As you’ve probably noticed by now, I’m a big believer that pets make our lives happier and healthier. After sharing my entire life with a variety of wonderful animals, I can say with absolute certainty that I need them as much as they’ve needed me.
And here’s the good news…it’s not just my opinion! Numerous scientific studies have shown that pets lower our blood pressure, heal our hearts, reduce anxiety and lift our moods.
No one knows this better than my good friend and neighbor, Belinda. I see Belinda as something of a “Dr. Doolittle.” She is drawn to animals and they to her.
Growing up on a farm in rural Indiana with dogs, cats, horses and goats, she says she always knew that she would have a career working with animals. “I thought I would be a veterinarian,” she says. “But science and math got in the way.”
Instead, she became a riding instructor, spending her days on her farm in Florida with her beloved horses, dogs, cats and many eager young students.
Six years ago, though, her world turned upside down when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). The disease affects the central nervous system, disrupting the flow of information within the brain, and from the brain to the body.
“That was a rough day,” she remembers. “It was very scary. The first thing I thought of was someone in a wheelchair.”
A million questions ran through her mind. “How long am I going to be able to do my job?” “How long am I going to be able to ride horses?” “How am I going to keep this farm up?”
Since then, she has learned that it affects different people in different ways. For some, the disease is debilitating. For others, like Belinda, outward signs aren’t apparent, although she feels the disease’s impact in other ways.
Through it all, her animals have been by her side, giving her emotional, mental and physical support and strength. They have been instrumental, she believes, in helping her cope, first with the diagnosis and then with the disease itself.
“Animals give you that unconditional love,” she says. “If I’m crying, I can get down on the ground and hug my dog and drop tears on her face.”
She also believes that taking care of the animals has helped her physically. If she didn’t have the animals, she says, “I would not be as active. I would not have a purpose to get up every day. It motivates me and comforts me to be able to take care of them.”
Some of Belinda’s friends, concerned for her health, have told her she works too hard and suggested that she should hire someone to take on more duties around the farm.
But Belinda’s neurologist, Jean-Raphael Schneider, MD, says many of his patients benefit emotionally AND physically from their relationship with companion animals. See his letter below or watch this video from the National MS Society (fast forward to about 24 minutes in for the pet part).
Belinda is convinced that if she hired someone else to do the things she does now, she wouldn’t be as strong. “My muscles wouldn’t stay where they need to stay to keep me afloat.” And Dr. Schneider added, “whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”
She plans on doing just that, with a little help from her four-legged friends. “My purpose in life,” she says, “is to keep the animals going and that keeps me going at the same time.”
Have animals helped you or someone you love with a scary diagnosis? Tell me in the comments below so we can spread the word to others that pets might be the most important part of healing and coping.