Belief in Dog

Sheila got a new Labrador mix from the animal shelter where she lives in Georgia. The dog is black. She named him Yogi.

I asked if she named him after the famous New York Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra, but she said no. Sheila named him in honor of all those who practice yoga.

Well, I would like to humbly submit that she make her dog’s middle name “Berra” in honor of the late national treasure: the scrappy catcher from Saint Louis, who dropped out in eighth grade to support his family; who served on a gunboat during the Normandy invasions and was awarded a Purple Heart; who went on to play in more World Series games than any player in Major League history.

“Never heard of him,” said Sheila.

Anyway, the reason Sheila got Yogi was because her therapist recommended it. Sheila is single, 54-years-old, she does yoga, eats right, goes to church, and each morning she makes healthy smoothies that taste like lawn clippings. In short, she has a nice life.

And Sheila is clinically depressed.

The reasons aren’t important. Because the truth is, you can’t control how you feel. Nobody can. The idea that we can control anything in the world is laughable. We are but vehicles, riding on the Interstate of Existence. And stuff happens. Stuff like COVID.

You can do all the right things on the Divine Freeway of Life, follow all the rules, use your turn signals, and still get T-boned by a guy who is busy texting while driving. Next thing you know, your mental health is a wreck.

That might be an oversimplified example, but it’s not my example. That anecdote was given to me by Sheila’s doctor, who I interviewed this morning.

After a recent column I wrote on depression, Sheila’s therapist was very jazzed up to tell me about a unique kind of depression treatment.

“Get a dog,” said the therapist.

As it happens, I am a dog guy. There are dogs sleeping on my feet right now while I write this. One is snoring, the other is emitting smells that are watering my eyes. I am hard pressed to believe curing depression is easy as owning a dog.

“It’s definitely not a cure,” says Sheila’s therapist. “But it helps.”

She went on to say that research proves that dogs are valuable pieces of medical equipment. More valuable than anyone in the mental health field once realized.

“It’s amazing,” says the doc, “dogs can sniff out blood sugar levels, predict seizures, and they can even detect cancer with their noses.”

But a dog’s real talent lies in its ability to know its owner’s moods. Dogs know how you’re feeling before you do.

“Have you ever seen a dog tilt its head when you make a weird sound?” says the doc. “It’s called head-orienting. The canine brain is sensitive to audio, they can tell just from your voice what’s happening in your head.”

The canine brain can hear tiny vocal inflections and know whether you’re happy, sad, ticked off at your boss, anxious about a pandemic, or in Sheila’s case, depressed.

“But that’s nothing,” says the venerable therapist. “Wanna hear something even cooler? Dogs boost oxytocin.”

I realize this is all starting to sound like the biology lecture from hell, but bear with me here.

Turns out, there’s a chemical in your brain known as the “love hormone.” Contrary to what you might be thinking, this potent chemical is not the same “chemical” often found at Crosby, Stills & Nash concerts. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter associated with love, romance, affection, trust, social interaction, and lots of other bodily stuff.

A depressed brain fails when it comes to oxytocin activity and other feel-good chemicals. Which are all key players in depression.

“Here’s the best part,” says the doc. “Pet owners have WAY more oxytocin activity than non-pet owners. They have better pain management, more social engagement, lower blood pressure…

“We’ve seen dogs literally change the mental health of inmates, as well as cancer patients, dogs can even help you sleep better.”

I’ll admit, the part about sleep sounded far fetched. Because I have two dogs, and I don’t always sleep great. Namely, because my dog wakes me up every morning about 4 a.m. to tee-tee in the backyard. And trust me, this does not help my quality of life.

But the doc says this, too, is another benefit of dogs. Pet ownership forces you to go outside often, which helps you get more vitamin D from the sun, which helps your brain produce even more Woodstock chemicals.

The doc claims that many of her patients with depressive disorders are reporting huge gains from simply buying a pet.

So I’m running out of space, but if you’re struggling with depression, I’ll leave you with a few personal quotes on the matter:

MIKE—“I used to have night terrors, from PTSD, I’d wake up with a racing heart and stuff… But now with Apollo [Rottweiler, age 4] sleeping by me, he’s there and… It’s easier not being alone at night.”

