How Animals Can Help

I confess that I’m not a dog person. When I was a young child with rheumatoid arthritis and shaky balance, a dog rushing at me or jumping on me for affection was my worst nightmare and it only went down from there. Even now dogs can give me anxiety as they always seem to jump at my wheelchair when I am motoring down the sidewalk.

Service animals for health issues

But I firmly believe that animals can help people with RA or other health issues. Recently, I learned about dogs trained to sense changes in blood sugar in a person with diabetes so that they can alert the patient or a family member to provide help. Animals can be companions, trained for special tasks, and groomed to support people with a variety of illnesses or disabilities.

In my case, I don’t have an animal specially trained to assist me. However, friends have had assistive dogs to help fetch objects, complete tasks, and get around. Seeing-eye dogs may be well known, but there are other kinds of highly-trained dogs that can help people with chronic conditions.

Animals for emotional support

Don’t look past the emotional component as well. In my case, having cats has been very soothing and emotionally-supportive. My cat always knows when I am not feeling well. She will lay next to me in bed and spend the day near me. Even when I am achy, crabby, and tired, it helps to have a warm, cuddly kitty trying to comfort me with her presence.

What can we learn for animals?

It may seem counterintuitive, but I also think that having someone else to care for (who provides back unconditional support and love) is also important. I feel better when I am distracted from my own pain and am able to help or care for someone else. Petting my cat and hearing her purr, makes me forget about my own troubles for a while.

Animals take care of themselves

I try to take lessons from the wisdom of animals. My cat is excellent at taking good care of herself, starting with eating well and taking time to bathe and groom. She never hesitates to get the sleep that she needs. And when she has a complaint, she lets me know with a curt meow or direct gaze with her eyes. My cat doesn’t hold back, hesitate, or fail to pursue her daily needs. Yet somehow, she also manages to look after me.

I wish that I could take as good care of myself as my cat! I often get too little sleep and don’t set enough time aside for myself. My suspicion is that if my cat were achy, she would take care of herself. She wouldn’t push herself through a day that would leave her in more pain and exhaustion than when she started.

Humans have a hard time practicing self-care

Humans are a type of animal, but sometimes I feel my brain gets in the way of this purity—of seeing my health needs and working to fulfill them. Spending time with my cat reminds me of this truth. Maybe the biggest help my cat provides is the reminder that taking care of myself, pampering myself, is a good idea—especially when coping with RA.

Whatever the animal, I think having a pet or support animal can help people with RA. Some animals can be trained to help with specific tasks and others provide the emotional needs that help us cope with a difficult illness.

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