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ME/CFS and the Magic of the Canine Factor

Jody Smith has been taken by surprise by the value of having a dog when dealing with ME/CFS …

cleo-tulips

Cleo

There’s been plenty of research indicating that having pets is good for your health. I never really noticed any particular benefits to having cats, though that may have had more to do with my cats. They’ve been fairly indifferent to my presence and we’ve shared a live-and-let-live type of relationship over the years.

Then I got a dog.

I didn’t even want this dog in the beginning, to be honest. My son Duncan had adopted Cleo, a German Shepherd-Lab mix that had ended up at the Humane Society after an injury that required amputation of her back left leg. But after many months Duncan realized that he couldn’t meet her particular needs.

We don’t know how long Cleo had been on her own, nor how long her leg had been broken before she was rescued. We do know that the experience had left her quite traumatized, and she would become hysterical if left alone in a room for more than 30 seconds.

Duncan couldn’t stay with her 24 hours a day and was becoming desperate about what to do with her. She ended up living with me, my husband Alan and our other son Jesse. I work at home online, Alan is retired due to fibromyalgia and Jesse has ME/CFS, like me. There is always someone at home, and that meant that our house was perfect for Cleo.

When we first got her, I was immensely hampered by a bad knee — it was swollen, sore, and incapable of bearing my weight. I could limp around the house but I couldn’t take Cleo for walks. For various reasons, neither could my two guys.

For the first couple of months, in order to allow Cleo some degree of exercise, I would go in the backyard with her many times a day, and limp around the yard, encouraging her to run. I threw sticks that she would fetch. Well, not exactly fetch. She would get the stick and refuse to give it back to me. So I’d throw another one, and pick up the first one after she dropped it to chase the second one.

This took a lot out of me but it was doable, and that was the extent of her exercise during those first months. After I started seeing a chiropractor for my knee, it started slowly to get better. Then I was able to walk around the yard with her. It hurt too much to walk on pavement, so we stayed on the grass. Both of us got a little exercise. My chiropractor was pleased, she said this would be therapy for my bad knee.

After a little more improvement, I started walking to the first Stop sign near our house. The pavement was hard on my knee, and it hurt during and after our walk. But I was careful not to overdo it and with more encouragement from my chiropractor who could see the ongoing improvement, I persevered.

Eventually we were able to walk to the second Stop sign before turning back toward home. I’d be sore, and out of breath because of having been so out of shape for so long, but Cleo was happy for any activity at all, and whatever pace and distance I was up for, she was in favour of it.

Now, more than a year later, we can walk at a normal (well, normal for someone with ME/CFS) rate for half an hour or more. I am better able to keep up with her, without being dragged at my end of the leash so much.

I know that if I hadn’t had to walk Cleo every day, plenty of those days I would have decided to stay inside. But I didn’t want to disappoint the dog. And in the long run, it helped me to regain the use of my knee.

I thought we must have looked pretty interesting — the three-legged dog out walking with the woman with the gimpy left leg limping along behind her. But now we sail along.

Walking Cleo has proven beneficial in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. Though I’ve lived in my house for 20 years, I know almost nobody in my neighborhood these days. I have gone for walks by myself on these streets for years, without seeing a soul I recognized, and without any greetings or conversations from people on those streets. But in the last year or so with Cleo, I have met many of the people who live in my subdivision.

Some of them stop their car to tell me what a great dog I have. Some approach us on the street, or come out to the road from their yards to see Cleo and have a little chat. She is so used to this that any time someone says “Hello” on the street, she will lay down on her belly and wait for them to come scratch her behind her left ear — the one she can’t scratch by herself, having no back left leg.

She is well-known in our subdivision, and she has helped immeasurably to diminish the feeling of being invisible that so often accompanies a chronic condition like ME/CFS.

The sense of isolation and loneliness that is also part of the chronic package has also eased somewhat, for all of us at the Smith house. She follows me around the house, always interested in knowing what we might be doing next.

She sleeps in Jesse’s room, and cuddles with him. She is his friend who requires little and offers up unconditional love and attention. When he’s tired and needs to be curled up on his bed, she is happy to spend time with him.

When Alan grabs his shoes, getting ready to go out to do some shopping, or run errands, Cleo protests, begging him to stay home with her. When he gets back, she meets him at the door, with tail wagging, looking for a chin scratch and a dog biscuit. When he sits down, she lays at his feet, content that all her people are back in the nest where she thinks we all belong.

Do you have a pet that brings greater soundness to your soul?

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{ 58 comments… add one }

  • Jody September 13, 2014, 9:43 pm

    Son of Jesse does better than me.:)

  • belize44 September 20, 2014, 4:57 pm

    My cat is so precious to me because I don't have to take her for walks. When I am doing worse than usual, she will come and lay close to me, purring and gazing at me in concern with those large, gorgeous green eyes. I got her from the pound when she was nine months old, and it's now been 9 years since I brought her into my life. She saves me from isolation while my husband is at work, and carries on conversations with me when I talk to her.

  • Jody September 20, 2014, 6:51 pm
    belize44

    My cat is so precious to me because I don't have to take her for walks. When I am doing worse than usual, she will come and lay close to me, purring and gazing at me in concern with those large, gorgeous green eyes. I got her from the pound when she was nine months old, and it's now been 9 years since I brought her into my life. She saves me from isolation while my husband is at work, and carries on conversations with me when I talk to her.

