There is no denying that Charlie is a very important part of my life. She’s been with me since the beginning of my illness and has been a major part in helping me keep my sanity in the midst of it. She’s been my faithful sidekick on many a road trip. She’s snuggled next to me while I’ve cried. She’s paced the halls of our home while I’ve been in the hospital. She allowed me to put a party hat on her as a distraction from the pain. All in all having Charlie in my life has been a major part of therapy for me over the last eight years of illness.
A quote I’ve read recently says, “A dog doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, big or small, young or old. He doesn’t care if you’re not smart, not popular, not a good joke-teller, not the best athlete, nor the best-looking person. To your dog, you are the greatest, the smartest, the nicest human being who was ever born. You are his friend and protector.” Every single word of it is true.
Charlie loves every person in this family but we share a very special bond as she was my dog before we got married. If I am home she follows me wherever I go regardless of the time of day. When I get up in the morning, she lays outside the bathroom door while I get ready. If I have to get up in the middle of the night, she follows. My parents stayed here with Abby during my most recent hospital stay and they said that she was constantly restless and paced the halls until I came home. Once I was home, she relaxed and stayed beside my bed. She is my protector as I am hers.
I think there is just something calming about the presence of a pet that can be great therapy. Of course not every pet is cut out to be a therapist. Our other dog Chloe, bless her heart, definitely would not make the cut as a therapy dog. She can be really sweet but there is some annoying little dog breed mixed in with her mutthood that causes her to whine almost constantly and she will absolutely drive you bananas. I love her but holy cow, she is not a calming presence in a flare. Charlie, on the other hand, always seems to just know when I’m hurting. She knows when I need her next to the bed or when I need her head in my lap for snuggles. There have been many days that I have buried my head in her soft fur and just cried. She didn’t move a muscle. She just stayed with me as long as I needed her.
I really wish I had known more about dog therapy programs years ago when Charlie was younger and could have went through the training program with her to become a therapy dog which would allow her to visit nursing homes and hospitals to visit patients. She would have been so perfect. She’s very calm, laid back, and gentle – the qualities necessary to be a good therapy dog.
If you are considering making a dog a part of your family, here are some benefits of therapy dogs according to Eldercareabc.blog:
- Calming presence. We know that petting dogs consistently lowers our blood pressure and calms our heart rates. If a person is angry, afraid or distressed, a therapy dog can be the best medicine.
- Pain relief. Stroking dogs has been shown to release endorphins that have the potential to block pain!
- Morale booster. Therapy dogs can help patients let go of their problems for a while, make assisted living facilities feel more like home, and bring back happy memories.
Of course these benefits do not just apply to the elderly but any patient facing an acute or chronic illness.
My suggestions for finding a perfect companion include researching breeds to find one that fits your family the best. For example, if you are looking for a calming presence a terrier might not be the best breed for you. Also, visit shelters. There are so many loving and amazing pets looking for forever homes. Websites like Petfinder.com are a great way to discover pets available for adoption in your area! Another tip is to think about the age of the dog (or cat) that you want to adopt. Do you want to go through the house-training process and will you have the energy to dedicate to a puppy? If not consider adoption an adult or even senior dog. We adopted Chloe as a puppy and I know that there is no way I would ever adopt another puppy. It suits my situation more to adopt an older dog (often they are already trained, may not be as high energy, etc). There are many things to consider in addition such as things like having space for a pet and being able to afford his or her care (food, vaccines, vet visits, etc).
I hope this post has given you some insight on my positive experience in having a pet who has unknowingly become a part of my treatment plan! Do you have a similar story to share? Have you considered adopting a pet?