Consider a friend with all the virtues

So far, I’ve never been to England. But when I do go, I know exactly what my first stop will be–Hewstead Abbey.
And once at the abbey, I will head straight for an ancient marker and stoop to read the words etched in stone nearly two centuries ago. The occasion for the marker was the death of Boatswain, dedicated friend of famed poet Lord Byron.
Byron in his grief praised his dear friend “who possessed beauty without vanity/strength without insolence/courage without ferocity.” Such a friend as each of us would hope some day to have!
And then Byron continued his carved accolade, “And all the virtues of man without his vices.”
For as it turns out, Byron’s dear friend Boatswain was a dog. A gentle giant of a Newfoundland dog. Born May, 1803 and laid to rest with weeping Nov. 18, 1808.
For decades, since first reading Byron’s poem, I’ve longed for my own Boatswain and have thoroughly researched the breed with an eye to purchase.
Several times I’ve come close but always at the last minute something would happen. And once again, I had to give up my dream and return to reading about the “gentle giant among canines;” “The sweet, devoted companion;” and “The perfect children’s playmate and nanny.”
Thus it was that I was still dreaming about a huge, loving black bear of a dog a year and a half ago when sweet, gentle, funny, smart Phoebe first came into my life.
She was a third the size of a Newfoundland, and snow white instead of coal black. But no Newfoundland could ever be smarter or more loving. Funnier or more protective.
She is indeed the perfect friend–a friend with all the virtues of a human but none of the vices.
Pets do more than keep us company, researchers say. They can help manage stress and maybe even lower blood pressure. They can help us deal with grief. And bring us a warm loving touch at times when we are most in need.
Dog owners visit doctors less often. And people who own a dog are more likely to survive after a heart attack.
The benefits of a pet are especially great for those who need it most. The very young, the very old, and persons who are ill. That’s why so many retirement homes now feature a companion dog to bring comfort.
“For many people over 60, a cat, dog, or other pet truly can mean the difference between life and death,” says Sand Diego psychiatrist Dennis Gertzen. “Studies show that people in this age group who have pets live longer and have stronger immune systems.”
That doesn’t mean that everyone this side of 60 should have a dog. By no means. Many people travel a lot and finding dog-sitters would be difficult. Others just aren’t attracted by the prospect of a live-in pet.
Dogs, like children, should only be brought into a home where they’re deeply wanted. Pets give a lot but they also demand a lot.
So if a dog isn’t for you at this stage of life, just put the thought out of your mind. But on the other hand, as life progresses and changes come, be sure to remember that if you ever really need a friend, a dog just might be the answer.
You could certainly do worse than have a friend with “all the virtues of man without his vices.”

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