Friday, January 22, 2010

Nursing Home for Dogs: The Power of Touch

Buster Brown is still snoring on his pillow. But Buster Black is up and watching me. It is only seven steps from the kitchen to the laundry room, but he follows me closely while I put something away. He is right on my heels as I return and stand in front of the kitchen window. He sits squarely on my foot; his back and hip nestle close to my leg. I am loath to move because he seems so comfortable and warm, but after only a brief moment I must step away. It’s time to cut the meat and vegetables for a stew that will simmer all day.

As I peel potatoes and slice carrots, Buster Black has positioned himself between my feet. My preparations take me from one counter to the other in our kitchen, but he follows me that small distance, just a few feet, to lean in close to me again. I offer him a tidbit of browned, cooled stew meat, which he sniffs and eats, and then looks steadily at me.

I realize I’m about to humanize a dog with my next sentence, but I can’t help it. When he finishes the treat, his eyes say, “Thanks, but I didn’t really want that. I wanted you.”

My heart melts. “Buddy, are you lonely today?” I reach down and snuggle on him, then I sit on the sofa and invite him onto my lap. He’s actually a little too big for my lap, but we manage to get comfortable. As I pet him and enjoy his warmth, I think about Lessons from Dogs.

There is no substitute for a gentle touch. I can provide food, shelter, and medical care for Buster Black. I can give him a treat once in a while. But today what he wanted most was my warmth, my attentive touch. The Touch Research Institute, part of the University of Miami School of Medicine since 1992, has done numerous studies on the necessity of touch for physical and emotional health and healing. Research shows that while someone’s presence may be helpful, mere presence does not lower stress hormone levels or stimulate production of endorphins. Touch, however, does.

Take time for touching. Young children think it’s natural to climb into our laps when they are afraid, when they awaken from a night’s sleep, when they are insecure, and when they are happy or excited. The settling down and folding in close together makes them feel protected and nurtured. I’ve read that children should receive eight to ten “meaningful touches” per day in order to feel secure and loved. I think I have never personally grown out of that need, though! Perhaps it applies to adults (and dogs) as well.

It is finally time for me to get back to the kitchen and finish the stew. I disturb our coziness and help Buster Black to the floor. I know I’m humanizing him again, but I think his eyes say, “Thanks. I needed that.”


  1. While I was sitting here reading that, my cat jumped up onto my lap and plopped down, half of her body on the laptop. She began purring instantly as if she knew that I would pet her before I even began. I have things I would like to do, but I think I will sit here for a few minutes and let her love me. :)

  2. I get accused of thinking that our dog and cats tell me stuff-but I know they tell us stuff and that they do think stuff-I know it-you helped prove it! I also learn from animals-well dogs-that no matter what they love us, want us, would do anything for us-what an example of loving unconditionally-love those animals. Thankyou so much for this blog and your thoughts-very insightful. :)