Comfort Dogs and Multiple Sclerosis | MS Blog

I have been a dog owner

and lover my whole life

When I was born my parents owned two cats and two dogs which seemed to remain our consistent pet count my whole childhood.  On my fifth birthday I was given a black Cocker Spaniel named Docket, obviously named by my trial attorney father not young adolescent me.  Docket was my constant companion until I was 16 when he slipped off into the big dream land while I was at cheer camp.  He was the first animal I ever mourned and the beginning of my real love affair with dogs.  My pet count is now four dogs and one tortoise and I wouldn’t change it for the world.  My animals bring a sense of joy that one can only understand if they’ve experienced it and I did not fully appreciate until I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

MS Comfort Dogs

 My two Labrador Retrievers, Cody and Van, walked into our lives less than a year before my diagnosis.  The two are actually brothers born in different litters; when we got them Van was about 14 months old and Cody was rounding on 6 months.  Van, an anomaly as a litter of just one, has always had the sweetest disposition.  From the very start people told us we had to get him trained as a comfort dogComfort dogs go through special training and certification to visit and interact with the sick, elderly, or just about anyone else who could use a good hug. 

Van, 6 years

MS Van

Van’s ability to read people and situations always amazes me.  A dear neighbor of ours died from cancer about a year after we got him and every time we took she reached down to pet him he would even sit upso she wouldn’t have to struggle to reach and she never lost her smile when he was around.  Van truly brought that woman comfort in her last weeks that only a silent animal could. My future mother-in-law Marilyn is his true master and he is so in sync with her needs that he has even been him to visit her before she passed he would walk in calmly and immediately lay at her feet.  If known to bring her a water bottle during a coughing/choking allergy attack.  

Cody, 5 years

MS Cody

Cody was a Marley of a puppy and took longer to calm down but I am proud to report that he has definitely followed in his big brother’s footsteps. When I walk in the door after a hard day at work Cody knows not to bombard me the second I come in and waits for me to sit down before gently resting his head in my lap.  When I am feeling weak he even has the sense to walk right against my hip for support and learned the command “brace” to help me stand easily.  I love my two big boys and am always amazed at the genuine intuition they have regarding human emotions.  Feeling someone so in tuned to your emotions who is there to offer nothing but silent love and support can be the most comforting thing in the world at times.

           

I saw a documentary once that discussed 

whydogs are so in tune to human emotions

Mankind molded the dog into the species they are; we took wild “dogs” like wolves and over time cross bred them to create the many breeds of dogs we have now.  We have always molded the dog to fit our needs as humans

The dog is literally man’s bestfriend

because we created him to be that way

No other animal has been raised as close to human need, emotions, and service as dog has.  We gave the dog purpose so it has evolved to serve whatever that purpose may be for usDogs genuinely look to humans as their masters for cues on what to do.  Through the process of their “creation” an almost psychic connection has been forged between dog and manDogs have the capability to read human emotions and pick up cues through our eyes, this is why eye contact is essential to dog training.  Dogs may not “understand” spoken language as we do but they are at times even better at picking up information based on body language and non-verbal cues than we are.  A dog will naturally have a sense of trust, love, and respect towards a human unless shown otherwise.  It is not in a dog’s true nature to attack man unless it has learned mistrust for one reason or another.  In the same way it is in a dog’s true nature to learn their master’s behavior and respond to it appropriately.

 Dogs resized 600

I mentioned that I have four dogs but only one of them is really mine.  Sweet Pea is my little Silky Terrier and she is the total embodiment of her name.  My little Pea is 18lbs. of pure comfort.  I was diagnosed in October and Sweet Pea entered my life the following Spring. 

What is truly amazing about Sweet Pea is that

her whole little life has been about providing comfort

Sweet Pea belonged to another neighbor of ours that was battling a very aggressive brain cancer.  I think that even though she was just a puppy, she not only knew what her purpose was with our neighbor but that her job would soon be done in that house.  Whenever our neighbor left her house Sweet Pea would escape their yard and come over for a visit with us.  At first we assumed she liked having our other dogs to play with but after our neighbor passed it became clear that she was asserting her place in our pack, in our home.  The family knew how much we loved Sweet Pea and since it was almost too painful for them to keep her after out neighbor’s death they asked if we would.  I immediately accepted her and it was one of the bestdecisions I have made not just for my MS but for my life!

Sweet Peaknows when I am not feeling well.  Of course she does typical things like climb into my lap when I am crying but her intuition into me stretches far beyond that.  If I am feeling really fatigued she will go lay down in our bed and stare at me like, “you know you want to join me.”  If I am nervous or anxious about something she is always close by with a reassuring nudge or lick of my hand.  One of the most amazing intuitions she has demonstrated has been sensing my pain.  If I am experiencing particularly rough nerve pains in a certain limb she detects it and rests her little head there or gives me a comforting kiss on the pain spot.  She knows me and how to comfort me without any blatant indication as to what I want or need.  My little puppy girl and I are connected in a weird mental way only another dog owner can understand.  The best part is she never talks back when I am going on a diatribe and always agrees with my opinions.  She is this woman’s best friend, fur coat or not.

 MS Sweet Pea

Sweet Pea giving me comfort.

Having a creature so in tuned to your wants and needs is the most amazing comfort imaginable.  My dogs provide me with something that no complicated human interaction could.  When I am down they give me a cold nosed shove up.  When I am falling apart the provide a warm furry cuddle to hold me together.  They even protect me from danger whether I realize it is looming or not. 

My dogs are the most comforting beings I have ever known  

If you can’t have a dog for one reason or another, almost any animal can provide the same support if you feel a connection to them.  Who doesn’t want someone to just listen and support without talking back and offering their opinion?

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