Home Podcast TOP #28: The Healing Power of Dogs

TOP #28: The Healing Power of Dogs

Many pet owners have very special bond with their dogs and understand the healing powers these animals provide. Those struggling with depression, anxiety or PTSD have experienced the benefits first-hand, and today even science confirms how canines help people to deal with life's hardships.

In this podcast episode, I spoke with Mark Winik, author of “The Dog Healers“, about his personal journey and experience with the healing power of dogs. It's a heartwarming and inspiring story that any dog lover or dog owner will be able to relate to.

Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.

The Healing Power of Dogs
(raw podcast transcript)

The Healing Power of Dogs

Hello everyone, welcome back for another episode of Theory of Pets. My name is Samantha and today I'm speaking with a really inspiring man, his name is Mark Winik. Much like all of us, Mark had an experience that changed his perception of something — and that something was dogs.

I was really excited to talk to Mark. He is the author of a book called “The Dog Healer – A Novel” and I had the opportunity to read the book. It was such an inspiring, amazing story, I wanted to talk to him and see his side of things and how he decided to write the novel, and, of course, what else is going on with him at this time.

Mark is actually talented in many areas; one of the things he is working on right now is a documentary and it's about dogs as healers as well. Which is something that, if you've ever known the love and affection of a dog or even cats, pets in general, that bond is something that really can get you through very difficult times. Whether that's just a hard time in your life, whether you're having physical or emotional/mental problems, pets are really such a huge benefit when you're not feeling well in one way or the other. That's really basically the gist of The Dog Healers.

So now Mark's working on a documentary and he's looking for people to take part in this and he talks about that in the interview as well. But, basically just looking for people that have been helped by a dog, that have had this really amazing story of a dog coming into their lives and helping them.

So, if you're interested in that, there is some information in there. He's also got some really great cartoons and, if you're listening to this on YouTube or social media, you can click the link to our site that will take you to theoryofpets.com and you will have the opportunity to check out some of the comics that he's done. He works with an illustrator, and he comes up with basically the ideas for these cartoons about dogs, and to thank me for the interview, he actually sent one to me about “Doga” and different positions, like, the upward and downward dog and it's really funny. You can see more on his website; just click the link there below if you're listening to this on social media.

So anyway — Mark is just a really, really inspiring, really fascinating man. I was glad to talk to him and now you guys can go ahead and listen to that interview as well.

Interview with Mark Winik

Samantha: If you wanted to start out by explaining a little bit about how you, I guess, came into this business? It's not really a business, but you know this aspect of dogs and dog care.

Mark: Well, what I can say is that I've been fortunate enough and blessed enough that family raised me with dogs and primarily dogs throughout my whole childhood life. And my family was lucky enough to interact with dogs and just know what it's like to understand the warmth that they provide and the care and the love, and they taught me and I think my brothers and people in my family that it's really a special bond that we share with these animals.

Also as a kid I would spend so much time going out into the woods, without my parents' sanction — I would just disappear into the woods with, we had at times two or three dogs — and we spent a lot of time out in nature. So when we talk about how other animals heal, I think, yes, we're all interconnected in some way and it's really special.

Samantha: Yes, absolutely, I couldn't agree more. I was raised with dogs too and I always think of that as a blessing, because it definitely teaches you that bond that's so different than anything else really, any bond that you have with a human.

Mark: Right. I think that it's very interesting actually, because I lived in Branford but I grew up in New Haven. But it's very interesting — it never really dawned on me and I don't think people think about it very often, but many of the dogs today that are up for adoption are in urban environments. It's almost different in a way because dogs that are in an urban environment sometimes where people do have less economic means — their dogs are there more for protection. Whereas more you go out in suburbia or in the country — they're primarily more for companionship.

So I think it's interesting to know how dogs can play different role in different environments.

Samantha: Absolutely.

Mark: But I think intuitively all dogs deeply care about humans and want to nurture something special about the relationship that we have together.

