My dog year and the transformation that followed
By Natasha Tynes
Those who know me know my story know about how 2019 was one of the most challenging years of my life, and how in a few hours, many things that I worked hard for just collapsed, and my projected success took a fatalist turn.
I’m not going to bore you with the details, and honestly, I don’t want to reopen the wounds; instead, I want to focus on the healing journey and how a black lab mix we named Fiona saved my sanity and put me on the right path.
“Don’t get a dog,” many said when I threw out the idea at the beginning of the pandemic year of 2020. “You already have three kids. Are you crazy?”
“You’ll end up doing all the work,” they told me. “Dogs need so much work.”
I did not listen, well, because stubbornness is one of my vices. I went ahead and gathered the family in our minivan, drove two hours and a half to Pennsylvania, and adopted a lab mix 4-month old dog from a rescue shelter (all the local shelters were out of dogs thanks to the pandemic!)
As soon as I put my eyes on her, I immediately knew she would be the one and that there would be no going back. Our family just grew. Fiona had just become part of the Tynes clan.
A year and many chewed shoes later, Fiona has sprouted into a 75-pound dog that makes people turn their heads at the sight of her. “Oh, she is so big, so beautiful.”
Aesthetics aside, Fiona has not only has brought me joy but has dramatically improved the quality of my life, a life that was briefly marred by unfortunate circumstances,
Here is how:
- Getting fit: Fiona is what you call a high-energy dog, or to use a more politically correct term, she is “spirited,” requiring regular walks, averaging around three miles a day. And yes, the naysayers were right in this regard, as I ended up doing most of the work.
- Meeting the neighbors: As we walked all over the neighborhood, I got to explore new streets and meet some neighbors I had never met before. Especially now that many are working from home, the neighborhood is buzzing with people walking around (with masks on) and eager to have some human communication amidst the lockdown.
- Joining the dog owners club: As I strolled the suburban neighborhood streets, I also got to meet other dog owners, and oh my, there are so many. Fiona made new friends and got invited to playdates at neighbors’ yards. Every night now, after dinner, I walk Fiona with her best friend Sunny while I and Sunny’s owner (a fellow immigrant mom of three) talk about our days, motherhood, and pursuing the American dream.
- Practicing mindfulness: When I walk Fiona in the morning, I like to go to the nearby woods, a gorgeous extension of DC’s famous Rock Creek Park. I marvel at that place’s beauty, breath, and clear my mind. I self examine, think about my life, where I am at the moment, and what I need to do to improve.
- Listening to podcasts: When I’m not practicing mindfulness, I listen to podcasts. When I first started, I picked real crime, then moved to news analysis, and then finally entrepreneurship, and that when my life really changed. It all happened when I started applying the habits of successful entrepreneurs: Ample reading, exercising, building networks, focusing on relationships, effective time management, and sticking with a routine.
- Subscribing to Audible: My addiction to podcasts led me to get a subscription to Audible, and I started listening to audiobooks, mostly non-fiction books about entrepreneurship and self-development; I learned, I got motivated, and I grew.
- Getting inspired: When I walked Fiona, mostly amidst the stillness of the woods, sometimes I listen to the sound of nature, and I think about the plot of the novel that I’m currently working on. I solved many plot holes and developed my characters by walking, breathing the fresh air, clearing my mind, and thinking about the world that I had created.
- Finding new meaning: After a year of depression and self-pity, I started to find a new meaning to my life, and as Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl eloquently outlined in his must-read book Man’s search for meaning, I did find meaning in the work that I enjoy, in loving others and in my own suffering.
- Getting kissed: Finally, thanks to Fiona, I receive a million kisses a day.
Getting a dog revamped my life. It gave me the chance to get fit, reflect and connect with others. The trifecta of mind, body, and soul and made me a better person. I now work as a project manager for a government contractor, run my side business that offers digital media services, and I have my own podcast! I’m more fulfilled, healthier and happier.
If you are struggling with a lousy pandemic year, or you want to understand the meaning of your existence, get a dog, you will fall in love, and it will change your life.
Natasha Tynes is the founder of Suburban Media Group. She is a veteran communications professional with over twenty years of digital communications experience. Tynes has led digital strategies at the World Bank Group and managed global media training programs at the International Center for Journalists. She is a regular contributor to many publications inside and outside the United States. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Elle Magazine, Nature Magazine, The Huffington Post, Esquire magazine, Aljazeera, and others. She has appeared on several national and international TV programs, including Larry King Live, PBS, Paula Zahn show, CBS’s Morning show, Scarborough Country, ABC News Live, BBC’s Up All night, among others.