By Suzette A. Cohen, M.A.
With the impending day approaching, I knew I had to take action. For twenty-four years, I have had a child at home to love, feed, and worry about, as well as not be able to sleep until I heard the key in the door, regardless of the time. While many count down the days to an empty nest, I feared the day when my third and final son left for college, not for them, but for me.
Knowing they were well prepared to navigate the world as full adults was not on my mind, the quiet house was. I do have a loving, playful and often loud husband (especially during hockey season), but it was different. I enjoyed going to the park and talking with the other moms, baking special treats, and walking in the neighborhood. There was only one obvious solution to me-getting a dog.
Some might call this insane, but for me, it was a blessing. We were a dog-free family for most of the time when my boys were growing up. Having hailed from NYC, I perceived dogs to be high maintenance and smelly. I relented when my oldest, Zach, was graduating from UGA and heading to medical school without knowing a soul. I had tried to fill the void of pet ownership with many hamsters, a feisty cat named Max and assorted fish, but a dog was what he wanted since he could speak. How much trouble could one puppy be?
Gretzky Alexander Cohen arrived as a golden fur ball rescued from a dumpster by a kind woman who heard him and his two siblings crying. He had a Nike swoosh across his forehead (his name was originally Nike), and when Zach held him in his arms, he nuzzled his beard and fell fast asleep. That was it-we were now a dog family.
Gretzky won my heart and at times I could not believe I did not birth him myself. He was with us during that summer break of 2007, and when it was time for Gretzky and Zach to leave, my heart was broken. I, over the course of twelve weeks, had become a dog person.
I did everything I could to spend time with Gretzky (and Zach), but it was clear, I needed my own dog. And then on Facebook, I saw the beautiful face of a three week old golden retriever, rescued from a bad family situation with his mom and three sisters. We visited with the foster family and it was decided, Garcia Townshend Cohen would become my dog.
Garcia came to live with us three days before Eric left for college. In fact, I missed move in day at UGA (not a bad thing) because I was the mom of a new seven week old puppy. From that day forward, my life has never been the same.
I have never known such love and devotion as that shared by a sweet puppy and his mom. Mind you, I have great kids, but dogs are heaven on earth. Garcia is overjoyed to see me whenever I walk into the house, even if it has been just to go to the mailbox. He has soulful brown eyes, the color of milk chocolate, that gaze at me with such gratitude and faithfulness. Garcia and I have never had a bad day, a cross word, or a melt-down moment we as moms of humans often do. Garcia sleeps by my feet as I work in my home office, jumps to attention when I say “bye-bye” and is known at the local Starbucks (he loves the pup-cups), Home Depot, and Pikes Nurseries. He is my sidekick, faithful companion and best furry faced friend.
I now understand why those with pets live longer and have more health and joy in their lives. According to researchers at the American Psychological Association, “pet owners are healthier, have greater self-esteem and are less lonely than those who don't have animals at home. Not only that, but they are also more conscientious, extroverted and less fearful.”1
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says owning a pet can improve your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels. And a National Institutes of Health-funded study found that dog owners who had suffered heart attacks were far more likely to be alive a year later than heart-attack patients who didn't own dogs.”2
Garcia accompanies me to the Senior Home where my mother-in-law resides. When he comes to visit, eyes light up and smiles abound. He loves to kiss and cuddle and he is a magnet for adults and children. Even those in the depths of Alzheimer’s will reach their hands out to touch Garcia. Garcia only knows good and loves everyone regardless of their age or disability. It is clear to me why Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has a golden retriever mascot named Casper who makes rounds with Lisa Kinsel, manager of Volunteer Services.
Now, in all fairness, Garcia is not perfect. It took a couple of weeks to convince him that my den was not his personal bathroom when he first joined the family. At age one, he was diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia and required surgery and weeks of physical therapy. Maybe that is why he is sensitive to those who walk and talk slowly. He also recently decided to spontaneously jump into a pool at a friend’s house, not considering how he would get out. My husband had to rescue him by jumping in fully clothed with his brand new $400 phone, which died a slow and painful death, despite multiple rice treatments. Nonetheless, in my eyes, Garcia is perfect - a dream come true-a deeply loving and devoted dog who helped me transition to a new and meaningful place in my life.