ERICA—“Whenever I get anxious, Mia [collie mix, 9] can just tell I’m worked up… She’s such a lover, I feel more chill.”

EVE—“When Ju Ju [Lab mix rescue, age unknown] gets in my lap and loves up to me, she won’t give me time to think about how bad things are, she’s just like, ‘Hey, c’mon, pet me.’”

SHEILA—“Yogi can tell when I’m shutting down, he knows when I need affection, I think that’s a missing piece from my life with this pandemic, I’ve been missing affection… I love my Yogi.”

THE LATE YOGI BERRA—“Love is the most important thing. But baseball’s pretty good, too.”


  1. catherine Deloney - November 18, 2020 11:27 am

    So true, but I’m chuckling bc I have 4. Two seniors who gotta go when they gotta go and sometimes in the house before they get out and sometimes in the house bc they forgot to go when they were out. Then I have a 5 and 3 yr old shepherds….highly trained especially after having told them in three levels of vocal pitch to STFD 🤷 a million times. But yes…they are highly trained. Despite their twisted sense of humor and pushing my tollerance levels, I sleep peacefully in-between all of them (my husband not so much) lol and when I’m down they lift my spirits with some act of love or silliness. As crazy as they can be I wouldn’t be without them.

  2. Jan - November 18, 2020 1:02 pm

    Agree wholeheartedly with your recommendation. I would broaden it to include cats or just pets in general. We were adopted by a stray kitten a few months ago and she has made a huge difference in my world. When she needs affection or thinks I need affection she goes to the porch swing, hops up and looks at me as though to say, “what are you waiting for? sit down and let’s cuddle!” Pets are awesome and I never knew until I was 73 years old.

  3. Gary Fleming - November 18, 2020 1:04 pm

    Sean – Wendy Francisco wrote a song “God and Dog” that points out just how special our canine friends are. Here’s a link:

  4. Joe Bolton - November 18, 2020 1:14 pm

    Prior to COVID, the Strickland Youth Center in Mobile, AL had a program for dogs to visit the kids in detention. My big dog, Hank (100lb. American Bulldog), was one of the first dogs in the program. His sweet, gentle nature (and his size) made him a favorite of the kids. He brightened their day and gave them hope that the future would be better (Hank was rescued the day before he was scheduled to be euthanized). Hank passed away a year and a half ago. The kids that were still in detention and knew him, sent us a sympathy card. The kids painted a mural on one of the walls in detention. The program was renamed “Hank’s Hope”. Dogs are good.

    P.S. Hank also visited nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Loved by the old folks, too. Hank just loved everybody.

    P.P.S. There’s a Hank for you at your local shelter.

  5. Allison C Gilmore - November 18, 2020 1:23 pm

    With three cats in my house, I know that some might think I’m getting close to being one of those crazy cat ladies. But I know in my heart that I’m really more of a dog-person. My cats are interesting and amusing creatures to live with, and they are great lap-warmers. But my sweet little rescue mutt Lizzie is truly a kindred spirit who seems to understand me better than I understand myself at times. I cannot imagine life without a dog. In these challenging times with so many people facing a financial crisis, I know that having pets is a luxury. I am so grateful to be able to share my home with these sweet creatures who keep me grounded and who make me want to be a better person.

  6. Pecos Kate - November 18, 2020 1:26 pm

    Similar to Jan, I never knew how special cats can be until one rescued me. And I’ll never be the same.

  7. Melanie - November 18, 2020 1:56 pm

    D❤️GS 🥰

  8. Kathy - November 18, 2020 2:27 pm

    How beautiful. I hope this boosts dog adoptions.

  9. Mary Lyon - November 18, 2020 2:50 pm

    I think this my favorite story you’ve ever written! So true!
    I suffer from depression and have two wonderful dogs.

  10. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - November 18, 2020 5:13 pm

    I’m 60. Almost never a time in my life that I didn’t have at least one. Taken in many strays, quite a few from the shelters, even bought a couple thorobreds, (which I do not recommend). Life just isn’t right without a dog or two in it.
    There’s so many out there that need a home. All with love to share. Most cost a dollar or so a day to feed.
    You just don’t know what you’re missing.

