A man and his dog: how relationships can help you to open up about your mental health

A Dog Named Beautiful is the true story of an unbreakable bond between man and his dog, and how this bond eased the pain of a man living with poor mental health. Here, author Rob Kugler discusses the emotional journey he has been on over the years, the ups and downs, the importance of mental health, and how crucial it is for men in particular to speak up about their issues.


When talking about mental health, I always like to start by mentioning I am no qualified expert in the field, but I have dealt with my fair share of battles, as well as having been there to help brothers and sisters in arms fight their own. I believe that in recent years, the stigma of men speaking about their struggles with mental health has diminished, but it definitely hasn’t vanished. We men are still proud creatures who rarely want to admit that we are in need of any help ourselves. We’ll find other people to help or protect while we neglect to take care of our own minds, bodies and souls. However, just as in airplane emergency procedures, we need to put our oxygen masks on first before we can help others. That’s something I’ve had a hard time doing as I’ve often sought out various kinds of missions to help others, or leaped into new ideas to avoid the work I need to do on myself.

Though there is plenty of work that we can do on our own, steps that we can take to repair our damages and to heal our wounds, we shouldn’t be too proud to reach out and ask for help. It is not weakness to admit we can’t figure out the path on our own. It takes strength to acknowledge and accept that we need another hand, a community to embrace us, a team to join and find purpose in. The support is out there; there are countless people looking to help others get out of the darkness that they’ve once lived in. There are programs that exist in nearly every hobby or interest that you can dream of, where you can join in with others and get the support of a community, a tribe. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that we humans were tribal creatures. 


Once you talk to enough people, you find that you’re not alone in the struggle.

On the timeline of humanity, this modern culture that we now live in has been thrust upon us in such a short amount of time that many of us struggle to adjust, and battles are fought within and against ourselves.. And we are not the only ones. Our canine companions   are fighting battles against their own DNA, too, and yet still manage to help relieve the stress and upset caused by our daily lives with their unerring love. Many were bred for specific reasons over hundreds of years yet few now get to do the job they were intended to do. Rather than roaming free and chasing wildlife at their own leisure, most dogs stay at home for hours and are confined to small fenced yards and leashed walks. Adjusting to life on a leash can be difficult, and finding time to explore freely off leash and run at full speed is necessary in their overall happiness and well-being. I believe we have a lot to learn from that.

Rob's dog Bella helped him through his darkest times

I loved my Labrador, Bella, to the ends of the universe and back, and she helped in so many ways. She stayed faithfully by my side through my brother’s death, my divorce, my sister’s death, and she was my closest companion when I left a life-long dream and found myself wondering who I was and what I was going to do with my life. Yet, as much as she helped me on her own, another part of her healing magic was her role as a bridge to other people. I love travelling to new places, talking with and meeting new people; it’s a favourite part of life for me. However, it can be hard to approach new people in this modern world of individualism.

We are often so locked into our own worlds, our own jobs, our own missions that we can’t be distracted from. Yet, we can all make time to stop and pet a smiling Labrador or watch a Border Collie do a trick. Then, we can meet the human who belongs to the dog and share our stories, share our commonalities, talk about life, love, and loss. Once we’ve dropped our guards to allow those conversations to flow smoothly and without fear of embarrassment, then we are able to see each other for who we truly are. If that’s someone that is a bit broken and in need of mending, that’s okay. Once you talk to enough people, you find that you’re not alone in the struggle. In fact, you may just be surprised to learn just how many people are in the same boat as you, all rowing in different directions trying to get out of the ocean. When we see that we are in it together, that we are all on this blue and green speck trying to make sense of this ever-changing world, then we can take a breath, band together, and start rowing in unison, toward our true north.

So, don’t be afraid to get outside, take your dog, meet other people, let them pet your dog, learn their stories, and tell them yours. You may just make a friend that you didn’t even know you needed.    

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