by Kerry Heckman
It’s a proven fact that pets help us heal. Just petting your animal all by itself is known to lower blood pressure. It will also release the relaxation hormone oxytocin in your body and decrease the stress hormone cortisol. Studies also show people with pets are less likely to feel lonely and more likely feel happier.
My dog Scooter follows wherever I go. If I’m sitting on the couch, he’s lying there right next to me. If I’m in in the kitchen cooking, he’s standing there waiting for me to drop him some crumbs. On days when I’m in bed, he’s curled up by my side as close to me as possible. He’s like my little security blanket (who barks a lot).
I didn’t grow up with pets. In fact, I was scared of or indifferent to dogs for most of my life. It was my husband who wanted a dog. I felt like it would be a burden on our busy lives and too much work. Despite my hesitations, I started looking on the website petfinder.com, a site that matches shelter dogs with families. I quickly warmed up to the idea of providing one of these big-eyed furballs with a loving home.
When I came across Nolen’s profile he was eight weeks old and weighed only seven pounds. I’d thought about contacting the shelter about other dogs I’d seen on the website, but I never did. Once I saw the darling white puppy with the two black eye patches, I immediately emailed the shelter. I was told that Nolen was ours. We changed his name to Scooter and he’s been our constant companion for nine years.
During the last three of those years, I’ve been really sick with Lyme disease. I’ve loved Scooter from day one, but in these last three years, I’ve come to really appreciate on a new deep level the joy he has brought into my life.
It’s a proven fact that pets help us heal. Just petting your animal all by itself is known to lower blood pressure. It will also release the relaxation hormone oxytocin in your body and decrease the stress hormone cortisol. Studies also show people with pets are less likely to feel lonely and more likely to feel happier.
On my worst days, Scooter is the one thing that can make me smile. His silly little quirks, like spending ten minutes forming a blanket into a bed or running to fetch a ball and never bringing it back, always boost my mood. Every pet has a different personality and can make us laugh when little else in life can.
After I became ill, I left my full-time job for a part-time job. Now I’m home a lot more. Since my husband works full-time and we don’t have children, Scooter keeps me company and keeps me from feeling isolated. Even if he can’t talk, I know he’s always there. He also forces me to go outside when he needs a walk. He doesn’t know that I have a chronic illness, and his needs aren’t going to wait for me to feel better. Sometimes I have no energy left and it’s incredibly difficult, but at least it gets me out in the fresh air and moving my stiff muscles and joints.
Scooter allows me to care for someone other than myself. Sometimes I feel helpless like I’m not contributing, but pets are relatively easy to take care of and it’s one simple way we can give to something beyond our basic needs. Scooter needs to be fed twice a day and given a lot of love, which even on bad days is something I can handle.
It’s true that pets are highly empathetic. They can sense when you are sad or in pain. When I’m down, Scooter won’t leave my side. I don’t know how he knows, but he knows. If I’m crying, he licks the tears away from my face. I wish people were as sensitive to others’ feeling as he is to mine. Maybe then there wouldn’t be so much sadness among those fighting chronic illnesses, a community that often feels completely feeling invisible to society at large.
Scrolling through other Lyme patients blogs and social media, there are so many posts about our with four-legged friends. It’s clear I’m not the only one whose pet is my everything. When I walk through the door and Scooter’s face lights up, when he jumps up for a pat on the head, I forget about my illness, even if just for a moment.
Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.
Kerry J. Heckman authors the wellness and lifestyle blog Words Heal. Kerry was [finally] diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease in 2016, her journey with invisible illness began over 10 years prior.