Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Bay Woof Article: "The Heeling Power of Love"
(This essay, written by one of my human companions, has been published in the February issue of the Bay Woof newspaper, given out free at SF Bay Area pet stores. Thanks Bay Woof for sharing our story with your readers!)
The Heeling Power of Love
“When I first met Luther he was wild and uncontrollable. He had so much pent-up energy that his muscles quivered,” reflects Luther’s foster mom, Lynsey. Luther had been at the pound for three months in a small cell, deprived of regular human contact, without even the minimal privilege of access to the larger exercise area. This athletic, 75-pound Rottweiler-Mastiff-German Shepherd mix puppy had developed many destructive habits while locked up and was scheduled for euthanasia. On what would have been his last day alive, Lynsey adopted him and saved his life.
Today, it is difficult for me to image that my cuddly, face-licking service dog came so close to having his beautiful life force extinguished. Lynsey had already fostered twelve other dogs before Luther; a highly skilled professional dog trainer with a giant heart, she was just what Luther needed.
Many shelter dogs who are euthanized have had similar experiences, explains Lynsey: “Dogs locked up too long without human contact can develop social anxieties and become unsuitable for the public to adopt.” Yet after six months of Lynsey’s priceless love and direction, Luther had overcome his fears and was ready for adoption. Our paths would soon meet.
In 2006, almost two years into training for a summer-long cycling tour, I injured my lower back. Two slipped/herniated discs caused the worst physical pain in my life and made walking almost impossible. After months of physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, and steroid injections, I had surgery. The surgery certainly helped me walk better and improved my quality of life, but it also created new challenges; for example, standing in place and sitting upright for extended periods became difficult.
Four years later, after only marginal improvement, I decided to get a service dog. I read Lynsey’s ad, and the rest, as they say, is history. Along with his job as my service dog, Luther immediately became a member of the family. Words cannot express how deeply my fiancé and I have fallen in love with the furry “little one” now sharing our home. Raising Luther together has added a whole new dimension to our relationship.
Acting as both a “therapy dog” and a “service dog,” Luther helps me in two major ways. As happens with other therapy dogs for patients with chronic pain conditions, his companionship activates my body’s release of endorphins, which naturally relieve stress and physical pain. As my back pain decreases, I am better able to perform my most problematic activities: walking, standing in place, and sitting upright. The pain relief helps me to get around and perform daily activities, and Luther’s mobility assistance makes him a service dog, with full access to any public place I go.
Luther also helps me with my physical therapy, which is crucial for recovery from my injury. The endorphin effect is essential, but motivation is equally important. Luther and I have built a new exercise routine together, going out for off-leash hikes in the many beautiful open-space parks in the East Bay.
I grew up in the East Bay and have always been inspired by the natural beauty here. I used to love hiking, but before Luther I was usually bored walking at my new, unnaturally slow pace, and it was difficult not to fixate on my aching back. Now, in my efforts to find Luther the best off-leash spots in the East Bay, I have discovered some beautiful new hiking areas. I’m walking the same slow pace, but that gives Luther extra time to run around, chase squirrels, and play with other dogs along the trial. As I admire his athleticism and watch his whole being radiate positive energy, I have no time to dwell on negative thoughts.
In the six short months since adopting Luther, I have shown more improvement than in all of the previous four years since my surgery! I have lost 15 pounds of the weight I gained post-injury and my blood pressure is 15 points lower. I still have a long way to go, but with Luther by my side I am confident that I will keep improving.
Looking to the future, I’m reminded of the book Dogs & Devotion by the Monks of New Skete, which explores the emotional and spiritual connections formed between dogs and their human companions. The Monks reflect: “Dogs and human beings have been journeying together for over fifteen thousand years, helping each other in ways that are astonishing considering they take place between different species. We have both evolved to the point where we are in this relationship together for the long haul, and it is endlessly fascinating to witness the new ways this companionship expresses itself.”