A CANINE APPROACH TO PAIN CONTROL
For decades I have been a reluctant intimate of pain, and like most people in chronic pain, I’ve pursued the usual; doctors, physical therapists, massage, aroma therapy, meditation, exercise, acupuncture, surgeries, psychotherapy, medicines including, finally, an opioid medicine that worked well. Often, combinations of these works best for many of us. But even the best programs can leave us with a measure of nasty debilitating pain.
With my delightful new improvement on the opioid I discovered that as long as I rigorously paced myself in a narrow range of activity I was okay. But I knew I had probably come as far as I could in reducing the misery. A wraith of despair haunted me. Something was amiss. What it was came to me by an unhappy circumstance turned on its head.
Late last spring our 3rd golden retriever, Hunter, died suddenly. Since we’d lived with dogs for over 25 years, we decided to live animal free for a while. But our townhome felt empty, too large and too cold. We missed Hunter’s lively presence. After only 3 weeks we adopted a 6 month old scraggly, emaciated labra-doodle from a rescue outfit in the central valley of California. He was timid and sick and weighed 24 pounds. We immediately named him Dylan after the twentieth century Irish poet Dylan Thomas.
From the moment he gets up early in the morning, he’s at my side. We take our walks every day in the cool sapphire mornings. When we walk along the canals and trails I talk to Dylan, as I did with our other old pals, about everything and nothing at all; it’s a constant patter. Often as we lope along, I make up silly rhyming poems about him; point out glorious flowers, the gold’s and rusts of changing fall leaves, ducks parading in the canals, and about my writing. I also talk to him, as I did with his descendants, about how miserable I often feel.
Looking up at me with soft, knowing eyes, Dylan will often nudge my left leg with his wet nose, nudging away the pain, the despair.
Lately we’ve been walking through our downtown in Walnut Creek past shops, restaurants, alleys and squares. People we pass comment on what a cute dog Dylan is. It’s true; he’s about 25 pounds with a long, lean body sporting lengthy golden retriever fur in addition to long legs and a fuzzy face with intriguing wolfish golden eyes, and when excited, jackrabbit ears. In short, he’s striking.
He bounces along like the happiest creature in the world, and I suspect he is. Parents let their toddlers out of their walkers to pet Dylan who accepts all tributes as his rightful due. We get stopped 10 to 12 times each morning and not least by owners of other dogs. Dylan loves dogs and always wants to play, hopping and leaping in delight. We have become a fixture downtown as both of us love reaching out cheerfully to everyone we pass. Cheerfulness leaves little space for despair.
At home with me he’s a snuggler. I frequently have to lie down during the day to let the pain pass, especially after we walk, with Dylan curled up against me, or across my lap. In the morning when I read the New York Times he lies on his back tucked in between the back of the couch and my left side. He lies there on his back snuggled against me and naps, sometimes for 90 minutes.
Later when I’m at my desk writing in the guest room he lies on the bed next to my swivel chair and often stands up with his back feet planted on the bed and his front paws on the left arm rest of my chair and nibbles my ear until I’m lolling with laughter. Sometimes he stands there rather precariously just content to look out the window and rub his muzzle against my face.
What pain, what despair?
Dylan’s presence is fool-proof, I lose myself a good bit and the pain no longer sits on my chest like a blood eyed lion blasting hot waves into my face. No, when I’m absently petting Dylan, the lion, though still menacing, lies docilely on the floor across the room from me.
My recommendation is, of course obvious. Those of us in pain need a small pet to tend to, a pet we can find as cute and loveable as I find Dylan. I know that not everyone can afford a dog, or physically handle one, even a small one, but that’s why god made cats, or fish even. I grieve for those of us who can’t do this. If pets can’t work for you, let me know what might. But right now, Dylan is back on my chair chomping my hair and licking my ear.
He needs my attention, and, well…I need his.