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Healing Power of Pets: Stories by Trauma Survivors

Dear Friends:

Many of us know about the healing quality of a pet's love. There is nothing quite like it. Here
are stories by trauma survivors that describe their relationships with their beloved pets.
Patti & Charlie:
Charlie Brown was born on February 22, 2002. He was a gift to me on my 47th birthday by
my boyfriend, Jim. Jim took me to the beagle breeder to pick out a pup from the new litter.
When I stepped up to a cage of wiggling fur balls, the breeder picked out a pup and
set him in my open hands. He was warm. He was soft. His head was bobbing and his eyes
were not open yet. I couldn't give him back, could I? I said "ok, this is the one" and the
breeder tied a red string around his neck so no one else could take him. I sat him down
on the walkway and he could not even stand yet. It was love at first sight! I went to visit him
every chance I could until he was old enough to leave his mother.
Now Charlie is nine years old. I cannot remember how it was to be without him. He came to
me during the most difficult days of my life, and he was with me all through that stormy
time. He was my sidekick, my confidante, the licker of tears, and a cuddle-buddy during the
long and scary nights when I was alone. He sleeps with us now, and sometimes he
cuddles up to his dad but he always ends up cuddled next to me, as close to me as he can
get.

When I have a bad dream at night...which is often...and I don't want to disturb my husband,
I can always count on Charlie to move from his normal spot between my legs and come up
and lie down right against my chest. When I awaken with my symptoms aroused from a
nightmare he is always there, looking at me in his wise and understanding way. He lies
patiently while I stroke his fur and finally fall back to sleep. Sometimes, before I do, I go get
him a midnight snack for being such a good boy.

There is something healing about my pet. I could go on and on and try to explain it. Suffice
it to say that he has calmed my troubled mind and soothed my fears more times than I can
possibly remember. If he wasn't an unpredictable beagle, I would probably train him to be
a PTSD service dog, because he definitely helps me through the worst of my symptoms.
Nancy & Riley:
I don't remember good childhood memories. My father who was mostly absent in my life,
on a visit gave me a Siamese kitten and he kept a littermate. In an odd way it gave me a
connection to my father. I remember transferring love and passion that I felt for the love I
had for my absent dad, to that kitten and vowed to love and take care of her.

I didn't get to see my dad often but I now had my kitten by my side, to play with and to sleep
with when I missed falling asleep on my dads arm. I'd play hide and seek with my cat and
our bond grew rapidly, I found joy in my exchange with my cat and comfort in a world of
trauma and unrest otherwise.

One day when I came home from school my "ping" was not there and my mother was
secretive about her whereabouts, but I felt her distress. I then learned Ping would never
return to me because my stepfather had deliberately taken her life.

I grew up with terror, loss and trauma and have few positive memories of my childhood. In
part my childhood consisted of gravitating to the safety and peace of animals. I was always
drawn to animals even though I didn't have the stability of my own pets growing up. I
bonded and felt a deep connection to all animals.

Its no wonder then that as the years passed and I continued to re-create traumatic
situations in my life from my lack of tools or therapy to deal with my past life experience. My
best relationships were with animals and those continued to be my strongest bonds.

I understand the bonds of animals and the safe place they take children too in their
unconditional love and allow us to connect no matter what life is bringing to our
experience. When I grew up the unusual connection I felt with animals didn't change and
filled a gap in my life that seemed to fill me up emotionally. I collected pets.

In many ways I believe that my PTSD was kept in check because of my emotional bonds
with my animals. Quite possibly filling emotional voids that my human relationships
couldn't do. I hope the future will hold further studies in regard to human-animal bonds.

Riley, my border collie became my service dog naturally as we experienced trauma
together. His bond to me combined with his intelligence is what I attribute to my survival
today. He saved my life.

I don't take medicine for anxiety because I have my dog. Riley provides a "calm" on
command and places his body over mine. He comes "close" when asked to provide a
barrier between any uncomfortable presence and me. In the height of concern and
intruders Riley would open doors and go to "get help" or enter our house, check it out
providing an "all clear." His emotional connection to me is a link that takes the two of us
almost anywhere I need to go as long as he is with me. When I feel agoraphobic, his needs
become a priority because he "has" to go out to take care of his own business, thus the
catalyst to the strength I need to leave the seclusion of my inside world.

