Finding the Right Animal With a Chronic Illness

When you find the right animal, having a pet can truly be a lifesaver for people suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease or any other type of chronic illness. When I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 13, my family and I had a one year old yellow labrador retriever named Kobi. A couple of years later, we adopted a three year old chocolate lab, Kassie, from a man who had to give her up for personal reasons.

Whenever I was in the hospital, my parents would bring me pictures of my dogs to hang up in my room. Those images made me think about happy things which of course, lifted my spirits when my body and mind were going through unimaginable things.

I actually recently wrote a guest post on pet therapy which you can read here.

I have a younger brother who I never liked to be around or talk to when I was at my worst. I remember there were times when my parents semi-forced me to speak with him when he called my hospital room and the only thing I felt comfortable talking about with him were things related to Kobi and Kassie. I would ask him questions about how they were doing and what was new with them and that would take up the majority of the conversation. It also really reminded me that there was life outside of the hospital, or as I like to refer to it, the “torture chamber.” I did that with other people in my life as well. When I did not feel like talking about my health, I would steer the topic onto my dogs and it would automatically make things easier (considering I never liked speaking on the phone while I was in pain to begin with.)

My mom has always been a planner and someone who needed to think every single thing through before making a decision. I both admired that about her and also aspired to be a bit different when I got older.

After Kassie passed away in March of 2011, just weeks after my 13th surgery, it blew my family and I away. She was 13 so she did live a good life but in the blink of an eye she had kidney failure and needed to be put to sleep. After Kobi passed away years before, Kassie was the only dog in the house and therefore, the one that was not only keeping me going but my mom as well.

Dogs are so innocent and carefree. They have no clue what is going on around them and really only think about the most basic of things: eat, sleep, play, snuggle. Looking at them and being around them gives you an entirely different perspective on life. I would love to be as simple as most animals are even though I know as a human being that is not possible. But, even just looking at my animals, I get a wave of goodness that comes over me. I am guaranteed to smile which is not so easy when you are dealing with a ton of pain, body alterations, have all sorts of tubes and drains in your body, etc.

With the way my health was in 2011, I could not survive without an animal. My parents did know this and did also have a couple out of town things they needed to do and I did not want them missing out because of me. Long story short, I was very pushy in us adopting a dog that was a little too hyper for my situation. She was a sweetheart and ended up being welcomed into a wonderful home so it did work out for her. I did, however, get a glimpse into how important researching an animal was – like my mom had always done.

This paved the way for Holli, a rescue black lab mix from the South Carolina, to come into my life. This dog was (and still is) the greatest thing to ever happen to me. I am very thankful to my mom for doing the legwork in finding this gem of a dog. Had it not been for her hard work, I never would have had the most wonderful animal next to me at this very moment (while writing this.)

Holli is the only living being (including humans) I don’t mind touching my stomach. She was laying on me early this morning and as someone who cannot let my guard down and sleep, I am always relaxed when this dog is on top of me. Her head was literally on my ostomy; that is how much I trust her. Her body weight, and just knowing someone/something is there helps my anxiety enormously. I can actually feel my heart rate slowing down when she puts her end on my chest. I also know that if she is near me then nothing bad can truly be happening. I was safe.

I did leave out my other dog, Phoebe, in this post because I did not want it to get too long. HOWEVER, just because I have to believe everything happens for a reason in order to keep my sanity, I am just going to say that if Holli did not have the personality she did (so calm and go with the flow,) I never would have had the happiest dog in my life right now. There were times when I really wanted to just give up. I did not want to live anymore. I would be crying and crying and then all of a sudden I would see Phoebe’s face. She always looked like she was smiling and just flat out excited to be alive. The way she contorted her body was just too funny not to at least chuckle.

There is good in this world. And while I firmly believe having an animal can get a person through terrible times, it does need to be the right one. If you have a pet that causes you additional stress, impedes on your sleep, requires things you cannot do (for ex, numerous walks throughout the day,) etc then you aren’t doing you or your animal any favors.

I love my two girls to pieces and as hard as this is to admit, my mom has always been right about the need to research and plan for an animal. I am not saying – don’t be spontaneous at points, because I think that is healthy. Just be smart. Animals are living creatures that do need care and when you are living in chronic pain, in and out of the hospital, can barely leave the bed, it might be be a good idea to think in a realistic way about what type of pet would be best for you. And that is not forever, either.

Listen to your gut. You may adopt or buy an animal (I recommend rescuing but no judgment ; ) ) that ends up not working with your current lifestyle/limitations and that is OKAY. I have learned that it does not make you a bad person; it just makes you someone who cares about both the well-being of the animal AND your own health.

  • Sherri Troy

    What a wonderful blog! I too have found the dogs in our lives to bring me comfort, joy, laughter and much needed mindless distraction when times are tough. So grateful for them all…and for you my GF…<3