Lessons Learned – The Power of Pet Therapy

Paulo and Gina

Paulo and Gina

Warning – this one is an emotional, tearful tribute (and necessarily long)

If you’ve had a pet during a significant event in your life, you understand how they can be an integral part of healing and recovery. I’ve always had animals in my life. With a shorter life-span than us, we learn the importance of loving but also moving on. I’ve experienced the incredible bond that one can have with animals. My pets have known me, sensed needs, provided comfort, and demanded at times that I think about the simplicity of life through their silly games and nonstop love of play.

At the time of my brain tumor diagnosis, I had two Italian Greyhounds (the toy versions of the big racers) and one half-Siamese calico cat named Gabby. The dogs, Gina and Paulo, were always goofy and clumsy as they ran around the house and jumped all over me regardless of where I was sitting or standing. They ran at incredible speeds through the backyard and stopped, panting and happy. They had a tendency to take over the bed and at times I would wake to find myself clinging to the edge of the bed as they stretched out. Gabby tolerated the rest of us living in her house and would run down the hall howling if she was offended by anything.

When I came home from brain surgery, I had very different pets. I’ve never experienced the love, camaraderie, and the responsibility of pets as much as I did when I was recovering. When I came home, they were happy to lay for hours on my bed, keeping me company. With NO demands. They intuitively knew that something was very wrong with their person. (We do belong to them as much as they to us.)

I was in raw pain and apprehensive of their usual zealous natures, so we kept them away from my bed the first night. It turns out that I had nothing to fear. They knew. When they were allowed into my bedroom, they slowly hopped on the bed and did belly crawls to my side. There they laid for hours and hours. I found great comfort in petting them and having their company. Paulo, the goofier of the two, became the most protective, warily eyeing anyone who entered the room and refusing to leave my side.

As I started to get up and around, they gave me responsibility. It was hard to do nothing more than exist in pain after having a very busy lifestyle. I couldn’t leave the house without assistance from family, a cane, and a driver. However, at home my pets forced me to move and to care for them. They helped to establish a routine. They made me laugh. They made me feel loved despite my losses. They sensed my pain and changed energy with their close companionship.

As I healed and became more independent they once again demanded walks in the woods where they sniffed every scent on the ground as I lifted my head to inhale air that was crisp with pine and wood. We would take breaks and I would watch their attentive faces and alert ears. I saw pleasure on their faces that left me no choice but to smile, knowing that things would be OK as long as there was one more tree to mark. They made my new life meaningful and manageable. That was almost six years ago.

A couple years ago, I had to say goodbye to Paulo because of epilepsy after one too many seizures. Last week I had to say goodbye to Gina as kidney disease once again gave me no choice. The house feels empty as I look at Gabby and say, “Well, Gabrielle, it’s just you and me now.”  She’s clearly mourning the loss with me by sticking closer to my side than usual.

I can say thank you for the companionship that I had through the most challenging time of my life. I’m honored to know that when the time came for their last heartbeat, I was there, standing strong for them as they had for me. I wondered at the fine line between life and death as I kissed their still bodies one last time and walked away with a heart full of memories.




3 thoughts on “Lessons Learned – The Power of Pet Therapy

  1. rocksand5

    So moved by this blog. I’m sorry for your loss while at the same time I’m happy they were there as long as they were. I’m sure you have lots of photos to go with your memories. Thank goodness Gabby and you still have each other.

  2. Tracey Collins

    I’m amazed by your book and story. I had AN surgery on 12/21/09. At the time I too had 2 Italian Greyhounds and for me they were my sanity at such a tremendously difficult time. A few months after my surgery my oldest dog was diagnosed with encephalitis. At first they thought she too had a brain tumor–what would be the chances!!!! She and I were both seeing neurologists, having the same tests, taking some of the same meds. She fought very bravely, but lost her battle 8 months later. I swear she hung on to see me through the worst of my surgery and complications. I always called her my soulmate, but that last year really proved it to me. I can relate to your story in many ways, am here in tears!!!! Still love Iggies, now have three. But no one will ever replace my Gracie!!!!!!


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