Did you know there is such a thing as a Sobriety Dog?
As a dog owner you’ll be aware of the emotional support our dogs give us.
Many people who have struggled with alcohol talk about the incredible strength their four legged friends provide.
This summer I read The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley where she talks about her recovery and her dog Otto.
It’s a brilliant book with the catchline, ‘how one woman stopped drinking and started living.’
She referred to ‘The Terrier,’ a lot and I was so pleased when she gave the paws up to my request for a chat!
Now ten, Otto has a little brother too, puppy Alby, another Border Terrier – aren’t they adorable?
Can you tell me about Otto and how he came into your life?
Otto is a Border Terrier who joined our family as a puppy ten years ago, when my third child was just a baby.
And what stage were you at with drinking?
When my third child was born, I decided to quit my very stressful job in advertising to be a full-time mum.
I loved being at home with my kids, and my new puppy, but hadn’t realised how hard it would be.
The glass of wine I poured at the end of every day to take the edge off and relax became two glasses, then three, then a whole bottle.
When you were alone with Otto and struggling, did you ever talk to him?
I didn’t talk to Otto out loud, but I appreciated him hugely.
It was a time of my life when I really hated myself, and the fact that he loved me unconditionally was so important to me.
And when you stopped drinking in 2015, how did having Otto help?
When I quit drinking, I found that whenever I had a really bad craving, taking Otto out for a walk was totally therapeutic.
It got me away from the fridge and all associations I had with drinking.
Also, seeing just how happy my dog was with the simple things like trees and lampposts and sniffing other dogs bums reminded me how glorious life can be.
Dogs really are a sober girl’s best friend!
In the book you talk about studying alcohol and recovery, how do you feel animals help people in their journey?
There are so many studies that show how good animals are for our mental health, and the same is absolutely true of people in recovery.
They show us unconditional love, when we can’t love ourselves, they remind us what the important things are in life, and they don’t ask anything for back.
They force us out of the house and into the fresh air, which is hugely beneficial.
And they make us think about someone other than ourselves, at a time when it’s easy to become totally inward looking.
Can you explain what a Sobriety Dog means to you?
They say that the opposite of addiction is connection, and the connection you have with a dog is one of the most powerful there is.
Otto was there for you when you had breast cancer, can you describe how he supported and comforted you?
I think dogs know when you are not well.
When I was feeling really tired or depressed, Otto would just come and lie down next to me, resting his head on my tummy, as if to say ‘I’m here for you.’
How is Otto now?
Otto is still really happy and healthy, but he’s getting older (like me!)
Having a little brother Alby is giving both of us a whole new lease of life though!
How are Alby and Otto getting on?
Alby loves Otto almost as much as I do, and, like me, Otto loves Alby to bits.
Although he gets a bit fed up with him when he’s feeling tired and the puppy just wants to play all the time.
Also, Alby chews EVERYTHING!
If someone is reading and going through recovery and thinking of welcoming a pet into their lives, what would your advice be?
Dogs really are a sober girl’s best friend.
A dog will help you enormously, in many different ways, but you owe it to them, and to yourself, to STAY SOBER!
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New figures show that the over fifties are overtaking young people as the nation’s problem drinkers. So I wrote a piece for today’s @telegraph about the generation who grew up with Bridget Jones and Absolutely Fabulous, and are now realising that the wheels are coming off…. There’s a link to the article in the bio of @telegraph ? #sober #sobriety #soberlife #soberliving #sobercurious #dailytelegraph
I love that you say dogs are a Sober Girl’s Best Friend too – can you explain why?
Yes, first, they get you outside!
However much you might want to hunker down at home and mope, your four legged companion is going to stare at you with those big, brown (unless you have a Husky) eyes until you take them out for a walk.
This is a very good thing, as exercise – especially outdoors – is incredibly good for your mental health, which is why the Japanese are so obsessed by what they call ‘forest bathing.’ It reduces stress and anxiety and boosts all your happy hormones.
Also, walking outside gets you away from all those booze-associations – the fridge, the wine rack, your favourite armchair, etcetera ad infinitum. Even I never took alcohol with me on a dog walk, even in the baddest of bad days.
They are masters of mindfulness.
One of the best ways to get through the early days of sober is ‘mindfulness’: concentrating on the present moment and not worrying about not drinking forever and ever or what sins you might have committed in the past.
But mindfulness is incredibly hard. Which is why you need your own furry mindfulness guru to hand.
Dogs only live in the moment. They remind you of all the incredible things happening right now under your very nose. The thrill of a new path, splashing through mud, having a cuddle.
Just look at how much your dog loves life and you realise that booze really isn’t necessary in order to discover joy in the everyday.
Finally, there’s the unconditional love.
By the time most of us quit drinking we can be pretty hard on ourselves. We spend an awful lot of time examining our flaws and fretting over past misdemeanours.
Our dogs remind us that we are completely loveable, imperfections and all. They don’t judge, they just lick.
If you don’t have a dog already, then think of all the money and time you’ll be saving by not drinking and consider spending some of it on a new friend.
Don’t buy a puppy, find a rescue dog. A dog who deserves a second chance at life and a whole load of love, just like you do.
Thank you so much Clare, it has been amazing hearing your story about what your dogs mean to you.
You can find out more about Clare and read her blog at mummywasasecretdrinker.blogspot.com/
If you’d like to read the book buy The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley on Amazon.
And you can follow her on Facebook at Sober Mummy
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read How having a pet boosts wellbeing and reduces stress.