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New year… Just Get the Damn Dog.

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Ijust finished reading an old friend’s Facebook post about her six-year-old dog and his recent terminal cancer diagnosis. (Excellent, Rach, another super-light article. But bear with me here.) I couldn’t type a message to her in the comments field fast enough. I dropped what I was simultaneously doing, as social media serves as my perma-procrastination medium of choice, and started typing and crying; cry-ping? Anyway, I’ve never met this dog. All I know of him is through silly photos and videos featuring one or both of my friend’s daughters that she’s posted over the years. Honestly, it wouldn’t matter if I hadn’t talked to her in years; I couldn’t NOT tell her how much my heart was hurting for her. I’m certain I’d even share this grief if it was my adversary’s, even if I wouldn’t readily admit it. And in what seems to be an increasingly more polarized and even apathetic world, that is promising to me.

As I mentally sort through myriad lofty and mostly untenable New Year’s resolutions, I find it useful to check back in with what I know. There are two things I know for certain, this year, last year and heading into the next. 1. There’s no bond like that shared between human and dog and 2. I should have gotten my dog sooner in life. Dogs make us better. They make us feel. They link us to people with whom we wouldn’t otherwise be particularly compelled to engage. Dogs anchor us, they need us, we consciously and unconsciously put faith in them and, in return, dogs do nothing but love us unconditionally. And they undeniably align us. In 2023, just get the damn dog, people.

Allow me to deconstruct a couple of popular New Year’s resolutions to illustrate how all signs do point to d-o-g.

Get in Shape
While I won’t deny the very real possibility you’ll snuggle with your pooch on the couch, dive deep into a Netflix binge, and, in so doing, isolate yourself from any/all social engagements within a 24 to 48-hour period (which is totally acceptable, in my opinion, in moderation), dogs also provide another choice, the get-up-and-go Yang to this sweats-on-the-sofa Yin. The dog walk completes that balance and provides a healthy release for you both. Either suggestion will be welcomed, of course, but make no mistake, with just one whisper of “walk?” your dog will jump to attention like its whole life has been built around this very moment. I could argue that that very reaction alone lowers blood pressure. The dog walk is exercise, it’s a breather, it’s an escape and a stabilizing agent. I’ve had total Zen dog walks, rolling solo, perfectly centered and immersed in an orchestral playlist, and I’ve had some of the most therapeutic conversations with a friend while double-doggie-day-dating on a wellness walk. Whether it’s a brief jaunt around the block or a three-mile downtowner, the flexibility inherent in how you approach the ritual each time is what makes it a sustainable routine. The dog walk is a life hack; it’s a panacea, really. Dogs make you get outside and keep you moving, physically and mentally.

Be More Present
I struggle with this. My bike and/or my therapist aren’t always viable options during the unscheduled periods when my anxiety creeps in, and there sits my June Bug. If I’m overwhelmed, I feel her knowing gaze beckoning me to come over for a spoon. If I hastily dismiss her, bulldozing my way through her playful propositions to the next task on my to-do list, I hear the THUD, THUD, thud-thud-thud of the rubber ball dropping from her mouth and meeting the wood floor and, because I’m not a sociopath, I head back over to her to have a catch. Because there’s always time for a catch. Dogs always bring us back. They hold us accountable for the time we’re so fortunate to have here.

In our best and worst hours, our dog’s love for us is unwavering. I have my own theory as to why dogs age at such an accelerated, cruel rate. I think it’s because they absorb all our stuff, all of us, all of the time. Our experience is theirs and it’s all they’ll ever want from us. We could be gone for ten days or ten minutes and our dog’s elation upon either return is guaranteed. We can count on it. Dogs always accept us and ground us to the present. And even though my friend lost her best, most perfect friend since I began writing this, I know, without a doubt, that she wouldn’t trade her grief if it cost her a single moment from one of those heartbreakingly short six years spent with the dog that shaped her and her family forever. Dog years are the most perfect years. As the dog adoption agencies so aptly ask, “Who rescued whom?” maybe entertain if you could be a candidate for that question in 2023. Lean less into resolutions. Lean on a dog.

By Rachel Uccellini

Rachel Uccellini is an elite road cyclist and shares her passion for cycling through her committed support of the Saratoga Shredders Youth Mountain Bike Program, both on and off the bike. She is on the board of The Orchard Project, the Saratoga Wilton Soccer Club, and is actively involved in the Caroline Street School PTA. Rachel lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, with her husband, Tommy, two daughters, Eliza and Lauren, and their miniature Australian shepherd, June.