Now that summer crowds are gone, Oakley Anderson, our jet-black velvet Portuguese Waterdog, loves nothing more than a sunset walk on the beach.
One evening after dinner, she looked at me with huge black eyes peeping from under her trimmed black bangs. She knew what she wanted, and I agreed that there would be a beach sunset walk for my four-legged girl. She deserved this, and so did I.
A beach walk is always great. Our bodies need the workout, and the mayor of Stone Harbor has generously decreed pre-sunset as permissible beach time for our tail-wagging residents.
For her, the beach provides consummate pleasure. From the smell of rotting shellfish, to birds darting seductively in front of them, it is all mesmerizing.
I painstakingly beach trained Ms. Oakley as a puppy. She loves playing fetch on beaches where dogs can go off-leash, like in North Cape May. Oakley is a perfect beach companion.
The water is never too cold, and the wind is never too brisk. It is always beach time if you are Oakley.
When allowed, she runs wildly at water’s edge, turning sharply to return to me when I call her name. She torpedoes back, sits obediently in front of me, and waits for a minuscule training treat or goldfish cracker. As soon as I throw my arm to target the sand ahead of us, she takes off again, repeating this cycle until satisfied.
She is astonishingly well behaved on an empty beach while off her leash, but in Stone Harbor, she is delighted to walk next to me on her leash, as required.
Packed in the car after dinner, she whimpers loud and longingly as I turn off of First Avenue. By the time I park, she is in a dither of excitement, jumping around the back seat and lobbying loudly saying," Get me to the beach."
Straining her leash to travel fast, Oakley is a pure naked canine drive. Once at shoreline, we saunter into the sunset.
This beach walk may be her favorite time on Earth, and I could not agree more. Hooked up to Bach’s "Well-Tempered Clavier," or to the Swingles Singers singing "Bach a Capella," I step in time, enabling my dog to catch the rhythm of the waves and the structure of the music. We join in a leisurely beach dance until sunset tells us to go home.
With a full body of soft waves, and curls as black as the surrounding dark sky, the dog ambles to the car, satiated by beachy happiness.
Oakley, with the intellectual capacity of a bright 7-year-old, is unaware of the need for great health, but her brilliant canine instincts continuously take her to the beach.
As I became curious about the health benefits of the beach for dogs and people, I admire her ability to seek what her body and soul needs.
Research, conducted by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Exeter, reviewed data from 48 million British people in the 2001 census. They examined how close people lived to the sea while searching for an impact in their health.
The 2001 Census asked every British person to rate their general health status in the previous 12 months as "good," "fairly good," or "not good." They determined an association between living in coastal proximity and "good" health rates.
People living less than one kilometer from the sea on the English Coast are more likely than those living inland to say they are fit and well, the analysis suggests. Living near the sea is linked to a "small, but significant" improvement in health, perhaps due to lowered stress and greater exercise.
When magnified across 48 million people in Great Britain, the results of the research could have a significant impact on public health. I bet this is true for the dogs close to the hearts of our British neighbors across the ocean.
Oakley and I have discovered what humans knew all along. Living near the beach is a part of the formula for health and happiness.
To consider: A short walk helps hurt whatever ails you. Why not take a lesson from our beach dogs, and go for a leisurely sunset walk on the beach?
You might feel recharged, while staying fit. Let our island make you happy by joining us at the beach.
ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com.