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Posted on 4. October 2012

Healing Hearts through Paws

By Annaben Kazemi

Since the beginning of time, humans and animals have shared a powerful bond. This bond has been a source of solace and relief for those who suffer from physical and/or emotional pain. Many chronically ill patients have stated that animal-assisted therapy has helped them while they are undergoing difficult medical treatments, providing one more reminder of the vital role that animals can play in every aspect of our lives.

I was personally reminded of this recently when my daughter underwent her IVIG treatment with our little dog curled up on her lap. Our dog, a 3-pound Yorkie named Charmaine (a name that literally means charm) seemed to sense her distress and came to her, offering unconditional love and acceptance throughout the procedure.

Charmaine originally was a rescue dog. We adopted her when she was a year and a half, and she has definitely charmed her way into our lives. She is spoiled, and I tell my daughter all the time to stop indulging her. She sleeps on my daughter’s bed, rides in the car on the way to school and enjoys being groomed every day. She is joyous and happy to see us whenever we come home. She always knows how to cuddle when one of us is sad, and she literally licks our tears when we cry. She puts us at ease when we’re upset, and she is the only one in the house that can wake my daughter up in the morning without putting her in a bad mood. Charmaine, our little Yorkie, has captured our hearts.

As my daughter caressed Charmaine during her IVIG treatment, I could see her visibly relax and the tension leave her body. Never was it more clear to me than at that moment that our pets have a profound and positive effect on us, especially when we don’t feel well or are trying to cope with something intense such as a chronic illness.

Pet therapy has been proved through scientific studies to benefit the patient. Lower medication costs, longer life, increased alertness and an improved mood are just some of the health benefits of pet therapy. Here are some other examples:

  • The elderly have higher levels of social interaction when they have a pet.
  • Children who are allowed to pet a dog while undergoing a painful medical procedure require less pain medication.
  • Patients with hypertension who watched fish swim in an aquarium were able to lower their blood pressure.

While pet therapy should not be considered a replacement for conventional medicine, it is a wonderfully effective complementary therapy. And as pet therapy becomes more widespread, an increasing number of hospitals have begun to implement pet therapy programs.

Whether the medical condition is chronic or acute, the advantages of pet therapy have been undoubtedly proved. There is no doubt in my mind that pets have that sixth sense and can help us cope with stressful situations, break the isolation and offer comfort. It is Charmaine’s unconditional loyalty and acceptance that reassured my daughter of her well-being and brought her comfort.

Do you have a special pet in your life?

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Comments (5) -

Joanna Tierno
12:54 PM on Friday, October 05, 2012

I've always had pets & they have helped me thorough illness throughout my life.  My cats are happy to stay in bed with me forever and so they have sometimes been my only company when I was sick.  Especially before I married knowing they were counting on me to be OK also motivated me to not give up and get better.  Today I have both birds & cats.  I'm home a lot so I enjoy their company & all the silly things they do.  They make being home fun & our house wouldn't be home without them!  

Paula King
3:08 PM on Friday, October 05, 2012

This is a 5 star article as far as I am concerned. I too have a dog that is my 'shadow' and is very aware of all of my ups and downs.  He follows me everywhere, 'talks' to me, although not a cuddly dog (he is a 100lb German Shepherd) he still allows me to snuggle up to him.  Just listening to him breath and feeling his body expand and contract helps to calm me and forget about some of the bumps faced with CVID.  I can tell him anything and not worry that I am causing stress in someone's life.  I have a wonderful supportive husband but there are times when he does not need to 'handle' every moment of my life.  I take him on walks twice a day and he loves to 'play' with the towel I dry him with after getting cooled off with the hose. These walks often get me up and out when I would have rather just blobbed on the couch and forgot about exercise. He knows exactly when it is 'out/play' time and will not let me out of my commitment to him.  I could talk about the benefits of having him for a long time but the bottom line is that because of him CVID and the bumps are tolerable. He is an answer to prayer! and I thank God for my dog.  Thank you for sharing your story Annaben.    

Rebecca Zook
6:58 PM on Friday, October 05, 2012

Do I have a special pet in my life. Right now I have 4 dogs, 10 cats and 3 parrots. I live in a semi-rural area. Each has offered comfort and joy. While I was still seeking a diagnosis, I landing in the hospital for a 6 week stay and lost 1/3 of my right lung. I'm not a very outgoing talkative person, but when the nursing staff would ask if I had pets, I probably talked a little too much! One kind nurse told me a secret. It's not something that they openly advertise, but generally hospitals have a policy that will allow you to have your dog visit if you fill out a simple form and have your vet send proof of vaccination. My husband did this and brought our Australian Shepherd mix to visit. When I finally got home, I had trouble getting in and out of the bed, so I'd sleep on the couch. This same dog slept on the floor right next to me, watching over me, for a full year. Unfortunately, I lost her in January. She was nearly 19 years old.

The second story I HAVE to share is how I knew I was finally getting better. My Hahn's Mini-Macaw, Zoey, started laughing. It was an imitation of me. She had taught herself this years before, but I didn't realize how long it had been since I had heard it. It meant "I" was laughing again.

Tim Murphy
6:02 PM on Monday, October 08, 2012

I enjoyed the article very much. My wife and I have a Bichon. She has an extraordinary sense. When I first came home from the hospital and was unable to move my arms, she sat quietly next to me and licked them. She continues to do this (although I've regained movement) whenever I have an increase in pain. She used to become visibly upset when I received my home infusion of IVIG and would curl up in my lap for the duration of the treatment. Ordinarily she prefers to be a "free spirit"!

When I first met my wife, my father was terminally ill. We brought her to visit and were surprised when she jumped right up on his lap. Although he initially was not so sure he wanted a visit by a dog, I've never seen him smile so broadly. He truly enjoyed the visit and  was able to relax more than I had seen for quite a while.

As a nurse myself, I have seen many examples of how pets can provide a positive impact in our lives. I never imagined that I would be the benificiary.

Lynn Boore
8:48 AM on Friday, November 02, 2012

I have cvid.I am disabled with many back problems,in wheel chair most of the time, and not feeling to happy with life,two years ago I lost my best friend Beaulieu a 6 year old cocker spaniel to cancer,she was my heart she did every thing for me if I dropped a sewing needle she would retrieve it and bring it to me,She would lay on my subq needle until my infusion was complete,she would lick my tears of my face when I was having a bad day.I have been trying to get a service dog having many problems the wait can be up to three years or more not to sure if Insurance will help.my husband is my sole care giver,and because I have never had to work (my husband and my choice) I can't get any assistance or get him any kind of benefits to help with the costs of my illnesses despite having a good insurance I am over the top with co-pays and things like that.It sucks sometime to        

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