People often mistake what purpose a psychiatric service dog performs for their person and
assume its simply emotional support. Pets provide emotional support but Riley is so much
more. He is a limb for me, my medication, he is my stability. He may be a "crutch" in the
same way that people use medication and feel it saves their life and what did they ever do
without it. I'm occasionally told to "just be strong" and one of my daughters, a therapist,
supports medicine for me rather than the inconvenience for her, of my taking Riley with me.

It's not easy taking my dog everywhere and it's something people don't realize. Taking a
dog, especially a dog the size of Riley, requires thoughts to his exercise, water and food
needs and of course elimination, harnesses, a leash, etc. What people aren't aware of is the
discrimination that I have to deal with on a regular basis. Because people don't see
anything visibly wrong with me they automatically assume I am training my dog, I don't
mind answering questions about Riley and I, because I feel I'm helping others with anxiety
and other situations that require the use of a dog.

My bond with Riley is deep and he reads my thoughts alleviating even dissociative patterns
when I go blank, he will bring me back without ever having been trained to do so. What
medication can do that?

I can't explain how Riley was trained because I believe it was through our deep connection,
combined with circumstances that caused him to react to assist me. In turn I took care of
him and the rewards were our time together as I survived extreme circumstances and
rewarded him with my love and our devotion to each other came with a deep
understanding that I cannot explain. I'm grateful for Riley and I hope the future holds more
understanding of the assistance dogs can provide for us.
Patty, Karlie & Reny:
Growing up, we always had a dog; Shetland Sheepdogs or German Shepherds. As an
adult, I've had numerous cats and a Black and Yellow Lab. Presently I have a German
Shepherd named Karlie, and a Black Lab mix named Reny. When I think of how all of these
pets have helped me, the words playmate, companion, teacher, and protector come to
mind.

Years ago, when I lived alone, I had two hamsters named Rocky and Rodger. One day, I
was struggling and having thoughts of harming myself. When I turned and looked at the
cage, they both were on their hind legs looking at me with concern. It snapped me out of
the desperate state.

Pets live in the moment. Suffering from PTSD, it has often been difficult to stay present
when having body memories and bouts of anxiety. My pets have helped me to tolerate
touch. When I am sleeping, I often have a startle response if my partner touches me. Yet, if
I'm cuddling with Karlie or Reny (or other cats or dogs in the past) I have no startle
response. I can even tolerate, dare I say enjoy, my feet touching them.

My dogs help me feel confident and strong in my body. My main source of exercise is
walking them. Experiencing the strength of my legs and the sweat from a nice walk has
helped me to learn to tolerate those sensations and know them for what they are vs.
equating them with the abuse.

I love my dogs so much. They've taught me how to not hold grudges and be resilient. One
day, I was outside with them. Karlie approached Reny and must have caught her in a bad
moment or sniffed her in the wrong place because, next thing I knew, she viciously went
after Karlie. That whole scene took place in a matter of seconds. When it was over, Karlie
gently placed her head on Reny's back in a submissive, apologetic way. Reny accepted the
apology.
Robin & Sasha:
My cat Sasha was a wonderful pet and friend. Sasha lived to be twenty years old and in
those years that I had her she was my best friend. If I had a bad session I could go home
and hold her and just cry. She wouldn't move out of my arms. She would just let me hold
her while I rocked and cried. If I needed someone to listen to me she was there and
wouldn't talk back to me or judge me. She often meowed if I wouldn't pet her when all I
wanted to be done is left alone. She didn't want me to be left alone so she would often
nudge me in my side to pet her. That to me meant she wanted my attention and just lying
there petting her made me feel better and eventually I would stop crying. Sasha could be a
sassy cat if she wanted to but when she wanted to she could also be there in an
unconditional loving way. Unconditional love that is what she gave when I needed it or
even if I didn't need it.

I guess there is not much more to say except that she is missed daily in my life.
Judi, Busta, Mista & Ruby:
I have two dogs and a parrot and my pets are a very big part of my healing. They seem to
know what I feel, they help me feel safe, and not as alone.

They also help me feel I can trust. I feel my pets are just wonderful.

I feel I can do some things outside the house with the dogs. If I do not have them with me I
feel too scared. Plus they add some fun in my life, as they like to play with their toys. I am
having a lot of fun teaching my parrot to talk.

There have been times when I have been out walking my dogs and had a flashback. My
dogs have led me across the road and home.

Busta my Labrador will sit next to the bath to help me feel safe. Busta is like my shadow. If
I have a bad night he is there with me and he sleeps on the floor next to the bed. If I do not
feel well there are times he will come on the bed, to see I am ok. And Busta sometimes
will cuddle my legs.