Samantha: Yes, I agree with that as well. We live in a very rural part of Maine so we know a lot of working dogs whether they're sled dogs or they work on farms or like you said, they're on large homes with a lot of property and they're more of a protector. But I think it always comes back to whether the dog's working or a companion they want to make their people happy. If that means that they need to protect or they need to do a certain job, they'll do that. And if they just need to be a companion for whatever the case may be, they kind of always play that role that the person wants them to play.

Mark: Yes, yes I agree with that 100%.

Samantha: So you've written this book called “The Dog Healers” and I'm going to link to that. If anybody that's listening wants to check that out I will make sure that I link to that underneath our interview, so people can check that out.

But I have been able to read the book which is amazing and huge compliments to you. I think this is a part of I say the “pet industry,” but it's not really the pet industry. This is kind of an aspect of dogs and canine companionship that really isn't touched on a lot. I think that with the therapy dogs are becoming more commonplace and you're seeing them more for emotional and mental issues now than you were in the past. I think we're getting there.

But your book really touches on something a little bit deeper I think than anything else does in the industry right now. So that's kind of what's sparked my interest. Can you tell us a little bit about the book? We don't want to obviously give it away, but sort of how you came about writing it?

Mark: Well, one — I want to thank you so much for your compliments on the story itself. Coming from you who I consider to be a really talented writer it's a special compliment.

Samantha: Oh, thank you.

Mark: But the dog — yes you're welcome — the dog healers… Well I think we should start maybe with inspiration which I touched on a little bit before. Growing up with dogs and knowing what it's like to have a special bond with dogs — partially that inspired me to write the book and write a story of this nature.

I would also say coming from family in my time which was — I'll date myself now — going back into the '60s, not many families were getting separated or divorced; today, it's much more common place. But really, at the time I had a couple of animals and they brought me and my brothers through a time that was very difficult for the family and me as an individual, and I learned at a teenage age that dogs really can play a special role in our lives and help heal our spirits in a way that modern medicine can't. Nobody else seems to be able to do it like a dog can.

That was partially my inspiration. But really what inspired me is on a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina where my wife and her family are from, I was really captivated by… There's a huge number of dog walkers and dog handlers in Buenos Aires that walk anywhere from 3 to 5 to 10, and even as many as 20 dogs at a time, and every morning like hundreds of these dog walkers… It's like a special cottage industry which you might experience in New York, but it's like no other place. It's a very dog friendly city and culture.

So, I was really captivated by all these dog walkers, it's just an amazing sight to see. The quantities of dog walkers and just how dogs are walked with just one dog walker or handler through the neighborhoods and everybody seems to be happy and getting along, so that was it. I did meet a young man down there, his name was Carlos DeMarco and he was known as “The Dog Healer.” I met up with him and spent some time with him. We walked throughout the city. We had a conversation about his philosophy and his teaching. He worked with therapy which was really about touch and tone. He did express to me — which is in the book — that with each touch we heal each other and how tones are very important, how dogs really respond to different tones, soft tones and also firm tones.

So I learned a lot about him and his philosophies in life with animals, especially with dogs. I was touched by this. It was almost a life changing experience. I decided that I wanted to write a story about this. I thought that it should be more than just his story. But I wanted to actually turn it — which I did — I turned it into a novel. So it is based on real experiences with this man Carlos and also other experiences from other people that told me different stories about true things in their lives and really about people's dreams. This is what inspired me to write “The Dog Healers.”

Samantha: I think that's perfect. Without talking about any of the specific stories or anything that are in the book, because obviously you want people to pick it up and read it — it's definitely for anybody that, even if they're not a pet owner but they just have had pets in the past or had experiences with animals. You can't explain — like I said earlier — that bond that you have with an animal to somebody that's never known it; it's impossible to know unless you've lived it.

I think that your book is the first thing I've ever read that kind of puts that thing into words and shows how important those bonds are. We call them “man's best friend” but it's not like your relationship with your human best friend. It's so much different than that and your book really captures that.

