Zen of puppies

Can a pup provide the same sense of pleasure you feel after a spa weekend?

Ginny McReynolds is dean of humanities and social science at Cosumnes River College

Some friends I’ve known since the early ’70s are coming to visit today. I only see them every couple of years, so I’m excited to catch up. In part, though, I know I’m fooling myself. My friends say they’re coming to see me, but I know it’s really the puppies they’re longing for.

It’s been this way for nearly eight weeks, ever since our black lab, Bryar, had her litter. Now, before anyone gets some weird idea that we’re mindlessly breeding our dog just to get a fix of that sweet puppy breath or those tiny grunts they make when we carry them (as if they are having to carry us), it’s not like it looks. Bryar came to us when she was the age her babies are now. My partner and her teenage son were volunteer puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence, and their job was to instill basic training and socialization in Bryar for a couple of years before they turned her in for specialized instruction. It was sad giving her up, but watching the wheelchair-bound folks, the autistic teenagers and the wounded vets who were getting paired with strong, capable, sweet service or companion dogs was enough of a trade-off. One day, we figured, Bryar would get her chance to help someone who really needed it.

Instead, CCI decided that a big, mellow lab like Bryar would make a good breeder, and we got her back. Her job for the next couple of years, before she “retires,” is to have five litters. The little yappers in my garage are her third. So far, she’s had 10 in each litter, and we’ve fallen in love with each one. The only thing that will make it possible to send this litter off next Monday is knowing they will one day be coupled with someone who needs them much more than we do.

But for now, some of our most basic needs, and those of our friends, are being met daily. It turns out that in our complex, crammed, convoluted lives, holding a big black or blond bundle of puppy goes a long way toward simplifying things. It’s definitely the Zen of puppiness. There’s no multitasking when you’re cradling one in your lap—no talking on the phone, no checking your BlackBerry, no catching up on e-mail. There’s just that softness, those sweet brown eyes, those paws the size of a small bear’s. By the time I’ve held the 10th one each evening, I feel the same sense of pleasure and relaxation I might feel after a spa weekend.

That we all need a puppy—or at least something to make us slow down and do more cuddling and cooing—seems like a pretty basic concept, but one that is easy to forget. For now, while the idea is fresh in our minds, we’re all taking lots of deep breaths of that puppy smell, as an antidote, I think, to all of the ridiculous machinations of our “normal” lives.