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The Power of Laughter

Last week, one of my dearest friends was experiencing an extraordinarily stressful situation. As she approached what would be an especially stressful moment during this time, we decided to get together to develop strategies for managing the situation. We carefully planned our time together, blocking most of a morning to allow enough time for both breakfast and an outdoor walk afterwards. Our breakfast at a local eatery was delicious, and over it, our topics of conversation bounced around a bit, covering various subjects, but often coming back to her situation to consider potential alternatives and outcomes. We talked through various scenarios, explored feelings, and considered options. We talked about the upcoming stress and finalized strategies for managing it. Feeling prepared for her ‘moment’, we finished up our breakfasts and headed back to my house for our walk. Then the two of us and my littlest dog left the house, ready to make a loop through the neighborhood, to get our steps in and work off some nervous energy. About ten minutes into our walk, and thinking of the power of connection, I texted a nearby friend of ours to see if she could take a break from her telecommuting job to pop out and say hi. Happily, she could, and soon we were a group of three standing on the sidewalk catching up and enjoying the momentary distraction. To our surprise, it was only a few minutes later before another one of our friends whom we hadn’t seen in a very long time (so long that she didn’t recognize us!), walked by and stopped to catch up as well. How fantastic! It was wonderful to take a few minutes and catch up with everyone. By the time we finished visiting, the poor pup was ready for a drink of water, so we cut our walk short and returned to my house. Rather than heading out again, I poured us some iced tea and we went to sit on the patio for the remainder of our time together. We got settled in our chairs, planning to relax and enjoy the warm morning weather. Joining us on the patio were my hodge-podge collection of three dogs: Maisy, a 3 year old Havanese, Jovie, a 2 year old Black Lab and Allie, a 1 year old Bernese Mountain Dog. The dogs weren’t very supportive of our plans to sit around and relax - and so the entertainment began! Let me explain...

It’s impossible not to notice ‘the one who will not be ignored’, Jovie. She is 70 pounds of sleek black muscle and constantly carries around an orange frisbee in the hopes that someone will play with her. She gets incredibly excited when someone comes outside – she repeatedly jumps up on her hind legs and runs around excitedly, taking brief breaks to vigorously shake the frisbee back and forth in her mouth and slinging doggie slobber all over. If you’re outside with her for too long and don’t agree to play, those hopes become a little more insistent and she'll bump you with the frisbee to make sure you know she’s there. Don’t think you can walk away…she’s not shy, she’ll nudge your backside with the frisbee too! It is her joy when you finally acquiesce and agree to partake. But…wait! She’s not going to give up that frisbee without a ‘warm-up’ game of tug-of-war. Warm up for her, maybe, but I stopped playing last year for fear of a senior fall! She is super strong and loves her game. Fortunately, she’s also super smart, and once she calms down, she responds to the commands: ‘drop it’, ‘sit’, and ‘wait’, to allow time for her partner to pick up the frisbee. You have to be quick, though, or she’ll pounce on it, grab it in her mouth, and the process starts all over (there’s only so much ‘wait’ she can manage when separated from her beloved frisbee, after all!). Once the routine is complete, and the frisbee can be thrown, the game is ON. She’s amazing to watch as she streaks across the yard to catch and return her frisbee over and over again. So that was the first element of the patio play that day. An energetic game of frisbee. But it wasn’t just us and Jovie the black lab. Maisy and Allie were outside too.

Allie is the baby, a gorgeous Bernese Mountain Dog weighing in at something close to 90 pounds. She is super jealous of any attention paid anywhere but her, and as soon as she sees that happening, she inserts herself right in the middle. She doesn’t even have to push her way in, her size affords her the luxury of just walking up and getting between whatever attention is happening that she wants to be a part of. Standing in the kitchen showing Jovie some love? Up walks Allie – right between the two of you. Sitting on the couch petting Maisy? Look out! Here’s Allie! Plop! Right on top of both of you! Who says she’s not a lap dog? Think you’re going to hug your son before he goes to school? Nope, Allie will break that right up for you! But she does it all in the cutest, goofiest, most lovable way and it just brings laughter. As you might guess, if we want to play a serious game of frisbee with Jovie, Allie really needs to be in the house. Allie doesn’t run out to catch the frisbee, she just runs out to make it impossible for Jovie to catch the frisbee. I can imagine her little (or big) doggie thoughts…Oh, sorry, Jovie, is it hard for you to see where the frisbee is being thrown while I’m jumping all over you? Is it hard for you to catch it when I’m running around in the spot where it’s going to land? Play with me! Play with me! Me, me, me!!! And that was the second element of our time outside – me playing the crazy frisbee game with Jovie while Allie did her best to disrupt the whole thing. Very funny to watch (although, admittedly, pretty frustrating for Jovie!)

But wait – that’s not all! There’s another piece to all of this! We can’t forget little Maisy, the oldest and smallest. The 9 pound Havanese. Now, she may be the littlest one, but she is the BIG BOSS of the other two dogs. Especially that misbehaving, attention-stealer Allie. Maisy seems to think there’s a lot of correcting that Allie needs. And, quite honestly, Allie seems to enjoy the correcting. She’s like a little kid – good attention, bad attention, it’s all attention, and all good to her! So when Allie took breaks from ruining Jovie’s frisbee game to hang out on the patio with us, Maisy took this as her cue to impart some discipline. She’d bark at her and chase her around, jumping up to nip at her legs and her ears. Allie only needs to make one movement for every fifty of Maisy’s, so there’s a big flurry of activity from Maisy, while Allie appears very calm and relaxed. Just the move of a paw, or a roll over onto her side is all the effort Allie needs to generate during Maisy’s spastic antics. At some points, Allie would stop moving all together, just lying down while Maisy gave her the business – correctional barking, tugs on her ears, nips at her paws. It seemed the more still Allie was, the more engaged Maisy was - as if Allie’s lack of response was the worst offense of all! Finally, Maisy took advantage of Allie’s immobility, taking the opportunity to show her real dominance. And the next thing we knew, that little 9 pounder was climbing (yes, climbing), up on top of the big 90 pounder to do some humpin’! Apologies if this is too crass, but it was an incredibly hilarious sight to behold and we were laughing so hard we were crying! After showing her dominance in this most primitive of ways, the play would begin again, Maisy loudly correcting Allie, Jovie teasing with the frisbee, and on it went. We sat outside, enjoying the doggie show for an hour or so, before my friend had to head off to her event. As she was leaving, she seemed decidedly more relaxed, and declared herself prepared for her upcoming experience.

Of all the things we planned and did that morning, that spontaneous break on the patio was the most beneficial to my friend’s state of mind. There truly is nothing like laughter to help ease stress. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might want to give it a try!

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