Why Therapy Pets Are So Important



I was diagnosed in 2005 with indolent non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Now, I'm not a very patient "patient," so when I was told this slow-growing cancer had to get worse before it could be treated, that made me furious. "Watchful waiting" was definitely not my style.

After weeks of pacing the floors in the wee hours of the morning with my husband pacing right along with me, counting to 200 then back down again, my anxiety and panic attacks would eventually subside. When I wasn't pacing, I was in bed in the fetal position, and refusing to speak-not even to my husband.

We agreed maybe it was time to bring a furbaby back into our home. After all, we were both nearing retirement, so we had the time to go to obedience classes, therapy training classes and have some fun with a furry companion once again.

We brought Ledah, our German Shepherd, into our home at the age of 8 weeks. She was gorgeous and funny, and so very therapeutic for me. I could no longer lie on the couch feeling sorry for myself, obsessing with what's next, how could I possibly get through this. Ledah needed attention. She needed to be walked, she needed to eat, she needed to play (and wouldn't accept my resistance to play) and she needed to be socialized and always wanted to please us by showing what a quick learner she was!

We never got Ledah through all the therapy training, but our cancer clinic allowed us to bring her during my chemo visits when I started treatments in 2006. She barked once, and we decided it wasn't going to work. But, when I would walk through the door, there she was with her tail wagging, her happy smile and she would wrap her front leg around my leg-her way of giving me a hug.

After months of chemo, radiation and isolation, I now had the time to continue our bonding. We played for hours: sticky, frisbee, swimming in the lake, going to the park - all of it. The three of us were officially a team, a family!

My cancer recurred in 2008, bringing on the same process, same number of hours having to leave our Ledah at home. But we still had the wonderful welcome home from her. Then it was back to playing, talking, sometimes crying and now sleeping between my husband and me in our bed. We loved the closeness we had.

Then, I faced another recurrence in 2013-five years later. It was a scary time again, but we still had Ledah, and I continued to rely on her as my confidante. I was really scared this time, and kept thinking, "why does this monster keep returning?" But Ledah remained by my side, loyal, protective and with a calming effect on me.

Fast forward to 2017. I realized that 2018 was going to be here before we knew it. In the back of my mind, I realized that 2018 would be five years since my last recurrence, and I wondered if five years was going to be my new normal. Ledah was now getting gray around her muzzle, and her eyes were getting cloudy, just like my hair and eyes. She was 12 in August of 2017, but every night I would tell her I loved her and that I would be here for as long as she needed me.

Christmas was coming and for some reason I did something I have never done before-not only did I put her name on our card, but her picture as well! This was definitely different than my standard, traditional Christmas card. The cards were ready to be picked up on Saturday, Nov. 25. Ledah died unexpectedly on Nov. 27. I brought those cards home-all 100 of them and decided to send them anyway. But first I needed to run them through my printer to explain Ledah was no longer with us, but we wanted everyone to enjoy her beautiful smile.

We received 19 sympathy cards even before Christmas cards started to arrive. People knew how much a part of our family Ledah was. So, here we are in 2018, and in January, I was told my cancer has recurred, once again on that five-year timeline. I was, and still am, grieving our loss, and sadly now Ledah is no longer here for as long as I need her to get me through this cancer again. Peculiar, don't you think, that my therapy dog dies and my cancer returns?

In a discussion the other day, my husband and I talked about how I always said cancer was the first thing I thought of in the morning, and the last thing I thought of when I tried to get to sleep at night (yes even after 13 years of dealing with it), but that has all been reversed now. Ledah is the first thing I think of in the morning, and the last thing I think of at night when I try to stop crying and get to sleep.

So, I know our best friend, Ledah, is still doing her job as my therapy dog-my thoughts are more on her these days than on my cancer. Thank you Ledah!

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Dr. Lauren Pinter-Brown