So I would recommend it really to anybody that has a love of animals and appreciates that. And certainly there are some eye opening things in here, I think, for people that maybe either aren't aware of some of the different holistic health benefits out there, or maybe they are, but they haven't thought about animals in that way. So some great stuff in there for pretty much everybody. So obviously I would recommend reading it and we want people to do so, so we're not going to give away every little story.

But one of the amazing things that you have offered to a lot of listeners and our readers on Top Dog Tips as well — is that if there are people that have stories to share, you're hoping to hear those stories. So tell us a little about that and are you planning to use future stories, are you planning to write another book?

Mark: I think there's a couple of questions in there and there's a couple answers there. Yes, I'm planning on another book and I've already started to begin on an outline. But I think more importantly related to this project and the message — I actually have started working on a documentary. We started filming a couple weeks ago, and it's really based on the message of how dogs help heal our spirits and just how many amazing stories there are out there.

So it's not just about my story and about the book and about the message, but really what I want is stories which we have already gotten from other people that are just amazing stories on how dogs have helped people through some of the most difficult times in their lives. I mean they're just really amazing stories out there. And yes, we want to document them, we want to film them, we want to have a collection of stories just so people could really appreciate how many different elements of life that dogs can help with humans. Also how humans can help return that same something special, attachment with dogs.

So really the documentary is really something I'm very excited about because it's something I think… What my goal is, is to put on film and video and share other people's stories and we've already captured some great stories and I'm just very excited about it. And I think there's other people that are just as excited that want to share their stores, you know?

Samantha: Yes, absolutely, I'm excited for it and I don't have a personal story to share. But you know I think that everybody that has had that bond with a dog and can relate to that would be interested in this book and a documentary that kind of is along the same lines. So I'm excited for it too.

But if anybody does have a story about the impact of a dog as a healer in their life, how can they reach out to you to be part of the documentary if they're interested in that?

Mark: They can actually email me at mark@thedoghealers.com and it's pretty much that simple. They can send me a video or they can just send me a very brief synopsis saying that they have an amazing story that they'd like to share and they can just send me an email. We're going to be… It's not me, but I have an assistant that will respond to everyone. I think this is going to be a long-term project.

Samantha: Absolutely, I'm sure.

Mark: So it's not just about making a short documentary. So I believe that it's going to go way beyond just 20 minute or 30 minute documentary. I have plans to really do something special with this. And I think people people are excited about it. Anybody that I talk to that has already shared amazing stories, they just said this is really a wonderful way of helping people understand how dogs can play a really special role in their lives.

The spectrum is very vast. It may go from just sheer companionship. It may be you know kids that have had a difficult time with a divorce, or emotionally disturbed. Maybe seniors that are just so happy, they're in an adult home where, you know they're just so happy to just have a dog come and touch their lives and they just want to touch them. It puts a smile on both their faces.

Just like the dogs know its role when he goes into a place like hospice. Or even working with people that do volunteer work at Yale New Haven Hospital, say for example the pediatrics department, and it's just so special. I mean to lighten up a kid's day and bring some joy into a kid's life that may be suffering or ailing from something. To bring in an animal that volunteers with their human volunteer is just something that, you can't put words to it. It just brings a smile to a child's face and I think that's great. So things of that nature.

Samantha: Yes, absolutely.

Mark: So things of that nature is what we're really trying to capture. And just there's an unlimited amount of wonderful stories like this that we just want to capture and share with as many people as possible.

Samantha: Absolutely, it is an exciting project. I think like you said it may be a little bit more long term project, just because I think you're going to get a great response, and you've already talked to so many people and there are so many more out there.

I think one of the biggest things with physical ailments and whether you're young or old, sometimes between hospital stays and treatments and all the doctor's visits and the medical jargon that you're trying to understand and the research that everybody's doing it becomes really overwhelming. And that can be frustrating, it can be depressing, it can be, it can really bring…

Mark: Overwhelming.

