Thursday, 24 August 2017

How Dogs Helped Me Recover from UC

The first day I met Finn, a wheaten terrier my parents were considering adopting, I was extremely sick with ulcerative colitis (UC). At 23, I was in a lot of pain and went to the bathroom close to 50 times a day, bleeding every time I went. Despite my physical state, I felt so much joy while visiting with the puppy and his brothers and sisters. Being surrounded by playful, small animals lifted my spirits and made me forget about all the pain of having an IBD.

At the time I was also mourning the loss of my dog Chili, a 15-year-old border terrier we had to put down because she was ill. Chili helped me when I first experienced symptoms of UC prior to my diagnosis. She would always lift my spirits when I visited my parents home in Canton, Ohio.

Finn helped me out in much the same way. We brought our new dog home the week before Christmas in 2012. At that time, I had started biologic treatment along with a high-dose steroid and 6-MP, an immunosuppressive drug. I moped around the house, too depressed to really do anything. I’ll never forget my parents walking through the kitchen door holding Finn. He looked like a little teddy bear and immediately brought a smile to my face.

Finn was so full of life. He loved to play in the snow, bite our hands and toes, and chase after his toys, chomping on them so they would squeak. His energy and sweet little face brought joy to my most painful days.

When my health took a turn for the worse in spring 2013 and I had a few back-to-back stints in the hospital, I always wished that Finn could come lie on my hospital bed with me and keep me company. His soft fur and warm body made the best comfort blanket.

That summer I needed surgery to have my colon removed. I was so sad that I had to be away from Finn for at least one week while I stayed in the hospital to learn how to care for my ostomy and recover from surgery. I always talked to my nurses about how much I loved and missed Finn.

A few days after my surgery, a woman came into my hospital room with a labradoodle wearing a “therapy dog” vest. Apparently, the nurses had requested that the dog visit with me because I was so sad.

My dad told me that my face instantly lit up at the sight of the dog, despite my circumstances. The dog’s name was Nala and she looked a lot like Finn. She was fluffy, white, and so sweet. I called out to her and she jumped on my bed, which technically isn’t allowed. Her owner yelled, “Nala, no!” But I insisted that she stay on my bed. It was just like I had always wanted: A soft dog to provide affection and love, completely unaware of the pain and sadness that filled the room before her presence.

Meeting Nala that day made me happier than I had been since I walked into the hospital and learned that I had to have my colon removed. From there my recovery progressed quickly and I was able to leave the hospital early so I could continue my recovery at home with Finn.

Throughout my trials with UC, I have always counted on Finn to help ease my discomfort. He has such an original personality, and when he looks at me with his brown eyes it melts my heart. Finn loves to sit on anyone’s lap, and always brings a toy to the door when someone comes home.

If you’re struggling with ulcerative colitis there are many ways you can connect with animals to help you heal. Some include:

#Consider adopting a pet.

#Ask a friend or family member if you can cuddle with one of their pets.

#Ask your local hospital if you can receive a visit from their therapy dog.

#Visit an animal shelter or adoption event in your neighborhood.

#Therapy dogs and other animals truly do make such a difference and can help with emotions during an illness. I was blessed with two of the best therapy dogs, who helped me smile even when the pain from UC made it hard.
Finn’s quirks undoubtedly helped me heal from surgeries and hospital stays. He has caught a lot of my tears and has been on the receiving end of so many of my kisses. I like to think that Finn was a gift to me from Chili, like she knew that I was going to encounter a battle and didn’t want me to feel alone or sad. I know that I can always count on Finn for emotional support.

Brooke Bogdan is a public relations specialist, blogger, and IBD advocate living in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. She is also founder of the online magazine Companion, a publication that offers support and guidance for people with IBD. She's in school part-time for web development and enjoys working out, writing, and spending time with friends and family.

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