My Dog Has Supported Me Through My PH Journey and Post Transplant

Kathleen Sheffer avatar

by Kathleen Sheffer |

Share this article:

Share article via email

(Photo by Kathleen Sheffer)


As a freelance photographer, I spend most of my working hours at home alone, editing photographs on my computer. Most of my photo shoots are scheduled in the evenings and on weekends. My friends who are not photographers work 9-to-5 jobs (or 10:30 to 4, if they are living their best software engineering life). I am home to greet my roommates when they return from work, but it’s rarely reciprocal.

I found this aloneness to be a difficult adjustment after college life, in which I had near constant social interactions in class, my sorority house, and my two-bedroom (four-person) apartment. A few months after graduation, my parents could see the loneliness getting to me, and supported my decision to adopt a small dog.

Basil listed on

I found Basil online while searching for small breed dogs in my area. She stood out because she is a black Shih Tzu (I hadn’t seen one before) and she looked tiny! She is indeed small for her breed, weighing approximately 9 pounds.

She had been rescued from a hoarding situation with eight other dogs. The veterinarian had detected a heart murmur, and Basil had stayed in the hospital for two weeks before adoption. By then, the heart murmur had resolved, but the shelter warned me that it could return. But Basil’s brief heart condition only made me want her more.

When I met her at the shelter, Basil seemed hesitant. She’s generally not the most exuberant dog (I tease her for behaving like a cat), but I could see how sweet she was to everyone at the shelter, and how much they adored her.

Basil being cat-like in Berkeley, California (Photo by Kathleen Sheffer)

Driving home, I remember looking over at her lying peacefully in a bed in the passenger seat. I fell deeply in love with her during that car ride. Still my favorite road trip companion, Basil accompanies me on the drive to all my appointments at Stanford and waits patiently in the parking structure while I do my testing. She gets her favorite treat while she waits and runs around on the manicured lawns when I have time to kill.

I adopted Basil in October 2015 and had my heart-lung transplant in July 2016. While our relationship was still developing we entered the chaos of end-stage pulmonary hypertension and transplantation. My psychiatrist gave permission to have Basil visit me in the hospital. She lay silent on my chest or at the foot of my bed and nurses came in and out of my room without noticing her.

Basil and Kathleen in a hospital room a month before transplant (Photo by Craig Sheffer).

Following surgery, we were apart for the longest time in our brief history together. Family and friends stepped in to care for her. I hated that my health forced her to be shifted around at a time when she needed consistency. I was still potty-training her (no small task with a 4-year-old Shih Tzu with little interest in food), and it takes at least a year for a rescue dog to assimilate into a new home. Now I was forcing her to adapt to many different homes.

Once discharged, I could see Basil for parts of the day, but I could not live with her for the first couple of months. I would hold her in my lap and sob, apologizing for all I had put her through.

Like me, Basil has had to adjust to changes since my transplant. Because of my immunosuppression regimen, we keep her hair trimmed short and bathe her often. For a year, every time Basil came indoors I wiped her paws, mouth, and nose. Basil not only tolerates the wiping, she raises her paws one at a time for me to clean. Fortunately, I can now take her on much longer walks than I could when I had PH.

Kathleen carrying Basil on a hike in Santa Rosa, California (Photo by Florence Sheffer).

Any time I sniffle or cough, Basil stops what she’s doing and turns to look at me. I nod at her, tell her I’m OK, and she relaxes. Coughing is a handy way for me to get her to look at my camera, but I probably shouldn’t abuse this as much as I do.

Basil staring up attentively (Photo by Kathleen Sheffer).

Basil helps me focus on the present. Whether she’s going nuts playing with a dirty sock, or in my backyard hopping with all four feet off the ground, Basil makes me laugh every day.

Basil going crazy in the yard (Photo by Kathleen Sheffer).

Sometimes I sit and stroke her, letting my anxious thoughts flow through my hands and into her soft body. She sighs. She’s a sponge for my anxiety. As much as Basil comforts me when I am distressed, it comforts me to relax her as well. She has her wild moments and I am always able to calm her by holding her and guiding her breathing by slowing mine.

With Basil as an ice-breaker, passersby strike up conversations with me. Since I can go full days without speaking to another human being when I am working from home, these casual conversations keep me sane. I am proud to own (or be owned by) Basil when I walk around the hospital and visitors beam at her. People often tell me that seeing her made their day. She really does spread joy.

If you want to talk about Basil more with me, check out this Pulmonary Hypertension News forum topic.

Basil at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, California (Photo by Kathleen Sheffer).


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 Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


Mrs Sonya Armstrong avatar

Mrs Sonya Armstrong

Hello i wish you well i have "dogs molly and seth its molly she dose the things which Basil dose they seem to know whats going on when i cry she s always there kissing me. i only learnt two christmas ago i had this ph mine is on the left side with a few more problems to had to.but there is nothing they can do for me.i have a family but like you im lonely and frightened i am so glad you got a transplant your young im 62 i feel like iv been dealt a ad pack of card sometimes.Hope you both go on alright i loved your story thank you.

Kathleen Sheffer avatar

Kathleen Sheffer

I'm glad you can relate and you have dogs that are in tune with your emotions as well. Thank you for sharing!


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.