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It sounds crazy but I could cry thinking about how much I love this bundle of fur | Catherine Burrell

Im part of a study looking into whether dogs improve human health. I think I know the answer

In little more than six weeks, my small life and withered heart have become immense. All it took was the simple love of a dog an adorable, scruffy, year-old mongrel of the small oodle variety and with the softest eyes Ive ever seen on a canine.

Teddy be his name and joining me on adventures be his game.

I feel happier, more active and healthier than I have been in years. I know it sounds crazy but I could cry just thinking about how much I love and care for this little bundle of fur Ive known nearly a couple of months.

As a willing volunteer, I had my key health stats measured as part of the University of Sydneys study into the effects of dog ownership on human health about a week before I found and adopted Teddy. I cant wait to learn how my baseline measurements compare with those to be taken later in the year.

The studys leader, associate professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, said the research could support programs promoting and enabling dog ownership as a means to increase physical activity, improve general health and prevent cardiovascular and mental illness.

I know my faith in the healing and transformative powers of dog is not shared by everyone. Thats cool. Im not looking for converts. Rather, I want a few minor rule changes, like those implemented by the Andrews government in Victoria, so dog ownership is a real possibility for any and all who wish to practise their faith in the privacy of their own homes or the sanctity of the local dog park. I want to know I can take my well-socialised and toilet-trained dog on public transport with me when it is reasonable to do so. And I do not want to see dog ownership restricted to those lucky enough to find themselves on the right side of the inequality gap who can afford to own the roof over their heads.

In this era of insecure employment and housing in cities bursting with ever-more inhabitants susceptible to epidemics of loneliness and depression, the presence of mans best friend could benefit many.

So why, in Australia, where nearly 40% of Australian households are home to a canine do we have so many prohibitions on dogs in public, and most perversely, private places?

My love of dogs hasnt just begun with Teddy. From a general love of dogs born in the pages of childrens literature, and my grandparents alsatian, came Major. A living, breathing, jumping, wagging, drooling, gentle giant whose rough start in life did not limit his ability to play with, protect and unconditionally love the whole Burrell brood. His big brown eyes offered counsel, understanding and pacification through years of growing pains, teenage angst and rebellion. When the whole world was against me, he was by my side. He died just as I had flown the coop in my second year of university.

In the years between Major and Teddy, I did lose sight of how important being needed by another living being is to a meaningful and purposeful life. Mans best friend can fulfil this primal human need as well as other people can. Some go so far as to suggest dogs are better.

For the best part of the two decades I barely let myself think about getting a dog of my own. This was for a myriad of seemingly grown-up and responsible reasons. Granted, fun things like travel, freedom, independence and a desire for adventure all played parts. But looking back, it was more so I could fit the neoliberal worlds ideal of a good little moveable independent unit of educated-but-expendable labour.

Getting a real dog when I moved back to Australia after 10 years abroad was part of my longer-term efforts to keep the black dog of depression at bay.

Finding dog-friendly rental accommodation when I returned to Sydney late last year was a top priority. It did limit my flat-hunt significantly, especially when coupled with a firm desire never again to be in a position where I had to own a car.

In the UK and Europe dogs are a far more visible and accepted part of public life. On any given day, outside peak hour, youll see dogs on trains, in pubs, cafes and restaurants. American Airlines even allows passengers to bring small dogs and cats into the cabin with them.

I see no reason governments in Australia, a nation of dog lovers, couldnt encourage and adopt these more liberal approaches to one of lifes simplest pleasures for the love of dog.

The potential health and social benefits make it seem like a small price to pay probably incalculable benefits, like strengthening neighbourhoods and ameliorating if not reducing social isolation.

  • Catherine Burrell works for the Guardians online community team

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