Palliative pooches

As I get older, I tend to believe that pets have palliative ‘magic’ that helps their owners – and others feel better. My late mother believed it as well. Several of her elderly friends were dealing with terminal illnesses, rheumatoid arthritis and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. These women rarely complained of their illnesses, but instead focused on their cats, dogs and even talkative parakeets. My mother retired to a small ranch an hour outside Tucson (Arizona). While she had occasional visitors, she had the company of a couple old horses, a burro, and rescued dogs and cats. I noted her vitality seemed to recover as she rode her horses every day and went for long walks with the dogs. A social worker once called to check in, asking whether she normally ate alone. She answered that she rarely was alone. Though that satisfied the social worker, she told me she had not been asked whether she ate with human company. When she died, I was informed that she had died of cardiopulmonary disease. All healthful evidence to the contrary, she had never quit smoking a pack a day she started during her Nursing career.

We have several friends and neighbors with pets that provide comfort and company, now that their children are grown and living on their own. Some have had knee replacements, major surgery, and even chemo for an early detected cancer. All seem to heal faster with their Boxers, Dobermans, or Spaniels at their feet or in their lap. When our two dogs, Comet and then Dexter were put to sleep last Fall, it was the determined cuddles of our neighbor’s Boxers that lifted my wife out of her mourning.

When an older friend of ours became ill early this year and required hospitalization for cancer treatment, we offered to bring meals and to comfort her husband who was dividing his days between work, caring for their dogs and spending several hours at a time with his wife at the hospital. It was not the first time they had dealt with a malign illness.

While convalescing, their two female Pitties had been missing their mom for several weeks. She had not wanted visitors but perhaps she meant people coming to visit her. Last week, we were informed her spirits were improving, not least due to her husband “sneaking” her dogs into the convalescent center for a couple of visits. With the palliative effect of her pets, we were informed that a visit from her close female friends might be just what the doctor ordered.

Photo by Evan Velez Saxer on

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