Friday, October 28, 2022

I Adopted an Emotional Support Dog

The past two years have been challenging. I’ve had a myriad of health issues, including two bouts of 
Covid. Fatigue and depression became constant daily companions. Though 8 years post cancer 
diagnosis, 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 of time 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 loveand 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 5 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 book, and kept a daily blog. Still, there was something missing. I was lonely. I had no friends or family living nearby. The only communication I had on a daily basis was through text messages, social media, or the occasional phone call from one of my children. I became introspective. When the pandemic hit, I felt even more isolated that ever and after I became sick with Covid, 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! But then we found out some disheartening news. Izzy had been exposed to the Parvo virus by a new intake. She was going to have to be put in quarantine for a couple of weeks. Once again, we began to wonder if we'd made the right decision. 

Over the next couple of weeks, going back and forth via email with the animal control center, we found out Izzy wasn't doing well and wasn't going to be available for adoption so we thought about trying for another little doggie. Searching through their Facebook page, we found another chihuahua and instantly contacted the shelter about that dog. After putting our name in for the new dog, we had another piece of bad news. Someone had apparently claimed to have lost that dog and they wanted to reclaim it. Our hearts were broken as we decided we weren't meant to adopt a dog now. 

We contacted the shelter and told them to keep the fee we'd paid and use it to help provide food and supplies to other animals. We had no idea what we'd do with all the doggie paraphernalia we'd purchased for our expected "4 legged baby." In a day or two, we decided to donate it to a nearby shelter but then realized how much money we'd be losing on it if we did and put it on the neighborhood marketplace website. 

And then a strange thing happened. After we'd resolved ourselves to the fact that we weren't going to have a new addition to the family, I got a phone call from the captain of the police at the animal control center. She asked if I was still interested in adopting. I relayed the whole story to her about Izzy and Isabella and she said, "Isabella is still available! If you want her, she's yours." Wow!!! I was so surprised and immediately said yes. 
Our sweet Bella
But that little doggie wasn't meant to be ours either. Days later, we found out someone had contacted the shelter when they'd seen Isabella's photo on the shelter's Facebook page. That person claimed the dog was her neighbor's and said she'd pass on the information to her. As luck would have it, the rightful owner contacted the shelter and reclaimed her lost dog. 

Once again, we wondered if we were just to forget the idea of adopting an animal again. When we were just about to decide to give up, the captain called again. "I have the perfect dog for you. I know the other two fell through, so I wanted to reach out and give you first dibs." We were surprised but agreed to see the dog and think it over. 

After seeing her photo and learning a little about her, we decided to adopt the little female terrier mix. 

The shelter had named her Gayle, but I didn't think that suited the dog or her personality, so I changed her name to Penny. 

Penny in her sweater

My middle daughter took me to the shelter to pick up Penny the following day. Penny had just been spayed and was very groggy. We didn't know it at the time, but during surgery, Penny's heart had stopped 2 times and they had to do CPR. We found out this information later in the day after reading through paperwork that had been given to us by the shelter. 

We brought Penny home and let her rest and recover from surgery, giving her oral pain meds every 12 hours. Gradually, she regained her strength and energy. 

We've only had her for 2 1/2 days, but already she feels like a vital part of our family. She's a quick learner, hasn't barked once, and has been easy to housetrain. 

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.

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.

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 Penny. 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 before animal control rescued her. 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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