Pets and Chronic Illness
What are the pros and cons of getting a pet when you have a chronic illness? Animal lover and M.E. Support Ambassador Rochelle Hanslow shares her experience with us in this new article. She writes, “The bond you build with a pet is unlike any bond you can build with a human: they show a level of unconditional love, loyalty and companionship that is just beyond human capabilities and it is that that makes having them a huge ray of light to someone with chronic illness, but it’s a journey that isn’t at times without its setbacks.” You can read an extract from her heartwarming and informative article in this month’s blog post.
As an avid animal lover, especially of dogs, when Louise asked me if I’d like to write an article about having pets when you’re chronically ill, I accepted right away. I am what is known as a caninetrovert: I prefer to spend my time with dogs over the company of humans; the more I am around people the bigger a caninetrovert I become. The bond you build with a pet is unlike any bond you can build with a human: they show a level of unconditional love, loyalty and companionship that is just beyond human capabilities and it is that that makes having them a huge ray of light to someone with chronic illness, but it’s a journey that isn’t at times without its setbacks. I would like to share with you my own personal experience and the experiences of some lovely “Spoonies” that I know, with the hope of giving some insight into having pets while dealing with chronic illness to those who have been thinking about possibly bringing a pet into their lives.
As mentioned above, I’m all about dogs, I love all animals, always have since I was a little girl, but if there was ever an animal I gravitated to more than others, it was a dog. Growing up, I faced many challenges with events that happened in my family and I always felt uncomfortable around people; I felt alone even in groups of people and didn’t ever really fit in. I didn’t have many friends and looking back now, I don’t really think I ever felt that I wanted any because most of the ones I had weren’t really friends. As much as I could sometimes be sad in my own company, I almost preferred that to being around people and feeling alone and different. The first dog that stole a piece of my heart was owned by one of my parents: his name was Dylan and he was a beautiful tri-colour Rough Collie. The sweetest, most genuine soul I had ever known, he was the kind of dog that if you had a cut on your leg, he’d lie beside you and lick the wound because he wanted to help make it better. I loved watching him run freely around the dog park we used to take him to, he was so graceful, but he had a very cheeky side to him too and it was wonderful to see. He became my best friend growing up and he was still on the day I had to make the decision to ease his pain at sixteen years old. I think of him so fondly to this day and I will never forget him. What made the passing of Dylan only the slightest bit easier was that at the time I had my own dog, Vader. Dylan had come to live with me when my parent had to move to accommodation that wasn’t suitable for pets and I happily took Dylan under my wing for the last few years of his life. During that time, I got Vader: he was a black Labrador, full of love and mischief galore. Vader was two when Dylan passed, and without Vader I couldn’t have dealt as well as I did with Dylan’s passing, as there was still that companionship and sense of routine in my life.
I got Vader on 24th October 2008 and I had ten wonderful years with him, until 11th November 2018. At the time of writing this, it is almost six months since I lost my boy Vader and I’m still grieving. I was diagnosed with all my illnesses when Vader was in my life and he always adapted with me. It was thanks to Vader on numerous occasions that my husband was alerted to me having fallen, fainted or had some sort of seizure. Investigations into my illness started in February 2013: I had fainted and hit my head on the top of my the stairs in our home and it was Vader who found me, alerted my husband (my fiancé at the time) and sat with me until I came around. In the past six years of being chronically ill, there have been very dark times, times where I have felt so much anger and frustration for the life I now have to lead, and each time I knew I could turn to Vader and he would be there for me: he would lie with me in bed, giving me comfort and an ear to talk to, and when I fell asleep he would go from sleeping to guarding me to cuddling into me again. Of course, as with any relationship when chronic illness is a factor, there was strain and guilt; Vader was so strong by the time I was diagnosed, it meant I could no longer walk him, so I had to leave that part of his care to my husband. He would come with us on holidays up to the Scottish Highlands and it made me sad I couldn’t climb the hill walks that he so would’ve loved, but Vader being Vader, he didn’t care: he was with me, He happily ran around the land our lodge was on while I sat on a chair on the porch and watched him. He loved just sitting with me, watching the scenery and the world pass by. I missed being able to have our bonding time on walks but I tried my best to make sure that we had a bit of play time at home in the garden and in the house and he very often came in the car with us on day trip adventures. Once I had our boys, the bond I had with Vader grew stronger, as he not only showed me loyalty and companionship, but he watched over our boys from pregnancy to them being born to them reaching milestones. With my youngest son, Carson, I had a kidney infection near the later stage of my pregnancy and I remember saying to my husband a few days before the doctor diagnosed it, “Vader keeps lying behind me when I’m sitting on the couch or trying to lie on across my back when I’m lying on my side; that’s been every day for the last four days”; he knew before I did that I had an infection and he wanted to try and help me. My chronic illness journey has seen me lose friends I never thought I would lose, it has adapted the life I thought I would have, and it has changed many factors in the relationship I have with my husband; in many ways, I feel if it hadn’t been for Vader, I don’t know if I could’ve kept pushing through.
The day I had to make the decision to let him go came very suddenly: he hadn’t shown any signs of illness at all, then within a few hours during the early morning he deteriorated to a point where he wasn’t able to stand; his last steps were out of my bedroom to the landing on the stairs and it was like he didn’t want me to see him like that because he knew how much it would upset me. I lay on the stairs with him until my husband went to get my mother, who lives close by, to look after our boys, who were still in bed, and I told him he had been with me every time I needed him and I wasn’t going to leave him. I quietly talked away to him; in the past, when he was stressed with fireworks etc., I would sing a song to him, so I did that. We took him to the vet and she confirmed that I needed to make the decision, the one that took every bit of courage and strength inside me that I could muster. I’ve been through a lot of darkness in my life: I’ve lost people to death and other circumstances beyond my control but losing Vader has hit me with more force than I could ever have imagined. I miss all he was so very much: I miss his snore at night, I miss him waiting for my husband to get off the bed so he could jump up and lie beside me, I miss his beautiful eyes and his happy face. He will always hold a huge part of my heart and soul, and I will think of him every day until I meet him again. He was like a soul mate to me and one who changed my life: without him, I don’t feel the same. I suppose that is a dog’s only fault – their short time with us.
Please continue to Pets and Chronic Illness for part two of this article.