My years as a conventional and integrative veterinarian have taught me that the human-animal bond goes beyond companionship. Animals are here to be our guides and teachers, and to help us on this journey called life. The most important lesson they teach us is to love without judgment. They view us as special people, whether or not the rest of the world agrees.
Our animal companions are also here to help us heal physical and emotional ailments. I remember a very special cat named Stuart. Stuart’s guardian brought him to me for his diabetes. He told me that Stuart was a very, very gifted cat, so I had to help him. This man’s child had died from leukemia, and he believed that Stuart had given his son two more years of life. When the doctors said that his son had only weeks to live, Stuart stayed by his side night and day. He was such a comfort to the little boy. The child made a miraculous turn around, and lived another two years. Stuart’s guardian was convinced that the cat was responsible for his child’s rally.
Now the father had developed a nerve tumor, and knew that Stuart would be there for him. I just had to make him well again. (No pressure there.) I remember thinking that the doctors probably changed the child’s chemotherapy, and that while Stuart had been a wonderful companion, there was no way he was really responsible for helping the child. Now that I understand the energy of the human-animal bond, and the amazing ability of animals to help us heal, I’m not so sure. Chemo or cat? Perhaps it was a bit of both.
I’m sure many of you have heard stories of animals that wouldn’t leave a sick child or a grieving widower’s side. In the days following 9/11, the dogs brought in as comfort to the rescue workers were as important as the search and resuce dogs. I can’t forget the experience of losing a canine patient to smoke inhalation. This beautiful, young airedale pulled his toddler companion out of a burning house. The child is alive today because of his dog. Some would say I’m just anthropomorphizing — giving human qualities to an animal. Am I anthropomorphizing when I say the dog acted as any firefighter would? I don’t think so. Was it a coincidence that this particular dog came into this family’s lives? I don’t believe so. And would the airedale do it all over again? You bet he would.
Adapted from Through A Dog’s Ear: Using Sound to Improve the Health and Behavior of Your Canine Companion, Sounds True Publishing, 2007.