  11. Linda Moon - November 18, 2020 5:36 pm

    ….never heard of Yogi! What’s the world coming to? Thanks to you, Sean, Sheila finally heard. I noticed you left Young out of your Crosby, Stills, & Nash reference. They eventually did, too….left him out, that is. I’ve seen CSN without Young and also Young without CSN. Both concerts were pretty good for some good Woodstock-style chemicals (which I NEVER did!). Cats, books, and people like Sean Dietrich produce excellent chemicals for my brain, and they’re cheap and legal. I’ve even ridden on the Freeway of Love once at an Aretha Franklin concert! But enough about me….. it’s all about Sheila and Yogi!

  12. thouse1001 - November 18, 2020 6:06 pm

    SO TRUE!

  13. Jenny Young - November 18, 2020 6:21 pm

    My little Morkie Maggie makes me laugh every day. Sometimes she makes me cry too but she is so funny, super cute & keeps me on a strict schedule. She will always look & act like a puppy too.

  14. Susan Wold - November 18, 2020 6:23 pm

    Sean, you are friggin awesome. You are as good as a dog, your words are having dog like effects on people right now. I do agree though, my coonhound Tucker rescued me as much as I rescued him. He truly is my best friend!! Second thing was CSN and I’ll throw in Y, made me smile. Oh Crosby, what was he thinking? I do believe some of his drug use might have been due to his depression when his girlfriend died. Ok, most was because he was on a several year long party, but just that you mentioned them means you must like them, making you even more awesome. They are my second favorite, Dylan is first, always has been always will be. He’s a man of words and lyrics. He spins magic with his words like you do. Okay, enough said but let me leave you with this, Hound dogs, music and the written word. It’s all I want and all I need. I don’t like talking, so these 3 things sustain me.. Thank you, you rock!

  15. Mary J Kynerd - November 18, 2020 8:54 pm

    This may be my favorite piece so far but there is always tomorrow!!

  16. Suzanne Moore - November 18, 2020 9:08 pm

    I guarantee that owning dogs throughout my adult life has kept me mentally healthy. It has also contributed to the mental health of my husband Mitchell, who suffers from depression. He still needs his medication, but is much happier and more serene than he was when we didn’t have our dogs. They love him so much, and I think that they all sense that he needs their love. Even our obnoxious miniature dachshund Chloe,who barks at Mitchell incessantly when he enters or leaves the room, has found space in her little heart for him. She jumps into his lap and loves him every night before he goes to bed. This has given her purpose in her life, healing her grief after my sister, her owner, died from cancer two years ago. We inherited Chloe, and she and Mitchell have healed one another. Our other dogs, Marguerite (lab mix) and Cream (foxhound), both of whom we rescued, have similar life stories, having found love and shared their love with us for a number of year. We all send you love, Sean

  17. Patricia Gibson - November 18, 2020 10:02 pm

    This is so true!!!❤️❤️❤️❤️

  18. Tom J. Faia - November 18, 2020 10:08 pm

    MPEG audio file HAPPY DOG PM_11 3:52 6/7/20, 11:33 AM 160 kbps 0
    Depression is a terrible thing….I wrote a little song about a guy and his dog. I tried to paste the file in this comment but I don’t think it worked.

  19. Ann Mills - November 18, 2020 11:50 pm


  20. maryjcal - November 19, 2020 12:05 am

    Works with cats too. I’ve had my Bitty Kitty four years. She adopted me. She’s the only family I have. My doctor says she’s keeping me from falling over the edge. He certified her as an ESA this week. Emotional support animal. Now she can travel with me if I need to, stay in hotels, move in a no animal apartment without hassle and fly upfront with me in planes. She pulls me back when I feel like I’m barely holding on. God knew we needed each other.

  21. Kristin - November 19, 2020 2:27 pm

    So true… I think some cats have the gift too. My cats were just 3 months old when my grandma died and they spent several days glued to my side. I swear they knew I needed them even then. After 11 years, they are still just as sensitive to when I need a little extra love!


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