In this column, I want to update you on our dog’s progress in his journey toward becoming a therapy dog. Sadly, I must report that Sam’s improvements have been minimal at best since my previous report last August. The good news is that having him in my home has done wonders for me and my fibromyalgia (FM) symptoms. Stroking his silky coat releases oxytocin and contributes to my well-being. He’s brought laughter to my home, which is always a good thing.
We learned early on that Sam, a rescue dog, was the victim of abuse by his former owner. Our first clue was that he often cowers when he’s petted and sometimes urinates at the same time. He also urinates when he’s excited – which is whenever we return from being away from him, even if it’s only a half-hour absence. This is unacceptable behavior for a therapy dog.
Mopping up puddles was not the increased exercise I had in mind when adopting a dog, so I consulted our veterinarian on this issue. I learned from him that some dogs who endure traumatic beginnings (as Sam must have) never outgrow their fear behaviors. I’ve found guidelines published by the Humane Society to be helpful. We’ve been following these tips hoping that in time he will learn that he’s safe with us and his unwanted behaviors will improve.
I realize now that some dogs are not suited to becoming therapy animals, no matter how carefully you select for temperament or intelligence. But that’s OK. Owning any dog has a therapeutic effect — and I’ve also learned that they can be more work than I might like.
In my recently published book, “More Than Tender Points: A Fibromyalgia Memoir,” (a sequel to “Tender Points: A Fibromyalgia Memoir,” published in 2007), I describe some of my previous experiences with dog ownership for those with FM who are considering that choice. I included details of my past experiences with the challenges of potty training and bark control in the chapter titled, “So You Think You Want a Pet.” Thanks to Sam, the next edition will include an expansion of that chapter.
On the surface, it may seem that walking a dog, feeding him, and caring for his health needs are all that’s required for dog ownership. Adopting a new dog is a great temptation for a homebound fibromyalgia sufferer; the companionship can appear to be heaven-sent. But it’s important to keep in mind that many dogs (especially rescue dogs like Sam) can have behavioral issues. Dealing with these problems can be very stressful and cause an increase rather than a decrease in symptoms. With dog ownership you must be prepared for any possibility, and taking on the responsibilities of a new pet must be considered very carefully when fibromyalgia rules your life.
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