Adopting a Dog Helped Me Out of the Post-Cancer and COVID-19 Rut


When I found myself struggling with anxiety and depression after cancer and COVID-19, I decided a therapy dog might be a good idea, so I adopted one.

The past two years have been challenging. I’ve had a myriad of health issues, including two bouts of COVID-19.Fatigue and depression became constant daily companions. Though my cancer diagnosis was eight years ago, my world continued to feel the aftereffects of poor self-esteem, altered body image and more.

At the drop of a hat, I’d find myself in tears. My husband began to worry something was seriously wrong with me. As I tried to overcome the feelings of despair, I felt myself slipping into a dark place. Insomnia only added to the situation. I became agoraphobic only leaving the house for medical appointments. Joy had left my life.

As luck would have it, hope was just around the corner.

One morning, my youngest daughter texted me. She sent a photo of a little dog with big, funny ears. “Isn’t it cute?” she wrote. As I looked at the picture, something about the animal touched my heart. A few minutes later, my daughter sent another message. “This dog is at a kill shelter. If it’s not adopted in the next few days, it will be put down.”

Reading those words broke my heart. Looking at the picture again, I noticed the little dog was part chihuahua. I’d had chihuahuas in the past and had always found them faithful, easy-to-care-for friends.

The rest of the day, I thought about the dog. I’d had dogs my entire life. The only period I’d been without one was right after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, I had a miniature pinscher I loved with all my heart. When the doctor said I’d need chemotherapy and radiation, I knew my time was going to be taken up with traveling back and forth to the medical center for treatments. I wouldn’t be able to properly care for my dog any longer, so I made the difficult decision to find someone else to love and care for him. After I’d completed surgery and treatment, I was exhausted all the time. I never gave a thought to trying to get my pet back.

Years went by and I began to get stronger. Once or twice, I mentioned the thoughts of getting another pet to my husband. It felt odd not having a four-legged friend around. He reminded me we’d made the decision to travel more now that I was healed and feeling better. I listened to his voice of reason and pushed thoughts of getting a pet into the back of my mind. We were getting older. The time and commitment involved in caring for an animal weren’t a top priority any longer.

My husband and I ramped up our travel plans. We took a two-week trip to Israel. We enjoyed several beach and mountain jaunts. Life was busy and good. We were unencumbered and could do as we pleased. Though he was still working, my husband had five weeks of annual vacation and we put every bit of that time to good use.

But when he wasn’t on vacation, I was home alone. At first, I kept busy with my art projects. I loved creating and found pleasure in making and giving things away. Then I got bored and turned to writing. I wrote articles on cancer; I wrote a bookand kept a daily blog.

Still, there was something missing. I was lonely. I had no friends or family living nearby. The only daily communication I had was through text messages, social mediaor the occasional phone call from one of my children.

I became introspective. When the pandemic hit, I felt even more isolated than ever, and after I became sick with COVID-19, I found myself extremely depressed.

Looking at the picture of the little dog again, I felt sad. I didn’t want the animal to be destroyed.

My daughter texted again and said, “Mom, here’s the information on adoption if you’re interested.” What perfect timing she had! She knew my heart so well. I’ve always had a weak spot for animals.

Immediately, I called the shelter and found out information on adopting the little Chihuahua. I was told I’d need to come to the facility, pay $95 which would cover spaying, a rabies vaccine, and microchipping. Then, I’d need to come back and get the dog after surgery. I told the shelter employee I was all in. I’d be there the next day.

That evening, I began to second guess myself. Did I really want to do this? Yes, I wanted to save the dog, but no, I didn’t want to go through housebreaking an animal again. I’d been there and done that so many times and it was always a chore. Talking with my husband about it, he reminded me the dog would be good company while he was at work.

He said, “Everything will work out fine. You’ll see.” And I believed him.

We went to the shelter and paid our fee. We met the little dog and fell in love.

Holding her, I could feel her tiny heart racing. She was as scared as I was!

Since adoption day, Izzie has brought me such joy. She’s helped me find purpose again. She’s helped reduce my anxiety and depression.

Though she’s not an official therapy dog, I call her mine.

In the 1800s, Florence Nightingale realized the value of small pets as she observed them with some of her patients. In the 1930s, Sigmund Freud used his own dog to help his psychiatric patients communicate their feelings. In 1976, a registered nurse, Elaine Smith, established the first dog therapy organization after she witnessed the positive effects dogs had on some of the hospital patients.

Cancer can cause more than physical problems. It can also cause emotional and mental problems. Therapy dogs can help with these issues. There have been medical discoveries about the release of endorphins when people pet animals.

Therapy dogs and cats can help provide good exercise for the patient and the animal. They can help lower blood pressure and heart rate as patients interact with them. They can be trained to fetch medication, alert others to severe medical disabilities, and more.

A black Chihuahua dog with large ears.

"I can tell you, from personal experience, therapy dogs (whether they’re trained or not) can make a world of difference to a hurting soul," said Bonnie Annis, a breast cancer survivor, about her chiuhaha, Izzie.

Many people have probably never considered the value in using therapy dogs for breast cancer patients, especially years after the person has completed treatment, but I can tell you, from personal experience, therapy dogs (whether they’re trained or not) can make a world of difference to a hurting soul.

There are so many animals in shelters awaiting adoption. Shelters don’t have the capacity to hold them all and many are euthanized after days of being held. Some of those dogs would make loyal companions and provide good therapy for others like myself.

Adopting an animal is a big decision and one that shouldn’t be made lightly. Time, money and effort are involved. Some animals can live very long lives.

If you’re considering a therapy dog, do some research. There are professionally trained animals available but also, many untrained animals that might meet your needs.

I’m very happy with my decision to adopt Izzie. She’s the sweetest little thing and a constant companion. I take her with me everywhere I go. I’ve even bought her little sweaters to keep her warm now that the weather is turning cooler.

Yes, I’ll admit, I’m spoiling her, but she deserves it. She was abandoned in a field before animal control rescued her and took her to the adoption shelter. Now she knows she has a forever home where she’ll be loved and adored.

She doesn’t have a clue she provides therapy for me, but she does.

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