Therapeutic Pets

Most of my years growing up, we had a family dog.  Our first, Silky, was there to greet me when my parents brought me home for the first time from the hospital. Silky was the sweetest, gentlest black lab but my mom used to tell me that when she took me for walks in the stroller, Silky would growl if anyone came near me.  I don’t have many memories of this sweet pooch though her last moments are forever imbedded in my mind.  I was going to a friend’s house down the street and when Silky pushed the door open, I thought she was coming to me.  Unfortunately, she headed for her favorite vice – moving tires.  The garbage truck didn’t stop in time and, sadly, took her to her final resting place. I was horrified but my love of dogs was ingrained for life.

We had other dogs over the years though none were as sweet and well-trained as Silky.  As an adult, I moved around a lot and mostly lived in apartments so it was not feasible for me to have a dog so I settled for a mean 3-legged cat, Spike, who I saved after he had been hit by a car.  I loved Spike, had him for many years but as he got old, his meanness from an early life on the streets took over his personality.

Finally, I was working back home in Cleveland, Ohio and decided that it was time to buy a house so I could have a dog of my very own.  Little did I know that getting a dog would become much more than having a pet to come home to after work.  A week after moving into my house, I went to the Animal Protective League.  I knew that I didn’t want a black lab as nothing could replace Silky.  Walking into the puppy room, I walked from one cage to another and then he saw me.  I sensed more than saw his presence (I know, this sounds hokey but it’s true!) and when I went to his cage, I even said, “I’m sorry pup but I really don’t want a black lab.”  But his eyes tore into mine without thinking, I was opening the cage and lifting the 8 week old pooch in my arms.  Argus put his paws around my neck and that was it.  We went home.

Long before Argus found me, I had his name.  Argus was the ever faithful dog waiting for Odysseus to come home from his adventures. As a classics major in college, I knew that would be my first dog’s name.

I won’t go in to details of raising Argus but suffice it to say, he was relatively easy for a lab puppy.  I knew that I made a wise decision when he met Spike and proceeded to chase that cat all over the house. I was worried until I discovered that Spike would be as much of an instigator, sitting in front of Argus as he slept, crying and urging the pup to play with his invisible front leg.  The chase was on, up and down the stairs and finally, Spike would lay down, Argus would maul the cat until Spike’s head would finally come out of his mouth soaking wet but not even a scratch.

Soon after Argus adopted me, I noticed that I was always tired but never getting a good sleep.  It was so insidious that I thought that I was just growing old and did not really think there was anything really wrong.  I dreaded going out with friends on weekends, wanting to just stay home and curl up with my dog and a good book.

While at the time, I thought I was just existing by going to work and coming home, I was still fairly active.  Like John Steinbeck in Travels With Charley, Argus and I drove from Cleveland to Los Angeles to visit and pick up my sister and bring her back East.  It was an amazing journey and Argus was an awesome travel partner.  We camped, hiked, visited historical sites, and I scoped out where we might want to live next.  I was surprised that I couldn’t drive more than 8 hours a day but figured again that I was no longer a young pup.

Over the years, I would push myself to take Argus camping in the Allegheny Mountains in the summer and cross-country skiing in summer.  We walked every day. even on days when I thought I was too tired to take a step. I would collapse on the sofa and Argus would sit next to me and bark until we headed out the door.  After all, he had friends to visit in the neighborhood, kids to greet, and new smells to detect.  Even on days when I was too exhausted, we would stroll only part way down the street.  Argus seemed to understand and would even turn around to go home as if he sensed that I wasn’t strong.  As I lay on the couch, he would curl up with me which helped me relax and seemed to ease the increasing aches and pains that spread through my body.

 

He always looked at me expectantly - or was he assessing how I was doing?

 

 

What amazed me most was how Argus would get me up every morning.  The alarm would go off and I would lay in bed, dreading the coming day.  Argus would stick his nose under my neck and literally lift my head off the pillow.  Once I was up, he would follow me to make sure I was staying up and he would go back to bed! I am convinced he sensed that I needed a push and that my life did not belong in bed though I often wish it had.

After several years, an astute physician whom I had recently started seeing noticed something was amiss and referred me to a specialist in fibromyalgia.  I was subsequently diagnosed with CFS and fibromyalgia and began to appreciate how Argus had kept me going despite my physical and emotional difficulties that accompany these afflictions.  Intuitively, he understood what I needed by making me get out of bed each morning and urging me to walk, even if it was just a few steps.  His warm body brought comfort to me and helped me to relax.  At times when things seemed at their worst and I would collapse in tears, Argus would lay down on my lap until holding him calmed me down.

One time, I was referred to a therapist to perform biofeedback.  It did no good but when I talked about Argus, the therapist said that he strongly believed that dogs should be mandated for anyone with CFS.  Dogs make you get up and take care of them.  Their needs take a priority over yours and daily walking a dog provides the need for light exercise. I fully agree and know from personal experience how valuable pet therapy (particularly with dogs) can be.  Once I get stronger, I hope to prepare Luna to be come a therapy dog and get her certified.  I would like others to benefit from the love and caring that labs provide.

A treat was always expected after play time!

 

Argus succumbed to liver cancer at age 12 and it was a painful goodbye.  But he passed a few years after my diagnosis and when I was strong and feeling good.  It was like his life’s purpose was to get me through this very difficult time in my life.  We stayed in bed for the last 2 days and his vet who loved Argus and agreed he was a special dog, came to our house to facilitate his transition to what I hope is his next life running endlessly through fields, chasing squirrels, and playing with young foxes as he did in Colorado.

Argus’ adopted sister, Zoe, is still with us and she has carried on the tradition of taking care of ‘mom.’  I adopted Homer a few months after Argus passed away, and sometimes I swear that at least part of Argus sweet soul is in Homer, though Homer has a personality all his own.  We also have Luna  who is now 14 months old.  The only dogs I ever want are labrador retrievers thanks to Argus who sought me out at the Animal Protective League and wrapped his paws around my neck.

 

 

Resting after hiking and chasing deer in the Allegheny Mountains

 

 

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LBWebb Coach

Passionate, compassionate, opinionated.

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