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  • Amy Agape

Healthcare Team Critters

If you have been fortunate enough to live with a pet you consider part of your healthcare team, you know already the gifts that little critter brings to your wellness. Scientific studies have proven what many of us have already experienced -- that our pets can become acutely aware of any changes to our body, emotions, or moods. Some of the research done on dogs is included in this article.

One winter, I spent a full month on the couch, nursing a painful foot and feeling discouraged. Years of heart medications had led to a very painful form of arthritis, which made walking impossible and took a good deal of time to learn how to treat. I went on only one outing during that month -- to help my daughter choose her new guinea pig from the shelter. I bundled my aching foot up and scooted to the car. “Are you sure you want Peppercorn?” asked the woman who had created a shelter for these lovable rodents in her basement. “He’s lame, you know.”

“Yes. We want him,” replied my daughter. Her two previous guinea pigs had arrived together, and they had both passed away. These particular animals do best in pairs, but the shelter’s website said that Peppercorn would need to be a lone pig. Born with a clubfoot, he had very little mobility, and other guineas acted aggressively toward him. Grace knew that he was meant to become the newest member of our family. When we arrived and met Peppercorn, our entire family looked from the little paw curled under him to my carefully swaddled foot, and began to laugh. His front left foot was the clubbed one, and it was my left foot that was the arthritic one causing me so much trouble. Peppy began to sit with me on the couch from that day forward. And I became much less discouraged. He had taken his place on my healthcare team as cheerleader, mentor, and fan.

I eventually regained my mobility, but Peppercorn remained on my healthcare team. If I was home, he was beside me, always a reminder that moving slowly and taking frequent rest breaks are essential for my wellness.

I’m not alone in my placement of pets on my healthcare team. Anyone who has witnessed a dog walking into a longterm care facility (or even a dog walking down the street) has seen that certain people’s moods, states, and even physical experiences are made better by the presence of an animal. Indeed, in hospice some of the most cherished visits are those from our pet volunteers. Pets provide comfort and companionship without any judgment or need to change anything about who we are. Those are treasured gifts on any healthcare team.



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