real life

'No, I didn't get my dog from a rescue shelter. But can you please stop judging me?'

Almost a month ago, an eight-week-old puppy named Leni came into my life.  She’s cute as a button, sleeps a lot, loves to watch Anthony Bourdain on television and thoroughly enjoys chicken. And she’s a purebred cocker spaniel.

But before you label me a cashed-up irresponsible asshole, let me explain.

As a couple, my boyfriend and I had been planning for Leni’s arrival for a long, long time. Almost a year, in fact.

It’s included moving houses to live somewhere that is larger and closer to a park, months of ‘rainy day savings’ should she ever need any emergency vet treatment, considering how much time we can offer a pet each day, looking at our work arrangements, questioning why it was we even wanted a pet to begin with, and perhaps most importantly, countless visits to rescue dog homes.

do pets help anxiety
Leni! Source: supplied.

We trawled websites. We downloaded apps. We set up alerts. We phoned ahead. We waited in lines. We went out every weekend morning thinking that this would be the day we would finally welcome a dog into its forever home but without fail, every afternoon we would arrive back at home broken and dejected, feeling like we'd just been dumped. As though we'd told someone we love them and they'd responded by saying they want to start seeing other people.

It was so defeating.

I thought there was an abundance of rescue dogs out there that need responsible owners. That rescue groups dream of people like me and my boyfriend and loving homes like ours.

And as I've learned, I think both of those things are true, but that doesn't mean the dog that suits what you can offer is always available. And if it is available, about 50 other people within the same metropolitan area are also calling, emailing, and jumping in the car to go and meet them.

After months of this, the need for Leni became more pressing than it had previously been in May when a particularly vicious flare-up in my anxiety left me a total wreck.

Most days started with me struggling to get out of bed and when I'd finally made it to the shower I could hardly get out. The prospect of having to then get dressed get myself to work left me either crying or hyperventilating.

When I did make it in, I'd spend hours either chatting manically to anyone who would listen or have my head buried so deep I was practically invisible, paranoid about how annoying I was. Sometimes I would just sit and my desk silently crying, relieved that no one could see me. By the end of the day, I would be making myself vomit as a way of calming down.

do pets help anxiety
An infinite source of joy, obviously. Source: supplied.

In short, it was a really dark period and after many trips to my doctor and several changes in routine and medication failing to help, she asked if I had ever considered getting a pet.

I told her I had, but not for the purpose of helping me with my anxiety. I had just wanted someone to come on walks with me and sit on the couch with my boyfriend while he watched footy. But the more I looked into it and the more she talked, the more getting a dog made sense.


By nature, they are almost always in a good mood. They just about always want to see you (especially if you have food). They need to be walked and taken to the toilet and fed and played with. They need you to focus on them sometimes, and not yourself.

They make you happy, which in turn makes other people happy. They make you want to get out of bed even when you feel like you can't. And if they catch you doing utterly ridiculous things like trying to make yourself vomit as a means of calming down, well, they absolutely let you know just how bonkers that really is by barking at you until you stop.

When the fog of those May weeks finally lifted, I decided I didn't have more months of trawling and rejection in me. So I went to a registered breeder, checked out their credentials, spoke to owners who had bought puppies from previous litters, and in July, brought Leni home.

She chases her tail and yawns loudly. She's manic on a leash, hates the dark and could chew on egg cartons for weeks.

do pets help anxiety
Source: supplied.

Every morning when I wake up she is staring at me from the side of the bed, ready to start the day and delighted at the prospect of doing it by my side. She waits at the door with anticipation when I grab her lead, asks to sit on the couch when I'm watching TV and loves to lie on the kitchen floor when we're cooking dinner.

No, she's not a rescue dog. But the rescue dog I had dreamed of helping was already being helped by someone else. And I don't think I should have to feel bad about that or the fact that I wanted to welcome something into my life that would and does make me happy.

People get dogs for all kinds of reasons - from rescue shelters and breeders. Sometimes that's because they couldn't find the right dog for them elsewhere, and sometimes because they just want a dog that looks a certain way. But really, as long as they're responsible owners who are providing a great home, does it really matter?

Leni, for one, certainly doesn't feel bad about it or care in the slightest.