When writer Dannielle Miller rescued a dog during lockdown, she could never have predicted that taking care of a pet would prompt her to make huge improvements to her own approach to diet and exercise.
As I stood in my kitchen sautéing mushrooms in coconut oil, ready to add these to the containers of turkey, kangaroo and duck I’d spent the afternoon preparing, something struck me: my dog eats better than I do.
Back in March this year, we rescued our very own “lockdown dog” – an 18-month-old koolie-cross named Athena. She’d been listed to be euthanised after she was surrendered pregnant. The rescue group we adopted her from had taken her in after her puppies had been born and adopted out, hoping that she, too, might get a second chance at life.
We were warned when I made that first call that she was very timid. She had spent her first few days in care cowering. But, I was told, she seemed sweet-natured. When we met this blue-eyed, skinny gal with saggy breasts and stitches on her tummy – she’d only recently had her puppies taken from her and had then been desexed – it was love at first sight.
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Except love doesn’t quite cover my feelings for this dog. It’s the type of fierce, deep devotion that compels me to not only kiss her snout a million times a day, but to also shower her with all the affection and care she didn’t get in the first part of her life.
And so began my mission – to maintain the raw diet the rescue group had her on; to ensure she learnt how to walk on a lead so she could go out on regular outings; and to always sleep snuggled up together (when I can prise her off my teenagers’ beds. They’re equally smitten).
At the same time, I was stumbling through life, COVID-fuelled by fast food, coffee and frenzied screen-refreshing. I defended my lack of self-care by telling myself falsehoods like “COVID calories don’t count!” and “I need to stay informed, so the six hours I’ve spent on my phone today are totally justified!”
Yet, when cooing at Athena one night about how beautiful she was and admiring how she’d blossomed under our care, I had a light-bulb moment: It was high time I started treating myself like a dog. So I gave it a go.
I’ve long prided myself on my positive inner voice. However, I realised it was almost solely directed toward strength and resilience.
What would happen if I chose to accept offers of help rather than always being the helper? I found myself tentatively opening up to the figurative pats my family, friends and colleagues were offering.
Fuel your body, don’t just feed it
There are elements of Athena’s raw diet that hold no appeal at all – hearts, liver, rabbits’ heads… no thanks.
But the variety and the lack of processed food makes her coat glisten, her breath smell fresh and her temperament calm.
I’m still a fan of a cheeky KFC run, and will never fall for the trap of associating food with virtue, but I’ve become more aware of how I feel after eating certain foods, and now nourish myself accordingly.
In 2019 my average step count was 3000 per day. Since my furry BFF arrived, it’s increased to 9000.
The biggest shift has been in accepting that sometimes the joy is in the journey, not just the destination (or indeed the step count). Yes, we do brisk power walks around the block. But we also visit parks and forests to sniff and meander.
Athena loves an afternoon nap. Rather than fighting my exhaustion, I’ll often curl up on the lounge next to her and have one, too. In these quiet moments, I try to synchronise my breathing to her deep, content sighs. “We will rest now,” she seems to be saying. “Later, we play.”
Drink the water
This I’m still working on. But since I bought a little portable bowl to bring out and fill with water for Athena on our longer walks, I’m doing more of the same myself. “Good girl,” I’ll say as she hydrates, “You’re such a good girl.”
She really is. I am, too. And it’s never too late for a fresh start in life.