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The wonderful power of pets

Author Linda Gomez and pet Zia; submitted photo

By Linda Gomez

I first understood the power of pet therapy when I was a student at UBC working on my BSN.

In my fourth year, in a course that focused on chronic illness, I was challenged to identify something unique that a set of patients at Pearson Hospital needed. They were mostly a younger population, and they suffered from severe spasticity; some of them drooled a lot. I realized that they rarely experienced touch – from other people, or from any other creatures, either.

I had a friend named Jane who had a pet lop-eared rabbit named Chuck, and I thought of taking Chuck into the facility to see how the patients responded.

The funny part is, my husband and I knew another couple – both human -- whose names were Jane and Chuck. When my husband heard me calling Jane, and asking her if I could borrow Chuck every week for a couple of months, he did wonder why I wanted to borrow someone else’s husband!

Jane the bunny-owner (not Jane the wife of Chuck the human) allowed me to borrow her rabbit, and I took Chuck the lop-eared bunny into the facility.  If the patients consented, I’d place Chuck on their beds and let him hop around.  I’d make sure they felt Chuck’s soft furry little body on their arms, and even their faces.  During our “Chuck time” we’d really get into it.

Sometimes the patients would cry a bit.  When I asked them about their tears, they expressed that they weren’t sad – on the contrary, they said it was so nice to have time to talk, and that they hadn’t been touched in a long, long time, and that Chuck made them feel really good.

That experience made me think, and I ended up writing a paper about pet therapy.

I have always had cats (never enough), but I had taken them for granted.  Looking back on the experience with Chuck the lop-eared bunny and the patients at Pearson, I started thinking about the positive impact pets have on our lives.  While I know I’m speaking to the converted in Rossland, I think it’s timely to point out how important these dear souls are to us during these turbulent times and how they can help to sustain us.

Many of us have pets; most of us don’t think about them as providing therapy, but they do. I mean, your dog is just happy to see you when you come home, right? She loves you so much, she runs to greet you; you smell her, hug her and look into her bright young eyes (or his rheumy old ones). S/he asks so little of you. Instead, she is a buffet for your senses.

She’s your best friend, she doesn’t judge you at all. But of course, after all the loving, you must wash your hands.  According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), there is no evidence to suggest animals transmit Covid 19 to us, but we must all be scrupulous about washing our hands after contact – with anyone, including our pets.  What is it -- twenty seconds sudsing with soap and warm water, then a  good rinse.  Small price to pay for all that love and comfort.

For those who do not work outside the home, and for everyone now that we are not to leave our homes unless absolutely necessary in these times of social distancing, our pets may be the only daily direct connection we have with other beings.  Most people have access to the internet, but not everyone does, and those of us without internet are at real risk of social isolation. 

Staying at home can be desperately lonely and having a companion cat, dog, or even a fuzzy tarantula named Shelly, can provide the much-needed connection that helps keep us on an even keel. Our pets may very well be our saving grace. 

Who would have thought YouTube would be overrun with cat videos?  When the Covid 19 pandemic really got serious, what surfaced again?  More cat videos.  And a fabulous two minute instructional video featuring a dog named Pluto just about blew up the internet, and brought millions of people together. The point is, pets connect us, and quite often, they make us laugh, but that’s a topic for another article.

If you don’t have a pet, now might be time to consider fostering or adopting. The SPCA provides general information on fostering animals here, and the West Kootenay branch of the SPCA in Castlegar is currently restricting public access to their facility during the pandemic; but they invite people to look at the pets available for adoption in this area on their website and to get in touch online.

If you have pets, say thanks to your wonderful companions who are probably resting beside you as you read this and who give far more than they take. Please give them loving care.