The role pets play in healing & recovery

I think it is pretty common knowledge the incredible impact of having a dog or cat has on your emotional and physical well being.  Not only do they provide unconditional love, but they do not judge, care what you are wearing, how you look, the amount of money in your savings, or how often you need to use the restroom. I have been truly blessed to have five wonderful dogs in my life thus far, four of which have helped me get through things that looking back now; I don’t know if I would have had the strength to handle if it hadn’t been for my furry sisters. My parents always loved Labrador retrievers so with the exception of my very first dog, Sheena, who was a German Sheppard, I have always had labs.

I got Kobi, my yellow lab, when I was 12 years old and since I got sick a year later, she played such a huge role in my recovery. She was a real sweetheart. She broke her leg when she was a puppy and needed to have her bone reset and wear a cast. After that incident, she became very neurotic and afraid of weird things. My family and I brought her to Thanksgiving at a family friends’ house and she would not leave the carpet. Kobi would put one paw in front of the other in an attempt to step onto the hardwood floor but would quickly pull back as if she was about to step on something dangerous. She was truly one of a kind. Kassie, my chocolate lab, I got a couple years later and she became known as “the nurse.” Whenever I would come home from the hospital, my arms would be completely bruised from all of the IV’s and blood drawing attempts and she would not stop licking my hand and arms and even neck when I had a central line. It was as if Kobi and Kassie knew I was sick. The way they laid with me in bed, and by my feet… it was in many ways, their way of protecting me and I always felt so safe when I was around them. I would always try to think that if I was with them, that nothing bad could really be happening since they weren’t allowed to enter any place that would cause me pain (hospital, doctors’ office, etc).

I am so grateful to Kobi and Kassie for all those years that they stood by my side. I now have two rescue dogs… both lab mixes, one black and one yellow. Holli, my black lab mix, has become like a therapy dog in many ways. I was diagnosed with PTSD from all of the horrible things I have experienced in the past 12 years and would wake up many nights in a state of panic from feeling like I was reliving things I so desperately wanted to forget. Holli sleeps with me and has woke me up on many occasions when I was having these horrid dreams. When she wants attention, she keeps giving me or someone else her paw and that is the signal that she wants to be pet. That is how she has woke me up during those awful nights. And once I was awake, she would lay on top of my chest which slowed my heart rate down enormously.  I have no idea how she knew to wake me up. Perhaps I was doing something in my sleep that I am not aware of but regardless, she did and she has always been like a therapy dog to me.  She is also helping me to start getting back into working out a little. I have always been a gym rat but don’t really want to spend money on a membership until I know I will be going often so instead, I have been taking Holli on walks. Her company is not only extremely comforting, but makes it so that I have to focus on her and gets me “out of my head” for a little bit.

Phoebe, my yellow lab mix, is a year old and is still very puppy-like. She is the sweetest little girl, and the best cuddler in the world, but she is still very playful and gets excited about everything. I love watching her because she is so full of life, always happy, and finds such joy in the littlest things. She follows me around everywhere and Phoebe is the kind of dog who cannot stand to be alone. She always needs to be on top of someone or at least feel that either we or Holli are near her.

The point I made about dogs having such a therapeutic affect is very well known. However, as I began to think more about it, I also came to realize that there is something else very comforting about dogs, and cats ,I would imagine since I have never owned one. They are a constant, stable force in people’s lives. Their personalities don’t change on a day to day basis based on how much sleep they got or the stresses they have to deal with that day. They are just…basically always the same. Always act the same, are very routine oriented, and you pretty much can predict how your pet will act in certain situations. For example, I know Holli is always fine when she is left alone. I don’t need to lock any doors or worry about her chewing anything up in the house. She has her own special seat in the living room where she loves to spend her days and that is basically always the case day after day, week after week. Phoebe is always a little rambunctious at certain times of the day and very tired and into cuddling at around the same time every day. Dogs are not only extremely calming for the obvious reasons, but they are something that is known, and for someone like myself who is afraid of the unknown and does not like surprises, my dogs have been such wonderful companions. I know exactly who they are, what they want, why they want it, and they always act exactly the same. They are very predictable when most of the things in my life are not.

I don’t know what I would have done without my four legged family members and I think most people who have or are currently dealing with something difficult, will attest to that opinion as well. Dogs are to be cherished. All they want is love. All they give is unconditional, unwavering love. So, in my life which seems like nothing is ever really known, I am grateful to Holli and Phoebe now…for they have been such a stable force in my life and just as therapeutic, if not more so, than any doctor or therapist.

“There is no greater psychiatrist in the world than a puppy licking your face.” -Ben Williams