When I decided to get a dog, my parents advised me to be practical. “Get a small dog, one that will be easier to travel with, easier to walk,” they said, thinking of my strength and balance which weren’t anything to brag about after 30 plus years of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. “Maybe a poodle, or a sheltie,” they suggested, picturing me and my sweet little lap dog. Instead, I came home with a mutt, half golden retriever half wolfhound, and I named him Jasper. It took a year, but he grew up to be almost as big as me. So much for practicality.
My puppy kept me busy
From the minute I brought him home, Jasper kept me busy and tested both my strength and energy. He rolled in poop, stole a whole chicken off the counter right in front of me and about five hungry friends, he dug under the fence, and found ways to crawl over it; Jasper was not a sweet lap dog. He was a big, messy, hairy beast who I’m pretty convinced thought of me as his little sister instead of his Mom. To this day I call him my sentry because he keeps a watchful eye on things wherever we go. For a small woman with JRA, an 85-pound dog is not a wise choice. But it was my choice, and as someone with JRA, there have been many life choices that were made for me, not by me. I was never going to be able to choose to be a zookeeper, a wildlife biologist, the next Jane Goodall, or a National Geographic photographer because my body can’t handle the physical skills required. It didn’t matter that I loved animals, and have the perfect temperament to work with them, all that mattered was that my body didn’t. So, when I chose my pet, I decided not to compromise, not to be practical; instead, I wanted to honor who I am, a person who loves big, hairy, smelly four-legged creatures.
Eleven years later, my rambunctious, wild-eyed goofball is still by my side. He still rolls in poop and eats it on occasion. And I’m still so grateful that this guy has been my companion because he makes me smile every day. He reminds me who I am, not who the JRA has made me. He reminds me that I can make impractical decisions and go against good advice. He reminds me that the JRA hasn’t taken away all my joy; in fact, he is the antidote to the sadness that the JRA brings.
Steering the ship of my life, if only for a little bit
Living with a painful, chronic disease means that a lot of your life has to revolve around ways to handle the challenges with as much grace as possible. It is dictated by scientific knowledge and includes medical plans of care, treatment guidelines, and being a patient. It’s easy to get lost in all of it, to forget what makes you smile, what gets you excited to get out of bed in the morning. Every day I wake up to Jaspers goofy grin, and as I put on my shoes to take him for his walk I’m reminded that I can still be surrounded by animals; the birds, squirrels, and deer that grab Jaspers attention also grab mine as I feel the childlike wonder I had a kid dreaming of being a wild animal Vet. JRA has steered my ship for the majority of my life but every so often I take the helm, and I have to say, it feels REALLY good. Jasper and I, feet in the dirt, hair flying, now that's a life to savor!
How does your pet support your RA journey?