Dogs Who Helped Me Recover From My Stroke

Harrison the dog with my wheelchair

When an unexpected health crisis occurs, there are lots of things that help with recovery. Dogs are absolutely part of the process.

A little over a year ago, I had a series of strokes. I’m still just barely in my 20s, so this is a bit of out of the ordinary. Long story short: I somehow injured an artery in my neck through a random minor movement and that caused a tear, which eventually lead to a few strokes, meaning that I spent much of spring/summer ’15 in a hospital bed. This was unbelievably demoralizing for all of the health reasons you might expect, but it was also completely lonely and boring. I couldn’t eat, drink, exercise, read, or take in all that much information from TV and movies at first, so I spent a lot of time sleeping and staring into space. I was lucky to have a lot of human friends come to visit, but people have jobs and lives, and visiting hours were pretty firm. One of the only things that could reliably lift my spirits was a visit from one of the friendly therapy dogs, who were around my hospital and inpatient rehabilitation facility through volunteers with St. John’s Ambulance.

Therapy dogs help a wide variety of people


First, I met this lovely little Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever. Her name escapes me because it was the early days, and a lot of those memories were fuzzy (like her!) and to be honest, she spent most of the time mugging for my mother’s camera. None the less, she let me pet her and sat next to me, which was exactly the kind of comfort I desperately needed.

Therapy dogs help a wide variety of people


Then, when I moved into the rehabilitation facility, I was greeted by Bailey the golden retriever on my second day. She was a little bit older and had soulful, sweet eyes. She hung out with me by my bed, just looking at me and while I stroked her head. She wound up kind of resting with me for a long while, as her human volunteer friend turned out to be an old work colleague of my dad’s and we probably stuck around chatting a little bit longer than she was trained to endure. But her presence was calm and her fur was very soft. She had excellent bedside manner.

Therapy dogs help a wide variety of people


At this point, we realized that it was okay to bring in the family dog. It should be noted that Harrison is not a certified therapy dog by any means. He’s just an enthusiastic border collie who tries his hardest not to get incredibly wound up in inappropriate circumstances. Despite being a naturally energetic type, he managed to keep it together and not pull my wheelchair at breakneck speeds or leap up onto my lap too much. His main drawback is that he’s a social guy who just wants to make friends, which meant that he spent an awful lot of his time going up to strangers in the lobby. They loved it, as did he, but I could have used a little more quality time. Still, it was wonderful to have my little buddy out to see me.

Pugs make great companions


Maddy the pug came to me at exactly the right time. Some friends spotted her on their way to see me and asked if she could make a special appearance in my room. A few weeks earlier, she might have been too much for me to handle, but I was primed and ready for a riled up snorting beast to lick my face and parade around my bed like she owned the place. She also had her own trading card, which is one of my most treasured possessions from my time living in the rehabilitation centre. Sometimes, you need a gentle dog to help you through the rough initial stages, but other times, a tornado in dog form is all it takes to cheer you up with pure, unadulterated weirdness.

Therapy dogs come in a variety of breeds and mixes


Once I was discharged, I knew I wanted to adopt a dog of my own. I needed to get to a stable place in my recovery, but I finally felt ready in the winter of 2016. My residual symptoms included balance issues, so I was a bit afraid about walking a dog by myself, and I needed to find one who was especially meek and calm to walk by my side and not pull or dart into oncoming traffic. Charlotte was actually a little frightened of my cane when we first met, but that was her only moment of ableism. Finding the right dog, who is also not a therapy dog, was mostly about looking for a gentle temperament.

Not only has she avoided unsafe behaviors, she’s also pulled me back out into the world. The gap between being discharged from inpatient care and actually adopting the dog was a bit isolating. I still had a good number of interesting adventures, but they were punctuated by a lot of days hiding from the world in bed. Now I have a lovely, lazy pup by my side on those days, and I’m guaranteed to need to go out with her, which is good for practicing walking and allowing me get a little bit of fresh air. Caring for a little creature who needs me has made me feel more capable of doing other things requiring schedule and commitment. Sure, medicine and various therapies had a good hand in my physical recovery, but the love of a few dogs helped me feel more human.

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