Something very cute is when Ruby my parrot will call Busta over and feed him, by dropping
food on the floor.

I feel the animals help me as they give me a reason to get out of bed. They give me
love and cuddles and I give it back.
Candice & Blue:
I cannot imagine my life without the four dogs I have shared it with. All of them have a
special place in my heart but one was my best friend during some of the hardest years.

My husband, at that time, and I had just put down a young lab/chow mix, Rebel. I was still
grieving him. We also had a 13 yr. old dog with health issues. Blue was a three month old
black lab that lived on a farm and had started killing chickens. If no one took her they were
going to put her down. So she came to live with us. I did not want this dog. We knew
nothing about labs. Turns out they are puppies for at least three years. Blue was into
everything. She had boundless energy and made my husband crazy. He thought he'd
brought home a copy of Rebel, a laid back dog. He was an angry man and got angrier every
day. He yelled at Blue, at me, and at his co-workers. I found myself sitting with Blue every
evening telling her over and over, "you are a good girl". I think I was speaking to myself as
well as her. My marriage was disintegrating. After eight months my husband left me. He had
found someone else. I was devastated. He did not want the dog he'd insisted on bringing
home. She had bonded with me.

Within a few nights I found Blue in the bed with me when I woke up. She was not allowed
on the furniture but I was comforted by her presence. So the rule changed. I gave her a
slipper to play with to keep her out of the closet while I dressed in the morning. She would
bound into the living room, shaking her slipper and bowing down when I asked her "who is
the boss?" She was so pleased with herself I had to smile. So each morning, if only for
a moment, I smiled. Every night we played and I petted her. People always commented on
how soft her fur was, like a stuffed animal. I sang nonsense songs to her usually to the
tune of Moon River. Only I sang Bluebelly, one of her many nicknames. She was my little
girl.

After being spayed Blue's stitches got infected. At the vet I sat on the floor trying to hold
her still while the vet tech. examined her. I got her attention and she looked me in the eyes
the entire time. At that moment I knew she trusted and needed me as no one else did. I was
seriously depressed and struggling with my PTSD symptoms. My husband disappeared.
My friends turned their backs on me. But Blue was there and needed me to be there for her.
I did my best by her. We went to doggie school and the nightly training strengthened our
bond. I took her to the local dog park where she could run as long as she wanted. Blue
was not a kissy dog. But every once in a while she would look at me very seriously for a
few moments and then slowly lick the tip of my nose once or twice. I knew it was her way
of saying I love you.

Every night before bed we had lovies: petting, belly rubs and silly songs. Most nights,
while I slept, she would literally manage to bump me to the edge of the bed. In the morning
she would smack my head with her paw to wake me. Blue was silly, playful and loving.
She did not love me less when I spent hours crying. She did not question the changes in
my behavior or walk away when I needed her most. She was always there next to me. To
see out my only window she had to stand on the end table and couch arm. I never minded
the scratched table or ruined couch. I moved the phone and lamp out of her way. Looking
out the window was a part of her social life and I couldn't deny her that.

A year ago last January I said goodbye to my Blue. One afternoon she became very ill.
The medicine the vet prescribed didn't help. The next morning I brought her to the vet.
They gave her a shot for the pain and left us alone. I sat next to her, stroked her and told
her about Rainbow Bridge. When I was ready the vet injected her. I sat with her some more
but I knew she was no longer there.

I have another dog now, a rescued beagle. I still struggle with depression and PTSD. At
least once a week I think of my big black dog. Blue was my very best friend when I was at
my lowest. I love her still. I miss her very much. And I am so grateful that for 7 1/2 years I
was granted the companionship of a furry angel.
Jeri & Honeytiger:
This is Honeytiger, named because he was a honey colored tiger. He lived with one of my
abusers, who didn't take much care of him. When I met him he was a year old, and in poor
health. I took over his care, took him to the vet, etc, and discovered he was FIV positive
(similar to HIV in humans).

When my abuser dumped me he also dumped this animal in a field with no food or water.
I found him a month later skinny and frantic. He came home with me that day and was with
me for many years. He & I became constant companions. He came with me camping; he
would climb a tree as soon as we got to the campground and check in every night in the
tent. When I was ready to leave I'd call him & a little while later he would appear. He would
travel in the car with his butt in my lap and his front paws on my driving arm, looking out
the window. At home he was a beautiful & loving presence.

