Barton was sitting on the couch one day with her head in
her hands, utterly defeated by the severe depression
that filled her with sadness and self-loathing, when she
felt an unexpected warmth in her toes. Her fluffy red
golden retriever puppy, Bunker, was sitting on her feet.
leaned against me, and it seemed to me to be very
deliberate," she says. "He looked at me like,
ĎAre you better?í or ĎDid that help?í and I
thought, ĎEither Iím going totally crazy, or he sees
me.í And I decided to do one hopeful thing, which was
to trust that feeling."
new memoir, "Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From
Myself," joins a growing list of books, both
fiction and nonfiction, that highlight the role pets can
play in emotional healing. While the iconic pets of the
past ó Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Benji, "That Darn
Cat" ó saved humans from physical dangers, the
furry heroes of books such as the national best-seller
"Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden
Retriever Who Saved Him" (Hachette) and the novel
"The Dog Who Saved Me" (St. Martinís Press),
help their owners fend off depression, anxiety and PTSD.
is moving in the same direction, with research
suggesting that dogs bring down stress levels, encourage
physical activity and reduce depression.
the typical study, depressed people who get conventional
treatment are compared with depressed people who get
conventional treatment as well as interaction with a
pet, often a dog that is included in therapy sessions,
says psychologist Stanley Coren, professor emeritus at
the University of British Columbia and author of
"Do Dogs Dream?: Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants
You to Know" (W.W. Norton).
results are almost always the same: You get anyplace
between a 30 percent and a 50 percent added improvement
in the reduction of depression scores (with pets), so itís
quite huge," Coren says.
remain: A 2014 review of the effectiveness of
animal-assisted therapy for the elderly ("The
Benefit of Pets and Animal-Assisted Therapy to the
Health of Older Individuals" in Current Gerontology
and Geriatrics Research complained of the "poor
methodological quality" of pet therapy studies and
pointed to issues such as small sample sizes, and lack
of adequate controls and comparison groups.
over four decades of research, these studies remain
preliminary," the authors wrote.
whose memoir covers an episode of severe depression when
she was in her early 20s, got married in 2000 and lives
in Piedmont, Calif., with her husband, their two
children, ages 8 and 11, and an energetic terrier named
Jackson (shelter name: Action Jackson). Bunker died in
2007 at age 11, but he remains a big presence in Bartonís
life. Speaking from her home office, she said she was
surrounded by photos of Bunker.
like a shrine in here," she quipped.
Medicine" appears to have hit a nerve: The first
2,500-copy printing sold out in a day, Barton says, and
more than 5,000 additional copies have been printed.
sold rights to Korea, to Holland. The U.K. is
interested," she says. "Thereís lots of
chatter, and I think itís really resonating."
the course of promoting the book, she has heard stories
of emotional healing from cat-, dog- and horse-lovers.
And, at a talk in California, a middle-age man
approached her on the verge of tears.
daughter is very depressed. Sheís 20, and sheís
coming home to live with us," she recounts the man
telling her. But there was one bright spot: "She
has a therapy rat. Itís the most incredible
it a trained rat?" Barton asked him.
the man told her. "They are just extraordinarily
connected. Something about having this living creature
with her by her side all the time is really healing for
Barton, now 42, the road to recovery involved
medication, counseling and strong family support, as
well as bonding with Bunker.
was 22, an Ohioan living far from home in New York and
weathering a painful breakup, when the negative thoughts
that had long assailed her took on a scarier tone:
"Walk into the path of that cab," she would
think. "Step in front of that oncoming bus."
The thoughts told her she was "worthless, dumb,
ugly and weak. Wrong in every way. Wrong for being
she collapsed on the kitchen floor with a pot on the
stove and woke up to a room filled with smoke, she
called her mother. Her parents brought her home, found a
psychiatrist and gently pressed her to take the
antidepressant Zoloft. When she told them one thing that
might help was a puppy, her parents helped make that
WAY TO CONNECT
offered uncomplicated love and loyalty, which was vital,
Barton says. As her mood stabilized, he also helped her
go back out in the world again.
is a very isolating disease," she says. "In
New York, I would walk down the sidewalk thinking I was
completely alone on an island of millions of people,
because people didnít acknowledge you, or if they did,
it was with a rude push or a mean look.
you have a dog, doors open, social doors. People go, ĎOh,
how sweet! How old? Whatís his name?í You talk about
your dog experience, and itís a real ice breaker for
someone who may not be as adept at social interactions.
I loved going out because people would talk to me. It
made me so happy."
her book, Barton describes how, with Bunkerís help,
she was able to move across the country, make friends,
and eventually get a job and find love.
she says, sheís doing very well. Her depression is a
chronic condition, but medication works well for her,
and she keeps an eye out for the "sinking"
feeling that tells her to seek additional support from
her doctor, her counselor or her husband.
havenít had a major episode (of depression) in six or
seven years," she says. "It was pretty hard
after Bunker died, but I had young kids, and that helped
keep me occupied ó in a good way."