    Belize44,

    Sounds like a great comfort and great company. Cats can be very loving. Mine isn't:) but I have had other affectionate tabbies over the years.

  • Goodness to M.E. September 22, 2014, 2:13 am

    Thank you so much Jody for sharing such a great story of enlightenment and joy.

    After a long time being bedridden and running out of options to have my dog walked by others, the option to re-home him was unbearable as he had sat by my the side all this time and I never felt alone or isolated. Atticus was my best loyal friend and a friend like this is difficult to find and keep when having M.E.

    To keep my best friend, like you I slowly, one step at a time commenced walking him to the park 10 minutes from our home, this took many weeks but I had also made a 15 meter lead so he could run around and exercise till we eventually celebrated our arrival onto the park bench where I could lay down and rest while Atticus ran around some more.

    We forget sometimes that most tasks in life start and finish with 'one-step-at-a-time', a dose of determination and as always, hope.

    The achievements and friendships made along the way not only brighten our day our health improves also.

  • Jody September 22, 2014, 11:47 pm
    Goodness to M.E.

    Thank you so much Jody for sharing such a great story of enlightenment and joy.

    After a long time being bedridden and running out of options to have my dog walked by others, the option to re-home him was unbearable as he had sat by my the side all this time and I never felt alone or isolated. Atticus was my best loyal friend and a friend like this is difficult to find and keep when having M.E.

    To keep my best friend, like you I slowly, one step at a time commenced walking him to the park 10 minutes from our home, this took many weeks but I had also made a 15 meter lead so he could run around and exercise till we eventually celebrated our arrival onto the park bench where I could lay down and rest while Atticus ran around some more.

    We forget sometimes that most tasks in life start and finish with 'one-step-at-a-time', a dose of determination and as always, hope.

    The achievements and friendships made along the way not only brighten our day our health improves also.

    Goodness to M.E.,

    That sounds very much like how I gradually worked up my way to be able to walk Cleo. Seems like everything I've managed to do since I got sick has had to be accomplished by starting with teeny tiny steps and slowly increasing them.

  • Goodness to M.E. October 22, 2014, 12:46 am
    Jody

    Goodness to M.E.,

    That sounds very much like how I gradually worked up my way to be able to walk Cleo. Seems like everything I've managed to do since I got sick has had to be accomplished by starting with teeny tiny steps and slowly increasing them.

    Exactly! and it is a shame some here are not willing to try this as a self help option for independence improvement.
    M.E. is a multi-facet dis-ease and can only be tackled by one issue at a time, at least in my experience anyway.

  • Jody October 27, 2014, 1:18 am

    Goodness to ME

    I think it totally varies from one individual to another as to what is possible to accomplish. I know that for me there was a time when walking a dog even to the stop sign would have beyond me. Even contemplating the idea would have been overwhelming.

    There were times when the thought of trying to get out of bed was more than I could do, and wisely, I did not attempt it.

    I would not be prepared to assume who is able to do more than they are doing or who is not. We have enough people making those judgments without doing it to each other here. Each of us must determine for ourselves what it is safe and appropriate for us to attempt without being second-guessed about it.

  • Goodness to M.E. October 27, 2014, 2:18 am

    Thanks for sharing your opinion on my thoughts Jody.

    There is no such thing as right or wrong: only thinking makes it so!

    My experience of dealing with any chronic illness with others and from my own experience is that often we focus on the things that we cannot change or control instead of what we can or maybe able to and do.

    Everything in life starts with small steps no matter what, an idea, a savings plan, recovery from illness and a
    a life worth living………even with chronic illness.

    For example this website has been a great insight for me:

    There is no world agreement, treatment or cure for M.E. (I'm not talking about the 1980's bogus CFS).

    Whether we like it or not, there is no reasonable or affordable access to any competent medical treatment that is of any great benefit no matter where one lives in a 1st world country for M.E. suffers.

    No one here or on other similar websites claim to have been cured and in most cases, not been able to return to their former life no matter how many doctors they try, how many tests they have, or how many medications, treatments or supplements they take.

    Therefore the choice to stop this merry-go-round of medical pursuit was a significant turning point for me.

    I have stopped doing this and use the gained time, money and energy to eat and live well within my ability with gratefulness.

    How did I reach this point after years of being unwell – research into how other chronically ill people and those who endured horrific life experiences and how they redesigned their lives and developed a meaningful life where their chronic illness or experiences did not define who they are.

    This also required brutal self honesty and being insightful enough to read what happens to others when they only focus on external responsibility and expectation, blame and entitlement, this victim mode is rift as is how this plays out for them so negatively and nothing changes let alone gets any better. Just because we are sick does not entitle us to expect, demand or be bad mannered.

    From this I have 3 rules I live by every day:

    I dont look sick,
    I dont be sick,
    I dont talk sick,
    unless asked and then only for a minute before changing the subject unless at a regular medical appointment every 6 months.

    This is my mind set and it works for me along with being mindful of my feelings, I always ask myself, is this feeling a child feeling or an adult feeling therefore how do I best respond?

    I would not presume anything that works for me would work for others here, but then I didn't do all my research here either.

    All people are entitled to choose how they live their life, my only suggestion is that if that's not working for you, maybe it's time to try something different.

    I'm the 'something different' and it's a great place to be!

    And if that makes me a 'Tall Poppy' I can live well with that too!