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Kingsport man 'adopted a dog’s perspective on life'

Matthew Lane • Aug 4, 2019 at 2:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Daniel Wallen was recently in a bad place.

Over the course of a few days, he found himself dealing with an undiagnosed mental illness, hopping a plane to Florida, suffering a sudden manic episode in a restaurant and subsequently being arrested.

In a short period of time, Daniel lost his dog, his girlfriend, burned several bridges with friends and family and was dead broke. Depression quickly set in, and at one point Daniel even contemplated suicide.

“After months of deliberation, I finally decided suicide was not an option,” he said.

Today, the 32-year-old Sullivan South graduate has a more stable life. He has a job, a girlfriend and is going back to school to study computer programming. And one thing Daniel said that’s helped with his turnaround is a little-known program at the Kingsport Animal Shelter that lets folks take a dog home for the weekend to walk and play and spend some time with.

DOGGIE DAY OUT

The Doggie Day Out program essentially lets people “check out” a dog for the day or the weekend from the Idle Hour Road shelter. It’s a program Daniel has participated in for more than a year, ever since the fallout of the manic episode in Florida.

“I ended up in a situation at a restaurant where I was acting really funny, and they called the cops because they thought I was on drugs. I got arrested, went to court and instead of pressing charges they had me go through community service,” Daniel said. “I happened to lose a dog in the process of all of this ... so I contacted PETWorks since I had to get 50 hours of community service in.”

In addition to working in the shelter, Daniel would take two or three dogs out during the week. He’d take them on rides, to the park, to his home and elsewhere, chronicling his canine adventures with selfies, which he would then post on social media.

In the span of a year, Daniel had taken about 50 dogs home for the weekend and — with the help of posted online photos — about 40 were adopted by local families.

“I saw how happy it made the dogs and how calm it made me feel to be around them. That’s what started it and kept it going,” Daniel said. “It’s been good for my mental health, and I like how the dogs are so content. All it takes to make a dog happy is to get them outside and run them around and give them a little bit of food.”

LITTLE THINGS IN LIFE

Daniel has taken home a variety of breeds for the weekend and has tried to make it a point of eventually taking all of the dogs at the shelter out at least once. A couple of his favorites have been a couple of pit bull mixes named Tank and Stormy.

He said he connects with these breeds because of the stigma attached to them and to people with mental illnesses. It’s almost as if they’re kindred spirits. The dogs help him as much as he helps the dogs, Daniel noted.

“It feels really good (when the dogs are adopted). But don’t give me too much credit. I do it to help them get a home and it helps calm me down,” Daniel said. “It’s taught me to appreciate the little things in life a lot more too. It seems like I’m not nearly as stressed out by anything anymore because I’ve adopted a dog’s perspective on life. It’s a lot easier to be happy and content too.”