This I Believe

Elizabeth - Skowhegan, Maine
Entered on January 12, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

THE BEST KIND OF THERAPY

After my mother got in a horrific car accident, she had to spend nearly four months at home recovering. My brother, aunts and I helped take care of her and two home health nurses visited our house regularly. We tried to make sure that she was comfortable, fed, and mentally stimulated, but the truth is that spending all day every day at home can drive an intelligent woman insane. Thankfully, animals are the best therapists. My mother later told me that, if it weren’t for our (then) two-year-old standard poodle, she would have been much more miserable. Abbie kept my mother company. She stayed by her side the entire time, and Mom could tell her fears and pains to Abbie so that she could be cheerful and strong for us kids when we came home. Abbie was someone to talk to, to confide in; and although she couldn’t speak back, she listened.

In the early stages of my own cancer when I stayed in the hospital for prolonged periods of time, I would get depressed because I am very much what you would call a strong willed, “outdoorsy” girl. Being cooped up in a hospital, not being able to do what I wanted or needed to do, just turned my world upside-down. I was always cheerful on the outside, but on the inside I longed just to go outside, walk my dog, ride a horse, or clean a stall. I remember one day when two therapy dogs came in with their handlers. Imagine my joy! The bigger dog got up on my bed and for a moment I was in total bliss. Finally, animal contact again! Words can’t even explain how this completely brightened my mood. That dog made me feel connected to something I knew: he healed my heart.

Later in life I decided to give people that same feeling of hope, joy, and acceptance, so I started bringing my dog Lily to hospitals and nursing homes. If you could only see these people’s faces light up! Elderly folk who hadn’t spoken in months would smile widely and say, “Isn’t she cunning?” Sick or injured children immediately perked up and became normal kids again, patting Lily and playing fetch with her.

Dogs, cats, horses– all animals can be great therapists. They listen. They play. They care. They are there for us. They know when we need to be consoled, and they sit with us until we are all cried out and comforted. They know when we need to feel normal again, and they amuse us with their playful antics. People don’t have to be sick or injured—sometimes we’re simply stressed out, upset, angry, or sad. At those times, I guarantee that if you were to take five minutes to really look into your dog’s eyes, pat your cat, brush your horse, or play with your bird, your mood would certainly brighten. I declare this with such conviction because I believe in the healing effects that animals have on the human heart.