The healing power of pets

August 10, 2012 at 6:30 pm 1 comment

I’ve known for a long time that pets (dogs in my case) can sense when something is wrong. When I’m upset, Bomber, my Shetland Sheepdog, will climb in my lap and act super cute to cheer me up. That’s the reason I love pets so much- they provide you with so much love and comfort in ways that human companionship doesn’t. I mean, it would be pretty weird if my husband crawled into my lap and acted cute when I was sad, right?

Bomber has done wonders for Dan. Growing up, Dan never had a pet but loved dogs. When we started dating six years ago, I had a Shetland Sheepdog who was the sweetest little fuzzball, and Dan adored her. We both knew we would get a dog, but we didn’t know when. And Dan surely didn’t know how profound his impact would be on his life.

My old dog Taffy

We got Bomber in 2010, right when my anxiety was at its worst. He immediately helped me start to calm down. I mean, who couldn’t be calm when looking at a little four pound puppy?

Baby Bomber at two weeks old

Baby Bomber at two weeks old

We settled nicely into life with the pup. Unfortunately, we then hit a rough patch with Dan’s health. Labor Day weekend 2010 was Dan’s first Crohn’s hospitalization. He had gone in for a routine colonoscopy and ended up hospitalized with an E.coli infection from a micro-perforation and aspirational pneumonia. The entire time he was in the hospital, all he wanted was to see his puppy. I tried very hard to convince the hospital to let me bring him in- at the time he was only 8 pounds- he could have fit in my purse. Unfortunately, my attempts didn’t work and Dan had to cope with just seeing pictures of him on his phone.

Fast forward to April 2011- Dan’s next Crohn’s hospitalization. This time, Dan was hospitalized with a blockage for five days. He had an NG tube and all that fun stuff. After some pleading, the hospital let me bring Bomber to visit him. I’ve never seen Dan so excited. The deal was we had to be in the Family Room- so I went home, grabbed the dog, and went to the hospital. He gave Dan the biggest greeting- spinning, wiggling, tail wagging. And Dan was SO happy to see him.

A month after the blockage, Dan had a bowel resection and spent another five days in the hospital. As is our tradition for any procedure, I got him a stuffed animal that looked like Bomber since I knew I couldn’t bring him to visit. But I was able to get therapy dogs to stop in while he was in the hospital (although he slept through the visits). We also Skyped while he was in the hospital so he could see Bomber (only for a minute though because it made him nauseous).

When we got home from the hospital, I ran up to our apartment to hold Bomber- I knew he would be too excited to contain himself. I stood at the top of the stairs holding the door open, carrying him, as Dan slowly made his way up the three flights of stairs. When he got to the top and saw his dog waiting there, I’ve never seen him look so emotional. He later told me that he almost cried he was so happy to see Dan.

If we didn’t have Bomber, I don’t think Dan would have recovered as quickly. As you know, after resection surgeries, you are under restrictions for six weeks. So he was unable to walk Bomber or pick him up or anything. Bomber also recognized that Dan was unwell. Instead of running around on our bed, after a few days, Bomber would lay on the floor next to where Dan was. When Dan was alone in the room, we had to put a baby gate up and Bomber would lay at the gate, keeping an eye on Dan. It’s unbelievable how animals can tell something is wrong.

There is a lot of information out there about the health benefits of pets:

Lower blood pressure and cholesterol

Increased level of oxytocin

Reduced stress

Reduced likelihood of asthma (for kids born into a family with a dog)

Increased physical activity

Dogs can be trained to be therapy dogs as well as emotional support dogs who are trained to recognize the symptoms of panic attacks and ailments (pretty cool, right???).

Here are a few articles that speak about the benefits of dogs:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6279701.stm

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/03/09/146583986/pet-therapy-how-animals-and-humans-heal-each-other

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/peg-dogs-may-help-infants-health/2012/07/20/gJQAzzts4W_story.html

Is there a pet in your life who helps you cope with Crohn’s or Colitis?

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