Healing Power of PetsThe Healing Power of Pets

By T.W. Badura

The unexpected can strike at any time. Mine came in the form of a health crisis that required major surgery. After I was discharged from the hospital, I began my convalescence for the next couple of weeks with relatives. Studies have shown that the emotional support from family and friends enhances recovery from a major surgical procedure, but what about the emotional support from our pets? Do our pets play a role in the healing process? I would like to share my experiences of my own post-surgical healing while in the company of three Maltese dogs named Max, Sam and Gilly.

Gilly-begWhen I arrived that evening from the hospital, I was greeted with a chorus of barking. The next morning while sitting at the breakfast table, I realized I had a long recovery ahead. I never felt so vulnerable and helpless in my entire life, but then I realized I wasn’t alone. I turned to my left and to my right and discovered that I was surrounded by three dogs. They were looking up at me in silence as if they were wondering why I looked so sad. Even though it was painful to bend over, I reached down to pet them. I felt comforted by their presence, and my fear and doubts slowly began to melt away.

I’ve heard that being in a relaxed level of mind helps with the healing process. Watching dogs play is certainly relaxing and fun. It also helped to take my mind off the post-surgical pain that I was experiencing. Sammy was especially fun to watch with her chew toy. She would growl while carrying a stuffed squirrel in her mouth. If she dropped it, she would pounce on it and shake the squirrel in her mouth. Sometimes Max would get the squirrel, and a tug of war would ensue between Max and Sam.

In the evenings when I was sitting on the couch watching TV, Sam would curl up on the couch next to me, and I found it comforting. Gilly, the youngest and smallest of the three dogs, has very short legs, which prevents her from jumping onto the couch. Instead she would hover on the floor in front of the couch trying to get my attention. Sometimes she would bark at me. Gilly is the watchdog who would bark at anything, including the TV whenever she saw another dog on the screen.

dogsWhenever I was fixing myself a sandwich in the kitchen for lunch, the dogs would come over looking for scraps of food. With three adorable looking dogs staring up at me, how could I resist? It was fun watching them catch little pieces of food with their mouths. I also enjoyed watching them from the window as they played outside. Max frequently got into trouble by leaving the perimeter of the yard to chase the neighbor’s dog. As a result he ended up getting punished with a scolding to go inside and wear the penalty collar. I don’t know if that shame tactic actually worked, but he sure looked funny in that enormous, oversized collar.

When I was in the hospital, the nurse would get me out of bed to walk in order to keep blood clots from forming in my swollen legs, ankles and feet. After I left the hospital, I continued to walk every day with the company of the dogs. When I would walk from room to room, Max would follow me around. When I stopped, he stopped. When I walked, he walked. Sam would also follow me around the house with her chew toy. The dogs motivated me to walk more, especially when I would hear Sam’s growls from behind encouraging me to keep going.

SamHumans are social animals. We are hardwired to connect with others through the giving and receiving of love. Quite often we find it easier to love our pets more than we love each other. Perhaps it is because pets don’t judge us like other humans do, and we see their unconditional love for us every day. How many times have you left the room and noticed later how excited your dog was to see you when you had returned? This social interaction we have with our pets nurtures us, lifts our spirits, and gives us a sense of comfort and belonging. We feel better about ourselves and enter a more relaxed level of mind, which enhances our healing process. The power to heal is within all of us, and we bring that healing into greater focus through the love and affection we give and get from our pets.

As for my own healing, I was able to quit taking my prescription pain medication sooner than I expected, thanks to my healing companions, Max, Sam and Gilly.