Samantha: Yes, absolutely and it can bring your emotional state down and that's when your physical body is trying to fight something and you're emotionally… You're just not… Your heart's not in it; that makes it very difficult and I think that's where a companion comes in. As a dog, it's that little break that you need from all the medical jargon and all of the doctors' appointments and things like that. It just adds that little spark of light to your day.

Mark: Yes.

Samantha: It's something like you said, I mean you just can't put it into words but your book does a great job. I think the documentary will be even more powerful in that aspect because you're going to be hearing those first-hand accounts from the real people that have lived that story and are telling you about it. I'm assuming you probably are going to feature some of the dogs, if they're still with their owner. So I think the documentary will kind of just add that extra level and be a lot more powerful.

So I'm excited for you. I think that's really going to be a great piece.

Mark: Yes, well thank you. No absolutely, certainly we've already captured some footage with dogs. I'll give you a couple of examples of a couple of great organizations that are non-profits, that have really some great programs for volunteers, where humans and their dogs get specifically trained to go in and volunteer in a lot of these different environments, to help people in all aspects of life. One is called Pet Partners which is located in… Its main headquarters is in Oregon and they have affiliates where they do training through out the country. It's just really a wonderful organization. Another one for example, that's in the east coast, is Angels on a Leash — I think that says it all.

Samantha: What a great name, yes absolutely, that's what I was thinking.

Mark: Yes, and it's just another very special, very wonderful organization that's non profit. And works specifically with training humans and their dogs to go into different environments and help people. It's that simple. It's just about helping people but at the same time it's like… You know we have this word called “second nature” but I like to say it's almost like first nature for a dog to want to bring joy and want to help and want to please a human being. Whether it be somebody close to them, but what's really so special is how they can do this with a stranger. You know they meet a stranger and just can immediately provide something special to them. It's just incredible that an animal can do this and humans don't do it so easily.

Samantha: Absolutely, and that's perfectly said.

Mark: Is that first or second nature?

Samantha: It's not something that humans do for others humans when we meet a stranger. Whether they're sick or healthy you don't just run over to them all excited and try to brighten their day, it's just not what we do, but it is a dog's…

Mark: We may even shy away from that.

Samantha: Absolutely.

Mark: Unless we're in the profession, so…

Samantha: Sure.

Mark: But go ahead, I'm sorry to interrupt you, so, you were making a very strong point.

Samantha: No, that's was just perfectly said. You know it's not something that we do. But like you said, the term “second nature” isn't really right for a dog either, it is their first nature. That's what they do and it makes them as happy as it makes us, so it's a really special thing.

Mark: Yes, so that's what the Dog Healers is all about. The message in the documentary, and this is, I think it goes beyond the tone of rescue. I think rescuing animals is wonderful and there's a big trend that's been here in this country for the last five, if not ten years. But I think the next real big trend, I hope is, is how we really learn to work with dogs. And how many people can just desire because it's not just wonderful for the dog as a volunteer, but the people that I've met and spoke to and that we've interviewed that actually work as volunteers feel just as great and wonderful about volunteering and bringing joy to somebody's life, and it could be a stranger. But it's really about somebody that is in need of help. It's really what more of us feel better about I think, at the end of the day, so, about helping other people and the dogs make it really easy for us.

Samantha: Yes, I think that's…

Mark: We actually learn from the dogs, so it's actually like… Somebody asked me a question once — “What can we learn from dogs?” This is one of the really wonderful things we can learn from a dog is how to care and love and provide that unconditional affection to a human that is intuitive to them and it's not always intuitive to us.

Samantha: Yes, I mean, I think it's like we said, humans we don't naturally just go over to somebody. And it's not maybe that we don't want to, it's just that it's awkward and we have those kind of feelings, and the dogs sort of help to bridge that gap, so it's making the dog happy, it's making the person who needs the dog happy, and it's making the person who is the handler of the dog happy as well.

