist remark.

Now, some are saying that because Bailey was clearly racist, she is undeserving of empathy and deserves to be fat-shamed. But does she? All humans, no matter how we try, are prejudiced in one way or another. If you can honestly tell me that you treat everyone with an equal amount of respect after a brief first impression, regardless of the state of their physical hygiene or the words that come out of their mouth, either you're a liar, or you're actually God. Yes, she tweeted some racist stuff. But does that mean that all hate she receives in all aspects of her life are justified?

On the other hand, Bailey was racist. And what comes around goes around. There was one user on Twitter who pointed out that as a racist, Bailey was a bully herself. And, quite honestly, everyone loves the downfall of the bully. The moment the bullies' victims stop cowering from fear and discover that they, too, have claws is the moment when the onlookers turn the tables and start jeering the bully instead. This is the moment the bully completely and utterly breaks, feeling the pain of their victims for the first time, and for the victims, the bully's demise is satisfying to watch.

While we'd all like to believe that the ideal is somewhere in between, in a happy medium where her racism is penalized but she also gets sympathy for being fat shamed, the reality is that the ideal is to be entirely empathetic. Help her through her tough time, with no backlash.

Bullies bully to dominate and to feel powerful. If we tell her that she's undeserving of any good in life because she tweeted some racist stuff, she will feel stifled and insignificant and awful. Maybe she'll also want to make someone else to feel as awful as she did for some random physical characteristic she has. Maybe, we might dehumanize her to the point where we feel that she's undeserving of anything, and she might forget the preciousness of life. Either one of the outcomes is unpleasant and disturbing and will not promote healthy tendencies within a person.

Instead, we should make her feel supported. We all have bad traits about ourselves, but they shouldn't define us. Maybe, through this experience, she'll realize how it feels to be prejudiced against based off physical characteristics. After all, it is our lowest points, our most desperate points in life, that provide us with another perspective to use while evaluating the world and everyone in it.

Cover Image Credit: Twitter / Bailey

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What Happens When Your Pain Is Out Of Control

Once I forgave and let go, I realized that I had no control over the situation but only over the way I reacted.

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I can remember the beautiful, blue, Texas sky like it was yesterday. Even though everything seemed to be falling together so perfectly, I remember having an uneasy feeling as my sister and I drove to the river.

Even as I stood on the banks, I remember looking over to her and saying, "Are you sure I'm going to be okay?" (as if a Division I swimmer should be scared swimming in a river). When she reassured me yes, I jumped into the crystal clear water of the San Marcos River. I had on a snorkel and goggles on so I could explore the floor of the clear blue. There were plants native only to San Marcos lining the floor, fish were caught in the current with me and for about a minute and a half — I was in serenity.

But once that minute and a half finished it all become fuzzy. I remember going under the bridge, getting pulled out of the water and I heard the voice of my sister, on fire with anger. She was yelling at the boy who I was going to resent for a year later, because unknown to him, he would change the course of my life without even knowing it.

This boy's day probably started out familiar to mine. With the beautiful, blue, Texas sky and a ride to the river. But when he got there, instead of fearing the water, he conquered it by being reckless. They got to the park, someone in his group of pals probably said to him, "Dude, let's go jump off that bridge," and this probably wasn't the first time they done that, because there was a sign placed stating "Don't Jump Off Bridge." What was different from this time to any other time of taking that risk was that they roped a complete stranger into the danger with them – because this boy landed directly on me head.

I tried to google the chances of this happening — and with no luck, I have decided to make it comparable to the likelihood of being killed by a shark, which are 1 in 8 million (there is no science behind this comparison).

I was in pain. My head was throbbing and I was having a hard time forming my words — especially when I woke up the next morning with a stutter. Through E.R. visits and specialist visits, we learned that my eye-tracking was slow and that my balance was off. For an extreme extrovert and college athlete, having my speech and athleticism inhibited seemed to be the end of the world.

I had my stutter for two months and my concussion symptoms stayed with me for six months after the incident. Not only was it affecting my day-to-day life, but mentally I was drained.

As my recovery dragged on, my resentment toward this boy continued to grow. If I couldn't concentrate in class, remember a small detail or if my head was pounding, my mind would immediately shoot to blaming this boy. This injury was out of my control so the easiest thing to do when the recovery got hard was to direct all my anger at this stranger — who probably didn't even think of me half as much as I thought about him.

The resentment got exhausting. Mentally, I was crushed. My anxiety shot through the roof and it was hard to live peacefully knowing that my brain felt like oatmeal.

Once I got back into swimming with my team, the smallest things would trigger panic attacks. If someone jumped into the water near me — I would have to leave practice early. If someone scared me when I was in the water — I couldn't control my breathing. Even now, two years later, I still get jumpy.

But when it comes down to it, it doesn't matter that this boy doesn't think about what happened to me. Holding onto this resentment and anger wasn't going to make my recovery easier. It wasn't until I was fully medically cleared that I accepted that and in this process I learned things about myself in ways that I never would have if I was healthy.

Once I fully forgave this boy who hurt me — I felt free. I learned that I am resilient and stronger than I ever thought I could be. I conquered an invisible pain that didn't stop with the physicality of my brain — but the anxieties and anger that came along with it.

Once I forgave and let go, I realized that I had no control over the situation but only over the way I reacted.

Holding onto anger isn't going to make you feel at peace, but taking control of the situation will.

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