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Family Finding Purpose Pets

Dogs and Love

Jeff

In the year after our twin daughters were born, we got a golden retriever puppy we named Charlie. Everyone always says they have “the best dog ever,” but in my opinion, Charlie indeed was. When the girls were young, they could pull on his ears, his tail, his fur, just about any part of him, and he would never complain, growl or groan.

Charlie became a fixture of our lives. He was a part-time babysitter, part-time guard dog, part-time walking buddy, part-time entertainment, and part of the reason why we constantly had to clean the house.

Charlie crossed the rainbow bridge in 2012 at the ripe old age of 13. He had “good innings” as one of my best friends described it. But after having put him down, because he was in pain and was suffering from numerous ailments, I could not stop feeling guilty about it. For the longest time, I questioned whether it was the right thing to do if I had prematurely cut his time with us if I had somehow let him down.

While we had Charlie, we also gained a Monty and Murphy. Monty, an English Cocker Spaniel, was a Christmas present for the family in 2005, and Murphy was my 40th birthday present from Suzanne.

In the month before Suzanne died, we said goodbye to her little buddy, Monty. He was 13-years old and had been diagnosed with cancer and kidney failure. He was forever getting small growths on his body (so much so, over the years that I had taken to nickname and call him “wart dog”)… but he was her constant companion through the first two bouts with cancer, the surgeries, and the treatments.

Losing Monty was a big psychological blow to Suzi as she was entering her final battle. We also had a cat named Harry, an 8-year old grey tabby, who had to be put down less than a week after we lost Monty. It was a time of great grief and loss, along with the treatments Suzanne was undergoing, not a lot of time, energy, or head-space for grief.

But it wasn’t until long after Suzi died that I was able to grieve the loss of our precious fur kids as well as her. Yes, I see people post things about losing their pets, and for some, it’s like losing a child (especially for people who have never been able to have children). So their grief and the grief they feel about losing a fur-kid is no less than that of what we feel when losing a person.

The unconditional love and affection that our pets offer is a source of both comfort and joy in our lives. When we love a pet, we can learn to love ourselves and our people better. There is a mug that my daughter has with a quote that says, “I can only hope to be the person my dog believes I am.” And yet, we are. Our dogs see us that way, all we need to do is open our eyes, and we can see ourselves that way.

Since Suzanne died, I adopted a young pup. His name is Kohl, and he’s a bit of a handful. He’s a nearly two-year-old German shepherd/lab mix who was found wandering the “mean streets” of LA as a tiny pup, sent to a county shelter before making his way to a German shepherd rescue (where I found and adopted him).

His companionship and unconditional love and gratitude for having a forever home have been a huge part of my healing process. Maybe it was the fact he was abandoned when he was so young and needed so much care and attention. Perhaps it was because I was feeling abandoned and needed someone who could love me unconditionally, as Suzi did.

Whatever the reason, I found a kindred spirit in my new best friend. The problem is, my old best friend—my nearly 12-year old chocolate lab, Murphy—has suffered a little at the hands (paws?) of Kohl (far too much ear tugging, some serious roughhousing, and general tormenting). Still, we look at each other, knowing that there is so much love in our lives for each other. And that is what I sensed was needed in my life at that moment. Today, I have a new person in my life who loves and is loved by my fur-kids, my human kids and by me.

Getting the chance to love again, and being shown the way through the unconditional love of a pet, has helped me heal. It has helped me open my heart back to the possibility of loving and being loved by a new person, and to my fur kids, I am truly grateful.

In solidarity.

Jeff

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Jeff Ziegler can be seen every two weeks here on WSN-MO. You can write Jeff at Jeff.ziegler@ymail.com.

Categories
Giving Support Grief/Dispair Healing Mental/Emotional Health Pets

An Excerpt from The Widower’s Journey: Appendix III – Support From Pets

When considering what actions widowed men can take in hopes of accelerating their healing, they may only have to reach down to the pet seated beside them. I witnessed the power of pets often during Michelle’s illness, especially during the final hours of her life when her son Jacques carried each of Michelle’s three golden retrievers, one at a time, from his car up to her hospital room. The nursing staff placed a gurney beside Michelle’s bed so her beloved Charlotte, Spencer, and Carolina could lie beside her one last time.

In this appendix, I’ll discuss the positive benefit of pets, and also direct you to resources for pets that are specially trained to provide support and assistance.

My first exposure to the phenomenon of pet therapy was back in the 1990s when my bank duties included leading KeyBank of New York’s annual Neighbors Make a Difference Day. On this day, the bank would close at noon to free up employees to go into the neighborhoods they served and perform community services. One time, bank volunteers took a group of dogs from the local animal shelter to a nearby nursing home. Some dogs were even invited by the seniors to jump up onto their beds. I still remember the looks of joy and comfort on the faces of the seniors when petting and playing with the dogs. Neither the home’s residents nor the dogs wanted the visit to end.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue in people with a range of health problems including those suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder.” AAT is the use of trained animals to assist patients in achieving established health objectives and is the first of two therapies grouped under the heading of Pet Therapy. The second is animal-assisted activities, which has a more general purpose, such as what the seniors experienced when the KeyBank volunteers visited them with the dogs.”

The Paws for People website (pawsforpeople.org) adds: “It’s well-known (and scientifically proven) that interaction with a gentle, friendly pet has significant benefits including releasing endorphins that have a calming effect and can diminish overall physical pain. The act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response, reducing the amount of medication some folks need, lifts spirits and lessens depression, encourages communication, lowers anxiety, reduces loneliness” and more.

Widower Mark R. Colgan had this to say about his two Labrador retrievers, Murray and Tucker: “The evening Joanne died my two Labradors proved to be more than companions, they were family members that were grieving the loss of Joanne. As I sat downstairs, reflecting on the day’s shocking events, I heard an unusual cry coming from the bedroom. The bedroom that Joanne had died in earlier in the day. As I peered around the corner of the bedroom door, I saw how the cry was coming from one of our dogs, Murray. He lied on the bed in the spot Joanne had died and was crying in a way that I have never heard a dog cry before. He was mourning.”

But it’s not only dogs that provide us support and solace. Some widowers are more the cat-lover type, and similar benefits have been attributed to cats and other pets.

Professor Carr notes that pets serve another important purpose: they give widowers a schedule and routine. For many widowers, especially those who are retired, days can feel long and empty. Some widowers struggle to get out of bed. However, a dog eager for a walk or a cat meowing for her morning kibble force us to get out of bed, face the day and set up routines that can be a healthy and important source of structure.

To read more… see page 187 of The Widower’s Journey. Available to all Members of WSN-MO at 15% discount. (www.widowerssupportnetwork.com/reserve-copy)