How My Dog Benefits My Health
My family loved dogs before I even came into the picture. My parents’ first child was a golden retriever named Sadie. Although I don’t remember her, she lives on through our family’s dog stories.
The first dog I remember properly, the one I’d consider my childhood pet, was Chester. We brought him home one December when I was 3, as a Christmas gift for the family. That same year, I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension and had a central line placed in my chest for around-the-clock IV therapy. Life changed drastically for my family that year, but it didn’t faze the new puppy one bit.
Chester seemed to have an old soul from the beginning. Intuitively, he never came near me during sterile dressing changes, but would lie stoically at my feet until the process was complete. He was always nearby, but never in the way — the perfect model of a companion.
After witnessing Chester’s behavior through the tumultuous months of my diagnosis, my family now trusts a dog’s ability to adapt to medical circumstances. We owned two other golden retrievers, Kody and Lucy, during my high school and college years. Even Kody, our rowdiest dog, never caused any issues with my treatments and care.
As I finished college and prepared for my heart-lung transplant, I knew I wanted to work toward having a dog of my own. I remember telling a friend, “If I get a puppy after transplant and it lives 10 years, then I have to live at least 10 years, too.”
This may sound morbid or melodramatic, but after facing many unfavorable odds, I’ve come to believe in tethers — the family, friends, and even animals who give me a reason to fight for another day. As someone who loves dogs, I knew that getting a puppy would only reinforce my will to live.
As my transplant day drew nearer, I decided I would reward myself with a mini goldendoodle once I was far enough along in my recovery. While I would have loved a golden retriever, I knew a smaller breed that wouldn’t shed made more sense for me. The retriever and mini poodle mix seemed like the perfect alternative.
Of course, I never anticipated that my transplant story would go the way it did. While I dreamed about walks, or even runs, with a new furry friend, instead I spent eight months dragging my feet through hospital halls, often assisted by a ventilator.
Even crueler, I couldn’t even receive visits from a therapy dog, due to a strange and permanent positive infection result that placed me on contact precautions for the duration of my hospitalization.
My mother can confirm that I spent hours upon hours during those months looking online for potential pups. But it wasn’t until summer 2019, a few months after my discharge, and a full year after my transplant, that we welcomed home my little Luna.
Like most dog owners, I could gush about Luna ad nauseam. She has been one of the greatest joys of my recent years, especially through the isolation of the pandemic. I’ve been extremely lucky that she is low-maintenance, just like our other dogs. Every night, she sleeps beside me in bed, never once so much as sniffing my ventilator setup. She did chew through my oxygen tubing once as a puppy, but that’s the extent of the issues I’ve had with her.
I know that owning a dog may not be right for everyone who’s medically complex, but Luna has been a huge benefit to both my physical and mental health. She eases my anxiety, lifts me in moments of doubt and darkness, and loves me unconditionally in the sweet and tender way that dogs are known for. Some of my greatest moments of peace are when we’re out walking together in the neighborhood on a nice day. Looking down and seeing her little feet trot along is sure to bring a smile to my face.
I firmly believe that animals can intuit our needs. Their unique ability to care for us is often greater than the care we’re able to reciprocate. I’m so thankful I was able to survive long enough to get to know Luna’s love, and I will cherish it in all of the years we share together. I continue to think of her as my reward for the trials I’ve been through, and she proves it to be true each and every day.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.