So I think that's an important thing for people to take away from this is, it's not necessarily that humans don't want to help each other, but it's just more difficult, where the dogs come in and kind of help to bridge that gap a little bit. So I think that's important.

Mark: Absolutely, absolutely, yes.

Samantha: And I will make sure that underneath the link to the podcast and the interview, will also be that email address which is mark@thedoghealers.com. If anybody wants to send in a story and maybe be part of the documentary, if they have an amazing story to share.

Mark: Sure, absolutely. That would be great. Yes. They can also actually send us a video if they want, if they have an iPhone or Apple phone, the new smart phones are capable of taking incredible video, so…

Samantha: Yes, somebody just wants to send in a short clip. Sure.

Mark: Yes.

Samantha: Wonderful. That's all the questions that I have for you today, but is there anything that we didn't talk about that you'd like to discuss before we go?

Mark: It's very interesting because the other thing that I'm also working on for months now with a wonderful illustrator is we have a series of cartoon collections with the same name, The Dog Healers. I don't know if you ever got the opportunity to look at it or if that was even brought to your attention, but…

Samantha: I was just going to say, it's funny because your assistant sent me an email just before this interview and there was a little cartoon on the bottom and now I see how that fits in.

Mark: Yes, so it's just, the cartoon… I'm not an illustrator but I've wanted to. I've always loved cartoons. I found an incredible illustrator and what I do is I just put together the creative part where I come up with a scene of two dogs, typically, and the captions. Yes, we now have a collection of about 35 different cartoons and we're actually starting to submit them to some, I would say, well-known publishers and we'll see; hopefully they'll start publishing some of our current cartoons because the response has been really wonderful.

The only thing is we have over 30,000 followers on Facebook so that's grown in a little over a year; we've grown to over 30,000 followers on Facebook, which I think is pretty amazing, considering a year and a half ago or two years ago I never knew anything about Facebook or even used it.

Samantha: That's important point to point out too, because I will link to your Facebook page as well, so people can see the content on there and the cartoons and things like that if they want to follow you guys. Are you putting the cartoons together for a book or are you just thinking of publishing them like in a weekly publication?

Mark: You made an interesting point — I'm not really sure. I'm doing it right now. For me it's been more just fun. I don't have any real firm plans about am I going to publish a book out of this? Very possible. Or are we just going to submit this to publishers that are brand names that have been around quite awhile that do publish cartoons, so we'll see. It's like the Dog Healers I consider more of an adventure story that takes you on a spiritual journey and that's really the same with the cartoons. This is just an adventure for me and it's like if something happens great. If it doesn't it's like I've had a good time producing them and hope the people that see it, it touches them in a way that makes them smile and that's good enough.

Samantha: Yes, yes, no absolutely. I guess I didn't realize that you had so many cartoons done already and you keep working on more. So I think it would make a great little coffee table book or something. But if you just share them like you just said I mean you have 30,000 followers on Facebook so if you just share them and people get enjoyment out of them that's great too.

Mark: Yes I mean we'll see what happens. It's very interesting like some of the feedback I've gotten on the book has just been really wonderful from some people in the industry and just in the pet world and also in the media world.

Let me just… Here, I have one right here I'm going to read this to you.

This is from Steve Gruber; he's the communications director for Mayor's Alliance for New York City Animals. He wrote this; I'm going to read what he wrote.

— I was engaged from page one and love the tremendous human animal bond, intrigue and wonderful storytelling. I await the movie.

Yes, so we've gotten like great feedback like that from different people that are maybe more well known in either the media circles or the pet circles.

So the other thing that may happen is, we're actually starting to reach out, talking with some agents about actually putting “The Dog Healers” together and package it as a film, which is also pretty exciting.

Samantha: You have a lot of things in the works it sounds like.

