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The Role of Pets in The Healing Process

Updated on February 19, 2023
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John is a nature and animal lover. He now has five cats, three hens, and various backyard visitors.

Coco, reluctantly having photo taken.
Coco, reluctantly having photo taken. | Source

A Home For Amber.

About four years ago we arrived home from a day in town, began to unload the groceries from the car, and as usual were greeted with loud yips and barks from our three dogs, Coco, Pearl, and Rolly.

Only this time, there were four.

We had somehow obtained a new addition to the family, a small amber coloured Pomeranian. I looked at my wife a little puzzled, and she looked the same. Normally our dogs wouldn't let any other dog or cat anywhere near the property. But here was the new visitor, with them, and acting like she'd been here for years, and already part of the family. Even our four cats didn't issue a challenge.

After we unpacked the car I had a closer inspection of the visitor and confirmed the dog was female, in rather poor condition and covered in fleas and ticks. Wherever she had been living, it was obvious she had not been well cared for.

Now, came the ethical dilemma. We had an idea where her previous home was. There was a property some two kilometres away where Pomeranians were bred. The owners had about 20 dogs, and we had sometimes seen one or two straying onto the road in front of their gate when we'd driven past. Their neighbours were friends of ours and had given us bad reports, such as the dogs being kept inside the house, faeces everywhere, howling all hours of the night. Then,there was the obvious poor condition of the dog in our possession. If she was from there, she had clearly been badly treated.

After consideration, we decided not to approach the couple we thought she had belonged to. She had found her way to our house, if she wanted to go back where she came from she was free to do that. We did agree though, that should someone advertise in the newspaper or on the radio for a lost dog meeting her description and in the same area, that we would reply.

The clincher, however, for not approaching the couple we thought to be the previous owners, was some information we received that they were in the habit of sending their dogs interstate to have them de-barked (removal of their voice box) so they would make less noise. This process is illegal in our state of Queensland.

Roly, the Marema
Roly, the Marema | Source

Part Of The Family

I spent hours removing the hundreds of ticks and then bathing her in a flea and tick wash and brushing her as well. She soon looked like a new dog.

We tried to call her by a few common dog names that came to mind but she wouldn't come to any, although she was starving and the mere whiff of food had her running. "Amber" was the name we gave her (due to her colouring) at least temporarily, in case someone did claim her.

By the end of the week she was still with us, and had begun to respond to her new name, and even began to bark with the others if someone arrived at the property. This allayed our suspicion that Amber had been de-barked, and It was like she'd lived here for years.

Well, no one else ever claimed her so Amber remained part of our family. Other dogs came and went over the next two years. Pearl, a shih tzu/chihuahua cross, went missing one night, never to return, and Rolly, a marema (large Italian sheepdog), died in unfortunate circumstances. A few months later we were told of a couple of pedigree miniature poodles who needed a new home, and so we aquired Jackson (Belissima Black Knight)and Ginger (Franelle Gingerbelle).

Amazing Proof of the Healing Power of Animals

Loving and Grieving

Jackson and Ginger were both four years old when we took them in, and had had two litters of puppies together before. However, while Jackson was still intact, Ginger had been spayed after her last litter. We had no idea how old Amber was when she came to stay with us, but the fact that she was missing some teeth, and seemed to have arthritis in one back leg suggested she was far from a puppy.

All was fine until one day Amber 'came on heat'. Jackson ditched his previous poodle love Ginger, and fell head over heels in love anew, with the Pomeranian, Amber. We couldn't keep them apart.

In mid 2010 Amber gave birth to two pups (after a long and difficult labour, ably assisted by my wife, Kathy). One however was not breathing and could not be revived, so she was left with one healthy bouncing girl puppy. A poodle x pomeranian is called a 'pompoo', though it has not been officially recognised as a breed yet, unlike the 'labradoodle'.

We needed to find a home for the new addition and began to ask around. Some friends of ours had an old fox terrier, Harry, who had been in ailing health, almost deaf and partially blind. They were having to consider having him put down so he wouldn't have to suffer. We offered them the puppy to replace their other dog and to ease the pain a little when they had to do the inevitable.

They were reluctant at first, but eventually agreed, and six weeks later Amber's pup found a new home. They named her Ebony, and from the time they took her home, Harry gained a new lease of life having a pup to play with. He lasted another six months and was much more content. Having already had the new dog settle into the household helped shorten the grieving process for the loss of their other beloved pet.

The poodles, Jackson and Ginger.
The poodles, Jackson and Ginger. | Source

Spike's Arrival

Another year passed, and my wife had become friends with another woman through an Internet Craft group. After getting to know each other and swapping various crafts, knitted items, yarns etc., Kathy found out that her friend had cancer and had been suffering from the disease for some time. For privacy reasons I will not reveal the friend's real name, but let's call her Sarah.

Kathy and I at the time were President and Secretary of Hope Bears Queensland, a charity that co-ordinates the making of teddy bears, knee rugs, chemo caps, socks etc for people suffering from cancer. We supplied a few such items to Sarah.

Sarah and her husband Steven are in there mid 30s, but have never been able to have children. They live in an apartment complex in Sydney, with a 14 year old cat Felix. Sarah's mother had been concerned for her daughter's health and uncertain prognosis, and suggested they should get another pet. It would help take Sarah's mind off her illness, and if the worst-case scenario should happen, then her husband Steven would still have something to love and care for.

In October 2011, Amber surprisingly gave birth to a single puppy. We hadn't even realized that she was pregnant and thought she would be too old now to conceive. Once again Jackson, the poodle, was the father. Another long and difficult birth, but the result one rather large boy pup. Kathy immediately thought of her friend Sarah, and asked her if they would like to give this new pup a home. We thought giving a live puppy would be a whole different level to providing a stuffed teddy bear or knee rug.

She emailed them photos, and they fell in love, agreeing excitedly to the suggestion. They even decided on a name, "Spike", which we started to call him from that moment on.

Just born.
Just born. | Source

Bound For Sydney

Spike's vaccinations were arranged and I booked flights for Kathy and I and the pup to fly to Sydney when he turned six weeks old and could leave his mother.

Steven met us at the airport and I could almost see a tear in his eye when we handed Spike to him. He placed the tiny black dog on his lap as he drove us to his house to also meet Sarah for the first time.

Although it was the first time we'd met it seemed as though we had known each other for years. Sarah fell in love with Spike immediately, and they quickly bonded. When we got back to the hotel, Kathy and I smiled at each other, feeling so satisfied that what we'd brought about. When our stay was over and Steven drove us back to the airport, he couldn't thank us enough. He was amazed in the change in Sarah after just two days of having Spike in the house.

Curious cat.
Curious cat. | Source
Amber and Spike.
Amber and Spike. | Source

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What a long flight!
What a long flight! | Source

The Healing

Almost two years have passed since we delivered Spike to his new 'parents' in Sydney. Sarah and Steven treat him like a child, and he even gets on with the old cat, Tom. Unfortunately Sarah's mother has since passed away, but her last request was to have Spike at her bedside. This wish was granted.

The best news of all is that Sarah's cancer is now in remission. Steven says that having a dog has given her an extra reason to live, and it has even made their relationship stronger. Has having Spike to love and care for been responsible for Sarah's remission? Who knows for sure, but it definitely hasn't been detrimental to her health.

This all came to be as a result of a small runaway Pomeranian that decided to choose us as her new family. Some things are just meant to be.

Amber in 2013 (since deceased)
Amber in 2013 (since deceased) | Source

© 2013 John Hansen


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