An Exercise in Compassion:
When My Dog Walks Me Back to the Moment
By Shannon Kopp,
Author of Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman’s Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back to Life
During the rare mornings I don’t press snooze on my alarm four times, I wake up, grab a cup of coffee, and go for a walk with my dog. In the beginning, I told myself I was doing this for her. I work long days at an eating disorder treatment center, and unlike when I worked at the San Diego Humane Society, I can’t bring Bella with me. She’s a five-year-old, poodle/terrier mix, and frisky to the core. I tell myself that I walk her to get some of her energy out in the morning, but the truth is, these walks are more for me.
During the eight years I was bulimic, throughout high school and college and into my early twenties, I never walked. I only ran. Most of my friends ran for healthy reasons — they ran to feel their own strength, to relieve stress and take care of themselves, to push themselves farther than they ever thought they could go. But I ran for one purpose only: to burn calories. I didn’t really enjoy the angry music blasting in my headphones, but that didn’t matter. The point was to run harder.
Walks with Bella are the exact opposite of this. We stop every few feet because she catches the scent of something she wants to savor. I never listen to music, just the sound of her panting and my breathing and the morning wind. I often don’t know where we are walking to — I let her guide me. She listens to her body, and when her little legs start to get tired, she turns around and we head back home.
I’m still learning how to listen to my body. I have much more experience hating and judging it, rather than fully inhabiting it. But the good news is this: it’s only seven a.m., and I’ve already felt the earth beneath my feet, air moving in and out of my lungs, a heartbeat pulsing in my chest. I’ve watched the sky turn from dark to light. I’ve reached down and touched my dog’s soft coat, and stared into her shining eyes.
I’ve kissed my dog. I’ve thought about the girl who couldn’t run hard or far enough. And I’ve kissed her, too.
5 Lessons on Life Learned from Morning Walks with my Dog:
- Chart Your Own Course
- Live in the Moment
- Allow Yourself to Pause and Enjoy
- Listen to Your Body, Not Just Your Mind
- Learn to Experience Life
© 2016 Shannon Kopp, author of Pound for Pound
Shannon Kopp, author of Pound for Pound, is a writer, eating disorder survivor, and animal welfare advocate. She has worked and volunteered at various animal shelters throughout San Diego and Los Angeles, where shelter dogs helped her to discover a healthier, more joyful way of living. Her mission is to help every shelter dog find a loving home, and to raise awareness about eating disorders and animal welfare issues.