Monday, February 22, 2010

Canine Therapy

A lawyer friend used to suffer from terribly painful gout.  His most reliable source of relief was to stroke, and be "kissed" by, his dog, Boots.  Never mind the cynics who say painful gout is a just God's retribution for being a lawyer.  Noah was a good guy and he was onto something.

Dogs are good for lots of human ailments.  I speak from experience, with dogs and with ailments.

When I was recovering from lung cancer surgery, the pain ebbed if Sandy, the cocker spaniel, napped in my lap. His big, brown eyes and jaunty way of cocking his head were more effective than pain pills. Taking him for walks provided the exercise the doctors said I needed when the pain subsided.  Jogging in the woods with him helped improve my lung capacity.  Like Lord Byron's Boatswain, Sandy was "in life the firmest friend, the first to welcome, foremost to defend," and when he died I could not imagine any other animal replacing him.

But then one day I visited the animal shelter where my wife intended to adopt a cat.  Someone else had adopted the animal she wanted, but I strolled past a cage that housed a litter of puppies.  One of them shouldered aside his siblings and stepped forward to perform for me.  It was an unforgettable series of dances, smiles, squeals and tumbles.  Saxon the Rottweagle went home with us that very day.

When I took him for his second veterinary appointment for vaccinations, an attendant spotted us coming in the door and called out, "Hey, Everyone!  The happy puppy is back!"

Today, at 14, he's still the same happy puppy, willing to dance on arthritic legs, light up a greying muzzle with the same big smile, charm ladies and beguile gentlemen.

Saxon and I have shared a thousand adventures,  walked a thousand miles together, up mountains and across deserts, chased a thousand critters from deer and rabbits to lizards and roadrunners.  We have soothed one another's pain, bluffed away one another's enemies, played stick and chase-me and dodge 'em and other, nameless games he invented and taught me. 

We have exchanged profound thoughts; he, by reading my tone of voice if not my words, and my gestures; I, by reading his posture, facial expressions, nods, moods and gaits. 

These days, we help one another to cope with the infirmities of our aging.  I assist his getting up into the car; he slows his pace for the desert walks, and settles for short paths of level ground, rather than the canyons and mesas we used to explore, because he knows I can't go there any more.  Perhaps, if pressed, he could even identify the anatomical part  that's at fault: the lumbar region of my back.  All sorts of bad stuff in there.

Other treatments having failed, I'm hopeful that a spinal surgeon can restore some mobility.  Perhaps that will involve "open back" surgery, which I've experienced once and didn't want to go through again.  But now if it's the last resort, let's go for it.

Whatever the outcome, however difficult the rehab might be, however long it takes, I've got the best therapist in the world: Saxon the Rottweagle.

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