A black man lays in bed sharing a loving look with his dog

My Furry Companion: The Support of Animals

I’ve never been without a pet. Until recently. It’s a lonely feeling. Something is missing and I search for it in little creaks and noises when my mind is wandering elsewhere.

George had been with us for 13 years. He was a little bichon with a big heart. He never took to being a toy dog. He would chase rabbits like a beagle, guard the yard like a pitbull and sink like a stone in the water when trying to swim like a labrador.

George didn’t wait for a leash to take him on a walk, disappearing under fences and through door cracks to visit the neighbors and walk the children home from school. He’d gladly follow a good Samaritan when his wonderings were done. He trusted completely and never knew a person he didn’t love.

George saw me at my worst

I had been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in 2012 and initial treatment was complicated. As a cancer patient, George had seen me at my worst. George paced when I puked. He finished my dinner plate for me when the food was unappealing. He waited outside the bathroom door and no matter what he heard inside, he greeted me with love when I emerged battle-worn and weary on the other side.

I was always amazed at how George could tell when I was in pain. Dealing with cancer ultimately means dealing with an incredible amount of pain. I mean, there are times when the pain becomes an out-of-body experience. An altered reality of sorts. George recognized this. Perhaps there was a certain scent when my cortisol increased?

He would pace back and forth from whatever I was doing to the couch and back again. He would whine and circle my feet until finally I gave in. Laying down he would rest close to me, snuggling as deep as I would allow and then he would sigh. There were times when he recognized my pain before I did and the relief was palpable when I’d rest with him again.

The benefits of pet ownership

I’ve always believed in the therapeutic value of animals. The Center of Disease Control has an entire list of the health benefits of pet ownership. It’s incredible how an animal companion can help decrease a person’s blood pressure, cholesterol levels, decrease triglycerides, banish loneliness and all that comes with it. As I read through medical news I find articles describing therapy animals helping find markers for people struggling with epilepsy, heart failure, diabetes, stroke and major surgery. I see how pets are helping people with PTSD, anxiety, depression, autism, ADHD, dementia and schizophrenia

Caring for an animal can give such a feeling of meaningfulness, a reason to exercise, and while doing so give an opportunity to meet people who might not otherwise stop to say hi. Heck, for George the entire elementary school my daughter attended would race from the bell screaming and cheering to greet him. Even the principal would have to stop for a pet, calling him our little furry mascot. After a long day in class George’s furry greetings seemed to cheer everyone up.

Remembering George

When George lost his sight a year ago, his favorite thing was to listen to kid's shows on the TV. His ears would cock to the side every time he heard a child’s laughter and I swear he smiled as he reveled in his memories. On a stormy Monday evening a few months ago George passed away. His condition came on suddenly and unexpectedly.  In the veterinarian’s office, we had to make the decision to end his suffering from a fast-growing brain tumor. I could not end his pain without ending his life.

I had been very fortunate to have found this true companion, this support animal who greeted each day with wonder, who taught me to live with fervor and to rest unreservedly. While we grieve, we remember and these lessons will not be lost. As he rested his head in my hands and with our family surrounding him I gave him permission to leave my side, but he only rested his eyes after I told him I’d be ok. I think that’s all he ever truly wanted, for us to enjoy life and to be ok. For that I will always be grateful.

Our support animals are truly a part of the family and for some of us, they are the one true source of unconditional love. They come in many shapes and sizes, from horses to lizards, and regardless of their form the companionship and support they provide often cannot be replaced. Here’s to George, my furry companion, may he rest peacefully.

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