I recommend catching up with the BBC’s latest Wonderland – Walking with dogs. Vanessa Engle’s latest documentary is as brilliant as her many others (Money, Jews, Women, Lefties) .
Capturing a dozen or so lives as they walk their dogs on London’s Hampstead Heath, Engle’s acute yet gentle questioning effectively gets to the heart of her subject’s relationships with their pets. She even causes one woman to pause with her intuitive phrasing of a question. Unsurprisingly perhaps, we learn how therapeutic these relationships can be. For one woman, living in a nearby hostel, estranged from her husband and three sons, Bella offers more comfort than the cocktail of medicines prescribed to keep her depression and despair at bay. Another couple courageously share the strength and hope their dog has brought to them, in the wake of the tragic loss of their 25 year old son. Having another ‘beating heart’ in the house has helped them to move forward, rather than ‘sit in the corner and cry’.
Another man ties his recovery from alcohol up with buying his dog, yet another takes his gentle labrador into hospices for therapy with the patients. We meet others who clearly struggle to relate to humans, but derive much joy, love and purpose from their dogs. We also meet those who clearly love to relate to humans, and daily scheduled walks allow friendships to be born – such as the staggeringly youthful 82 year old who was walked with her companion each day for 10 years (they appear to have a knack at stumbling across dead creatures too).
Animals have long been used in therapy (Virgin Atlantic included), and hearing these stories is a far more effective way of understanding why than any theory.