Saturday, April 7, 2007

Pet Therapy

When my son was five years old, he wanted a dog. Preferably a small black male dog whom he could call "Spike." Having grown up with dogs, I felt it was a good idea so I went to our local rescue agency, talked with the executive director, and laid out my son's criteria as well as my own.

I wanted a dog who was good with children for obvious reasons, and was calm and quiet because I work at home. We ended up with Prince, a 21 pound black male terrier mix (He looks like a Manchester Terrier with a Chihuahua face) who allegedly had all the traits we desired. (I don't have a picture of Spike from that period but I did find one online that looks almost like he did.)

As it turned out, Spike, formerly known as Prince, had all of the physical attributes my son was seeking but none of the personal qualities I cared about. He dislikes most children except my son who is now 17, all men except my husband, and all other dogs except Murphy, a black Lab mix we rescued eight years ago so Spike could have a friend.

Still, I fell in love with Spike from the start and he is an important member of our small family. One quality I would have sought—had my illness been diagnosed before we adopted Spike—was loyalty. After I began taking psychotropic medication in 1993, I was severely depressed for almost a year.

Who was to know that my ever-present companion would be Spike? From the moment I awakened in the morning—and even on those days when I could barely get out of bed—he would greet me by tenderly licking my face, mold his body next to mine, and remain by my side all day long.

A year later, when the depression finally passed, and I regained a normal level of activity, Spike bounded around the house with renewed energy, happily went on walks, maintained his vigilant level of barking at strangers who passed by, growled at other dogs, snapped at small children, and embodied few of the qualities the American Kennel Club finds important.

According to them, Spike’s temperament should be as follows: "The Manchester Terrier is neither aggressive nor shy. He is keenly observant, devoted, but discerning. Not being a sparring breed, the Manchester is generally friendly with other dogs. Excessive shyness or aggressiveness should be considered a serious fault." And..."A Chihuahua is alert, with terrier-like qualities."

Although Spike clearly has "serious faults" and would never win a "best of breeds" award, he's been a wonder dog for me. And how was I to know--all those years ago--that "pet therapy" would be an important part of my healing process?

5 comments:

Sharon said...

I've got a cat. He totally ignores me when I'm sick and well. But, it's just important for me to have to feed him. A little responsibility goes a long way!

Sharon from Maui

Rob Johnson said...

Susan,

Tool after tool after tool. They just keep coming.

Again, thank you!

Rob

p.s. I'm adding links to all these "tools" to my blog so I can share them with my support group.

Wellness Writer said...

Thanks Rob. My dog Murphy died last December and I'm not sure that Spike will survive this week. Your comment on this piece reminded me I wrote it, and that couldn't have happened at a better time. Thanks.

Susan

Rob Johnson said...

Susan,

Now you've done it! I've got tears in my eyes.

I like to think of my comment as one of life's little miracles - a little like your meeting that stage actress. Not quite in the same league, but in orbit nonetheless.

Rob

Wellness Writer said...

Rob,
I'll already written you that Spike somehow survived last night, and hopefully will be with us for a little longer!

Susan