A Powerful Truth You Can Learn from Zeus, The Dog of Resilience

Your ability to cope with whatever life throws at you depends largely on how you choose to respond to it. As my coauthors and I write in our new book, meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier, it’s not the world “out there” that is entirely to blame for your stress, but what you do about it.

That’s good news, because it means you’re in control of your stress response to a greater extent than you realize. But there’s a flip side to resilience that involves something that you might find even harder to do: Let others care for you.

When’s the last time you allowed someone to pick up the slack, take over a job, watch the kids? Do you tend to resist a helping hand, thinking that you don’t want to “trouble” anyone else? There’s a good reason to accept help, and there’s no better example than Zeus.

Meet Zeus, the Dog of Resilience
In 2012, Zeus, a six-month-old hound mix in Oklahoma, developed a limp; his owners at the time dropped him off at a high-kill shelter. (When you watch this video about Zeus, make sure you have tissues nearby.)

Volunteers rescued Zeus six months later and brought him to St. Francis CARE, an animal shelter that rehabilitates animals and prepares them for adoption. By that time, he was paralyzed by a viral infection, unable to eat, drink, or move. Shortly thereafter, foster pet owner and physical therapist Lynda Kuether took Zeus into her southern Illinois home to begin physical therapy for him in a neighbor’s pool. Over the course of a year, he went from paddling in a life jacket to belly crawling to a canine wheelchair (donated by Zeus’s many adoring fans). Along the way, two growth spurts weakened his muscles, causing him to start over, and then over again. For a while even Zeus’s indomitable spirit was temporarily crushed.

By April 2013, Zeus could finally walk and run on his own, going from a paralyzed pup to a regular dog swiping sandwiches off plates. He overcame the odds in ways that surprised even his caretakers, and moved many more.

The Power of Receptivity
Could Zeus have eventually gotten up and walked without human intervention? No way. And while you can argue all living things have the will to live, Zeus’s prospects would have been bleak indeed without the endless patience of his caretakers. Now, it’s not so hard for a dog to accept love; they typically don’t have a logjam of anxieties, fears, and griefs inside them like us. But recognize what Zeus was able to do—without writing down his goals, keeping a gratitude journal or consulting a life coach. He was able to do the unthinkable by simply allowing others to help. Without it, he would never have walked again.

When you allow yourself to be loved and cared for when you need it most, you become the catalyst for connection. Zeus allowed other people to give—and inspired everyone who learned about his plight. In short, by allowing others to help, you become more resilient and you nurture the resilience of those around you.

In Boston, home of meQuilibrium’s headquarters, resilience-through-connection has sustained me and my team through the worst winter in recent memory. The immense snowfall in just a few extremely cold weeks has clogged our streets, shut down our public transportation, busted our roofs, and tested our resources. What gets us through the four-hour commutes and bitter cold is the kindness—caring for others and letting others care for us.

You don’t need to be perfect to be worthwhile, and you don’t need to completely self-sufficient to cope with stress. In order to experience true connection, we must need and be needed, give and receive. Over, and over again.

(Read 3 ways to boost your empathy, and why.)

Learn more useful information about stress and your health! Order our new book, meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier, co-authored by meQuilibrium CEO Jan Bruce, Adam Perlman, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, and Andrew Shatté, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer.