There are plenty of good reasons to get a pet, including that they reduce high blood pressure (even during times of increased mental stress), decrease the stress hormone cortisol, increase the stress reduction hormone oxytocin, and change how we respond to and even perceive stress. None of those reasons, however, was on my mind when, on a whim, I got myself a 10-week-old Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier. The only thing I was thinking at the time was, “I need to have some fun!”
I was a walking ball of anxiety so tense that I felt I could shatter at any moment, like a fragile pane of glass.
The breeder let me choose from three littermates; I came home with the one who jumped into my lap and wouldn’t get out. On a sunny, muggy day four weeks later, Baylee and I have been remanded to the couch, doctor’s orders, as I await emergency surgery. I’ve ignored a head cold—well, a sinus infection—for so long that it has reached the brain barrier. I’m on massive antibiotics and commanded to lie low.
As I settle, Baylee pads his way up my leg, onto my stomach, then onto my chest, where he curls up with his head on my heart. He exhales a big puppy yawn, and within a few minutes falls sound asleep.
Lying back, I close my eyes, thinking I’ll rest for a few moments and then work on my thesis. As I settle, Baylee pads his way up my leg, onto my stomach, then onto my chest, where he curls up with his head on my heart. He exhales a big puppy yawn, and within a few minutes falls sound asleep.
The peace of him wafts over me. Without thinking, I time my breathing to match his and unexpectedly drift to sleep.
When I wake two hours later, Baylee is softly snoring on my chest. I come to with a strange sensation I don’t recognize, an absence of the need-to-move feeling with which I live. In the space that opens up, it slowly sinks in that I just took an unprecedented nap and that I actually feel peaceful, something I haven’t felt for many, many years.
I lie very still listening to Baylee’s soft exhales, watching his tiny tail twitch before relaxing again. The idea of being calm had seemed foreign for so long, yet here it was, seemingly easily accessible in our shared sense of peace, as if Baylee modeled an idea and somehow I’d been able to copy it. I could get used to this sort of thought-free, easy-connection zone, where it feels safe just to quietly be. Human time becomes so fraught with fear, apprehension, and future-thinking. It’s as if Baylee has absorbed all of that while transporting me to animal time, in which only the present moment matters. Right now, everything is all right.