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Animals and MS: How My “Fur Baby” Provides Comfort and Care

When I needed a hand, I found your paw.

When we adopt a pet, we often think that we’re the ones doing them a favour by taking them in and giving them a place to call home. It doesn’t take long to realise that it’s really them doing us the big service.

I have always been a dog person. I’m that girl who just has to go and say hello to every pup I see; every dog I meet is a friend. So, when I graduated from college, the first thing on my list was to get a puppy all by myself. Ignoring the fact that I spent more time traveling for work than I did at home and the warnings from my mom that perhaps now was not the best time, I fell in love with a small Lhasapoo puppy one fateful afternoon.

The timing wasn’t the best — my mom was right, but once I locked eyes with that pup it was love. That’s how, 10 years ago, Sputnik and I became family.

Sputnik is a stubborn little thing with a mind of his own. We joke that when he looks in a mirror, he sees a wolf. He’ll do anything for a treat and he’s so cute it really doesn't take that much to earn one. He and I have lived many adventures together.

When I was first diagnosed with MS I was worried about our future. Sputnik, on the other hand, saw only the good. He saw that now he gets to live at Grandma and Grandpa’s. He saw that he gets more treats. He saw that his mom gets to stay home and cuddle with him more. And he was as happy as ever. His simple way of adapting to the new way of life helped me find the courage to do the same.

That first summer after my diagnosis I spent a couple weeks in inpatient rehab. One of my favourite days was when my mom and brothers brought Sputnik to come see me. Sitting in my wheelchair and facing down a mountain of concerns about what the future with MS would bring, I found joy in that little puppy.

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A few years later my family got Guinness, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Unlike Sputnik, when Guinness looks into the mirror, the dog staring back at him scares him. We got him when I was in a wheelchair full time and while Guinness was scared of basically everything else, he was never intimidated by my chariot on wheels. In fact he saw it as a great opportunity to get a free ride.

That’s the great thing about dogs — they don’t care. They don’t see the imperfections. They just see you. They just see love.

My two dogs have good intuition, and I often feel like they can sense when I’m sick. When I’m not well, they’re extra cuddly, extra loving, and extra gentle. It’s like they just know what I need and give it to me, asking nothing in return. Ok, that’s not entirely true… they ask for a lot of treats.

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Of course I’m not the only one with fabulous pets. I reached out to my MS community through Instagram, and here are a few stories that people shared with me — and look out, there are some pretty heart-warming tales coming up!

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“The unconditional love! It’s amazing no matter how I’m feeling these two don’t care! They get excited to see me every time I walk in the door… They’re pretty chill so they don’t mind that I can’t run around with them.” – Norah Rowbottom @niren517

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“I rescued Baxter 12 years ago and he just knows when I’m not feeling well and just need that extra snuggle and warmth. I could never be without a pup!” – Andi Barber @breathing_grace_and_peace

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“I have a babe, Remington. I was living in an apartment and wanted a cat so badly. I got a note from my neurologist for a companion pet. I had no idea that I needed him! He lifted my spirits SO much! He really did turn out to be what I needed. I love this cat so ridiculously much!” – Tracy @ycart79

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“This is Milo, he is 2 years old, and my fur baby! He loves fetch and kitty treats! He also provides lots of snuggles when his momma is stressed!” – Jen Neri @jniffer14

“That’s my fur baby giving me love after a very hot day. He always knows when I need snuggles.” – Caitie @msinmiami

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“Fur babies give you unconditional love and expect nothing in return. The night I came home from the hospital after diagnosis, they slept in my arms like babies and never left my side!” – Alyssa Beane @alyssadbeane

“We got Maple to train as a therapy dog for my son who has autism. In her 5 short months of life she has already been so amazing for not only Ryder but for me as well. They say dogs have a special sense that draws them to people who need them, and she has always followed me. Now that she’s gotten a little older, she walks right beside my legs everywhere I go and has even blocked falls. She’s had no training to teach her this specifically, so this is amazing to me. I’ve been amazed at how just having her helps me so much emotionally. I’m not short on attention or love, but Maple just helps in ways I can’t explain, along with continuing to help my son. She’s my furry hero.” – Megan Loewen @mamabirdie_doula

“Fur babies are a big part of my healing journey — my border collie is literally my stress metre! I got her a month before I got diagnosed so she has been with me through all the ups and downs. Often she’ll lay on top of me when I’m not feeling well and if I’m ever getting too roused up over anything she is right there by my side reminding me to take it down a couple notches. My malamute is just a big snuggling doofus, who makes me laugh on the daily. With the two of them around I’m taken care of with support, snuggles and constant reminder to live in the present! – Kerri Lynne @kerrrica

“She was my constant companion before I was diagnosed and followed me even closer afterwards! She helped me cope with my diagnosis so much because she was the only one I could talk to about my frustrations that wouldn’t try to make it a positive and just let me be sad. She provided companionship and love that no human ever could!” – Jocilyn Davis @scriptures_

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“I travel a lot and this one has become an absolute pro at navigating airports. She takes all the stress away from me because I know she is there making sure that I’m taken care of. She’ll alert to when I need to take a break, drink some water, or if I’m getting overwhelmed she’ll pull me to a [spot] where she can block me from the chaos of people and let me feel safe. She’s truly the best thing to happen to me. I feel so much more independent and in control of my life with her. I know she will catch me before I fall. She is so in tune with my body that her alerts sometimes come way before I feel anything and I used to try and brush it off. Now I know better and medicate as soon as she alerts. Chelsea is my angel, I don’t know what I’d do without her.” – @buildingwithspoons

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“I actually have quite a few fur babies! I have 7 pet rats, 2 rabbits, a guinea pig and a Yorkie! Also 2 birds but I can’t really cuddle them. Rats have been my number 1 since I was diagnosed 4 years ago. They’re so cheeky whenever I get them out the thought of MS just vanishes completely. My rabbits and my guinea are my cuddle buds, if I were having a bad day or a bad relapse they would sit on my lap and cuddle me no matter the amount of tears that fall and how soaked they get (just as long as they get a treat!). And my dear little Yorkshire terrier Luna. She’s only 2 and still acts like an 8 month old pup, always felt like she cheered me on when I went to the hospital, always felt like she walked by my side and helped me walk even though she’s tiny. It’s like she can see what’s going on in my mind and she will always try to help in her own little way! All in all, I don’t know how I’d have coped without my little animals — no matter how small they are, they all made an impact on my short journey!” – Laura @laurarattylover

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“This guy is the ultimate companion! He prefers to sleep under the bed, but if I stay home sick in a flare I always wake up to him snuggled up by my side. My husband says even when he tries to get him to play or leave the room, Shadow refuses and just stays right by me until I wake up!” – Sam Knight @saamkiiight

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