Thursday, January 19, 2012

An ode to dogs: a commentary on Seasonal Affective Disorder

The snow is falling lightly, haphazardly floating through the cold air like a daydreaming grade schooler.

It is 27 degrees, and the dogs are amped, pacing back and forth as I grab a three-pound bag of frozen meat and begin to soak it in steamy hot water for them. Some are barking, some are howling. Miles and Freya are my worst pacers. They circle their houses all day long, itching to run and begging for more when we stop running.

I need the dogs' enthusiasm. They ground me, keep me focused during the dark winter months.

It started when I was young, about fifteen. Winter felt like a shroud that engulfed me. I slept too much, but still felt tired. I was listless, despondent. I pushed my friends away inadvertently.

In college, it grew worse. Without the structure of my parents' home and daily routine, I fell into a deep depression that first winter away. I gained weight and skipped classes just to sleep. And northeast Ohio winters didn't help.

Many people experience this in the winter. Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D)affects people most commonly between the ages of 15 and 55, and women are more at risk. It is thought to be triggered by lack of sunlight.

I admit, sometimes I struggle with these feelings even now.

But, this is one proactive reason why I got into dogs and winter sports.

One way to combat S.A.D. - or any depression - is to get active! 

Having the dogs here, with their endless energy and vivacious appetite for living motivates me. They make me happy. Seeing them doing what they love, watching them grow and training them from puppies to be the amazing athletes they were born to become - this is happiness to me.

Being outside with them is the best medicine for almost anything that ails me. 

My new leader, Big Brown, being bossy on the trail

A dog doesn't question why. A dog is the moment. 

Perry, one of Tak's six month old pups, howling out of the roof of his kennel. We had a huge wind storm with 45 mph winds at the Ranch recently, and it partially blew the roofs off some of the kennels.
Traveling to distant beautiful places to train and race is one of my favorite things.

Crossing a frozen lake on the Jack Pine race trail in 2010

Dogs are the ultimate Zen animal. Neither looking to the future nor reminiscing about the past, they move in the pure joy of the here and now. They work hard when they work, play hard when they play, and sleep hard when they sleep. And they want nothing more. 

I am thankful every day for my dogs: for their spirit and lust for life. Here's to my amazing dogs, to life, and to dogs everywhere.

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