Multiple Sclerosis and Pets

About a year ago, I posted a blog on entitled Dogs and Multiple Sclerosis. In my post, I talked about the fact that I was beginning the process of acquiring two basenji puppies. At that time, I was focused on how much I loved training dogs and how much I was looking forward to that aspect of owning and caring for these dogs.
The outpouring that came from my readers was amazing. Everyone had a story about his or her dog. More specifically, many readers shared how much their dogs helped them during their difficult times with MS. Not having owned a dog in about 20 years, I thought that these were sweet stories, along the lines of the Chicken Soup series.
Then we got our puppies and my life changed. Sure, those early days of puppy ownership were harrowing, with the non-stop demands of housebreaking and middle of the night awakenings to whining and more potty trips outside. However, I realized after a very short time that these dogs were helping me in much the same ways that people had written about so passionately.
I had to walk them and in doing so, I got out of the house at times that I wouldn't have left. I had conversations with people that I had lived near for almost a decade and never met. I laughed lots of times during the day, just watching their antics. 
My very favorite moments became the "puppy naps" that I would take on the couch, with two little dogs curled up on my chest and legs. When an injection would be particularly painful, I could count on a lick on the nose from a concerned-looking little creature (or two).
All of these moments and countless others combined to make my life with MS a little easier, even though during these early puppy months, my MS symptoms were often worse than usual. It seemed like these little dogs were making my MS matter less in many ways.
Now, these dogs have truly become part of the family. We have settled into a pretty nice routine – as I write this, I am listening to one of my daughters read a book to the dogs – she is settled into an armchair with one draped across her and the other curled up next to her, showing more patience working out the "big words" than she ever would have if Mommy was her audience. Moments like this also make my MS less of a factor to my young daughters – at times that I cannot be 100% available to them because of my MS, the dogs are a willing (and often better) substitute.
I know all of you who own pets have their own stories to share. Not only did I get stories about your dogs, I heard about cats, birds, bunnies and horses, too. All of these animals have enhanced the lives of their owners in so many ways. Until I experienced it myself, it was a little hard to believe. Now I know differently.
Share your story with us. Tell us about your pet. Tell us how your life is different because of this pet. Tell us how your pet has helped your MS. Take a moment and shine the spotlight on these wonderful animals whom we love so much.

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Julie Stachowiak, PhD

Julie is the author of the Multiple Sclerosis Manifesto, the winner of the 2009 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the Health Category. She is an epidemiologist who is also a person living with MS, Julie has an in-depth understanding about current research and scientific developments around MS. She also has first-hand knowledge of the frustrations and anxiety surrounding the disease, as she had MS for at least 15 years before receiving a diagnosis in 2003 and has had several relapses since her diagnosis.