Mark: Yes. And there's some great characters in the book, both two- and four-legged characters. It takes place in just an exotic place. As you're reading the book it's very engaging and you want to see what happens next, and it's so unpredictable about what's going to happen next. Like I said, it's really an adventure story that takes you on a spiritual journey, and it's not just about healing but that's the main underlying message. But what makes it an interesting book to read is just the great characters and this adventure. You also learn about the culture of Argentina. It's a different culture altogether.

Samantha: Yes, absolutely I agree with you. I think there's a character in there whether two or four legged that everybody can relate to. And going through the story you are very engaged. It's an easy-to-read story; it's very well written in that way; the flow is very great.

If somebody just wanted to pick up a book and do some light reading, I think it's a great option. Like I said for really anybody whether you're a dog owner or just a dog lover or somebody that's looking for a more spiritual read, it's really got so many great aspects to it. I think it's just a great read.

Mark: I'll just share a story with you. I went to the doctors this morning just to have some simple things retested, and there's a nurse that works in the doctor's office and she said, “I've been reading this story to my eight year old daughter and we're just about finished.” She said, “my daughter and I absolutely love the book and she's decided she wants to become a veterinarian after reading the story, and she had me call the University of Cornell, the Vet Department to set up an appointment for her.”

Samantha: Oh, wow…

Mark: And she's eight years old. So that's really special when you can touch…

Samantha: Absolutely.

Mark: Because I think Isabella is a great role model for younger people to pursue their dreams, and in this case the dream is about becoming a dog healer. So when you actually hear that from a parent it's great. It's a great feeling for me and I got a real kick out of it. It's just a great story.

Now she wants to be interviewed for the documentary too.

Samantha: Oh cool… [laughs] Hopefully you can work her in there somewhere.

It's always nice. I think that's one of the highest compliments that you can get when your work inspires someone else, so that's wonderful.

Mark: Yes. And with all the stuff going on… I can't even watch the news anymore with all the stuff going on in the world. So to get off the subject, it's like — the world seems to be a crazy place right now and just — the news it's just, I don't know.

I get a lot more fulfillment just spending time with my family and my two wonderful dogs. We have a Wheaten Terrier and a Woodle — and I can live without the news. If I didn't watch it for two months, I don't think it would make a difference in my life.

Samantha: I agree with that too…

Mark: I think we touched on a lot of different areas.

Samantha: Absolutely. You have some really exciting things coming up. So I am going to keep your contact as well, and maybe we can touch base in the future, when you've got some more of this stuff going on. I'm excited for you, for the documentary — see where it goes with the cartoons. You've got a lot of things on your plate right now. Probably seems a little bit overwhelming, but it's exciting too.

Mark: Actually, you know what. I don't ever really feel overwhelmed about this. I just really enjoy doing what I'm doing. You know what they say; somebody very smart said — if you love what you do, you don't really have a job. You know? That's kind of how I feel; this is a passion project for me and I thrive on it. I hope it makes a difference in people's lives.

Samantha: Absolutely. I think it will. Like I said, the book's a great read and I think the documentary will be even more powerful to people. So I'm excited for that for you. Again, thank you so much for being on the podcast and for talking to us. I think this is a little niche in the dog industry that hasn't really been explored, and I hope — like you said — that we're going to see a trend in the near future where “dog healers” becomes more of a mainstream thing. So I hope for that.

Alright guys, I hope you are just as inspired by Mark Winik as I am. If you are interested in the power of healing with pets, with the bond with pets, pick up “The Dog Healers.” You can find the link for that on our website, TheoryOfPets.com, and like I said, on there I am going to put the email address where you can contact him if you're interested in the documentary. There will be a link to the Facebook page and all that great stuff that we talked about will be on there. So jump on TheoryOfPets.com; you can check out all my old podcasts on there as well from previous weeks, and of course you can leave any comments, questions, suggestions, any ideas that you have for future podcasts, things that you want to see or hear on here, things that — questions maybe that you have about anything in the pet industry that you'd like me to answer. I will do my best.

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Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.