The Memory of a Therapy Dog Calls to Mind the Comfort of Pets
In the dark days of my sister’s cystic fibrosis-induced respiratory failure and subsequent double-lung transplant, a single moment stands out as a flash of light, and even humor. I was sitting at my sister’s bedside, next to my brother-in-law. We both had our heads bowed, alternating between silence and talking softly, when suddenly a sight in the hallway made us look up and then look over at each other. Was the exhaustion taking over? Were we now seeing things? Or did a dog just go by the door, pushed in a wheelie chair?
We soon found out that the dog’s name was Tucker, and because he was a bit of a drama queen, he sometimes insisted on being pushed in a chair rather than walking on his own. Tucker was such a good therapy dog, though, that he was indulged and given the star treatment.
That was the last I saw of Tucker, but the memory has stayed with me. Seeing Tucker is one of the stories my family recounts now of that time in our lives. It was an unexpected silver lining, a happy moment in the midst of so much turmoil and heartache.
Pros, cons of pet therapy
Though I have pets, I’m not necessarily one to stop at the sight of a dog on the street. But in that intense, trauma-laden hospital setting, the sight of a dog was a relief, a comfort, in the midst of a really difficult time.
That, of course, is what pet therapy is all about.
After my sister’s transplant, we discussed with her care team how her health might be affected by all the furry creatures she kept in her home as companions. Did the potential risks of infection via physical contact or inhalation of pathogens carried by pets outweigh the benefits? Thankfully, her care team decided that the mental health benefits of having pets made it worth keeping them.
Not all CFers will reach the same conclusion. Allergic reactions and infections spread by pets are a real risk factor to cystic fibrosis patients. And an organ transplant will require a person to make some big changes in her life; the decision about whether to keep a pet would likely be one of them.
But a pet can also bring someone in distress a lot of comfort.
When my older child struggled with anxiety in elementary school, my husband and I decided to adopt a kitten. Six years later, it’s as if Potato Chip knows his role is to be a therapy animal. Like a dog, he comes when you call him. He loves meeting new people, and will gladly hold up his end of any conversation, serious or silly, with meows and other sounds.
Pet therapy is booming. Researchers have studied how petting animals boosts our moods, and academic institutions have added pet therapy programs as fields for study. Young kids can gain confidence as readers by reading aloud to dogs, and chickens are leaving the coop to offer comfort as therapy hens to nursing home residents to help lift them out of their loneliness and isolation.
Pet therapy is hardly a new idea. Anton Chekhov’s 1886 story “Misery” tells of the plight of a cab driver whose son died suddenly. Iona Potapov tries multiple times to tell people about his deep, almost debilitating grief, but no one will pay attention to him and listen. At the story’s end, having been brushed aside by every person he tried to connect with, Iona confides in his horse, and “As the little mare munches, listens, and breathes on her master’s hands, Iona is carried away and tells her all about it.”
Anyone who has ever found solace in a pet’s company knows exactly how he felt.
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.