Toward the end of his life he needed medication twice a day, and he would allow me to sit
him down, pry open his mouth, and put pills & drops down his throat without protest. He
was the most even tempered animal I've ever known. His quiet, yet wide awake manner
drew comments from other people. He had many health crises, and through it all never
lost his calm disposition. He was with me a total of 17 years, during which time I think he
contributed more to my healing than I did to his.

I had a standing arrangement with a local vet, since we never knew which crisis he
wouldn't come out of, that when the time came I would call & she would come to my house
& put him down at home.

One day in winter I noticed he was dragging his hind leg, and realized he'd had a stroke. I
called the vet, and, during a snow storm, she & an assistant came out & gave him a shot
while he lay in my arms. I wrapped him in a towel & laid him in a box, and screwed the lid
on. I'd had a hole dug for several years, but when it came time to bury him I couldn't. I had
to call a friend to come over, and we dug the snow out of the hole and buried him.

He was a healing presence in my life for so long, that 3 years later it still feels empty
without him.
Joyce & Evie:
Wikipedia describes "Man's best friend" this way:

"Man's best friend" is a catchphrase for tame dogs, generally referring to the category as
a whole. The popularization of the term is said to have occurred in a courtroom speech by
George Graham Vest in Warrensburg, Missouri in 1870 who said, "The one absolutely
unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him
and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog." The phrase was later
shortened to "man's best friend". Vest's speech came at the closing of a trial in which he
was representing a farmer who was suing for damages after his dog Old Drum was
shot [vague] by a neighbor.

I loved and adored my dog Evie. I found her at the local shelter. She was just a puppy and
house training was difficult. She was a mixed breed. I like to say part German Shepherd,
part Beagle and because she was a scaredy-cat, part Chicken. She liked to stay indoors. :-).
But soon we became good buddies and we had a lot of fun bike riding, walking, listening
to records, and watching TV. I was also lucky because dogs were welcome at my place of
work. She was with me all the time. After dinner (of course she was served first) we would
watch TV. I swear she had favorite shows but what I found most amazing was that she
understood feelings and emotions. She was very gentle and intuitive. I knew when she
was bored, happy and sad. My previous dog was a male Golden Retriever and he was a
hand-full. He was fear-less. I remember him jumping over a cliff because a friend of mine
hurled a stick in that direction. I said OMG...he will die. But minutes later up the cliff he
came with the stick. Truly amazing. He was always ready for an adventure. No hanging
around the house with Ravel. We had a wonderful relationship and bond but not quite the
same emotional bond as I did with Ms. Evie.

When I was feeling depressed she made sure we walked. I think she was walking me.
When I felt sad she tried to amuse me. And when we went on a bicycle ride I took water for
both of us. I remember one time we were both tired after a bike ride. One of my neighbors
stopped by the side of the road to say hello. I asked her if she would take Evie home in her
truck. Evie didn't know this person but she trusted me. And when I got back she was
sitting by the front door waiting for lunch. She knew I would never put her in harm's way. I
also remember that Evie was not the most courageous dog in the world. She never would
have followed that stick over the cliff. I remember if we heard noises outside (we lived in a
wooded area) she would run to my bed. I would say fine thing...if that was a burglar...you
would show him where the jewels were. And a very unusual aspect of her personality was
that she never barked. She would jump up and look around but never bark. That was very
unusual for a dog but Evie was an unusual dog. We had years of fun and enjoyment. I will
never forget the night she passed away. I had the strangest experience that night. I felt her
at my side. I felt a great loss but I also knew that in a sense she would always be with me.
I smile when I look at her pictures and I still miss her because she was my best friend at a
time I needed a best friend.
Laci and Friends:
I am a simple country girl with PTSD. I have always had animals. I cannot imagine my life
without them. I have cared for them, helped deliver them, rescued them, groomed them,
trained them, and loved them.

In some of my deepest and darkest moments in life there has always been an animal that
has kept me going day after day. Knowing that they have physical and emotional needs is 
a motivational factor that helped me through many tough times. I believe that animals help
people with PTSD.

When humans can be cruel, evil and plain stupid, senseless, and selfish there is always an
animal that helps bring back the important things in life.  Animal creatures help me remain 
a spiritual person. Obviously an intelligent creator designed all the variety of wonderful
animals to bring us joy. Humans can be stimulated by their sheer beauty, playfulness,
affection, instincts, and intelligence. They help teach us and we can learn from them.

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Page created on 16 June 2011
Last updated by on 14 January 2014