The Benefits of Pet Therapy and Chronic Pain


Tracy Rydzy

Last year, following my first spinal surgery, I had the brilliant idea of adopting a large, adorable dog.  My husband, who honestly thought we were just going to the shelter to “look,” thought I was crazy.  His first answer to “can we get a dog?” was “No, you can’t handle one with your back.”  Well, I was prepared with a whole speech about why I needed a companion and how taking her for walks would be good physical therapy, but one look in my determined eyes and my husband knew there was no use in arguing with me. He had lost the battle before it even began. We originally went looking for a yellow lab, the one breed we could both agree on.  That day there were no yellow labs for adoption, but since I knew I was leaving with a puppy, I turned my attention to a litter of black lab mixes.  We picked up and played with several different dogs, trying to find the right personality.  I wanted a calm, submissive dog that I could train to be a pet therapist.  Man’s best friend, social worker’s best assistant.  I left the choosing to Jhon, since I was too emotionally invested to be logical.  Jhon finally chose an adorable puppy that was not fighting over toys, nor was she running around frantically.  When we picked her up for the first time, she sighed, her heart rate slowed and she put her head on my shoulder.  I was sold and, thankfully, so was Jhon!  We came looking for a yellow lab, but Cesar Milan always says “you don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need” and his theory would prove correct.  As it turns out, I really needed our new puppy. After 4 name changes in a week, we finally settled on Coco.  We began training her immediately and enrolled her in puppy pre-school.  Jhon and I were diligent in training her to be calm, submissive, friendly and obedient (well, OK, Jhon was diligent in training her, I just wanted to love her and give her hugs and kisses).  She was a typical puppy and for the first few months she was slightly destructive, but nothing compared to the horror stories I had heard from friends.  Coco didn’t eat shoes, she didn’t chew up the walls, and when she was taught not to do something, she never did it again.  As a matter of fact, she is so submissive and sotrusting, that the first time we took her to the vet, after she was given several injections and poked and prodded, she kissed him and took a nap right there on the exam table. Since I was still in recovery (and little did I know at that time that I would be facing another surgery), I was not able to chase her around the house.  From Day 1, my Coco seemed to have an uncanny understanding that Mommy was hurt and couldn’t chase after her, so she was extraordinarily well-behaved for a 3-month old.  Her favorite activity (before she grew to be 50 pounds) was to sit on my lap and just stare into my eyes. We called it “Loving Looks Time with  Mommy.” (She still has Loving Looks Time, not she does it laying next to me in bed)  Just looking into her eyes brings me peace. It was not long before Coco experienced one of my “bad days.”  I was in pain and I was lying on my bed and crying.  Coco was not afraid of the tears.  She wasn’t freaked out by the high emotion.  She simply came onto the bed and lay with her back against mine in the exact spot where I was having the pain and there she stayed until I calmed down.  Once I settled, she licked my tears away and continued to stay with me.  During the past year and two surgeries, this amazing dog has been there for me, without fail.  When I am having a bad day, or when I feel depressed, she will often lie beside me.  If I am really emotional, she will come into bed with me and lie on the other side, looking at me as if to say, “I am here if you need me, but otherwise, I will just sit with you so you know you are not alone.” I know that Canine 101 instructs owners not to ascribe human characteristics to their dogs.  In the opinion of trainers and dog behaviorists a dog is a dog and they are not capable of complex thought.  I am sure I am not the first person to disagree and claim to have a special dog.  But I truly, wholeheartedly believe that my Coquito is special.  When I talk to her and look into her eyes, I can swear she understands, really understands, what I am saying or asking.  She is beyond intelligent and extremely well-trained.  She comes and gets me when my medication alarms go off, she is perfect with other dogs, and she truly seems thankful and appreciative for the life we are giving her. She is special and because of that, we spoil her.  Jhon and I are unable to have children at this time, and so Coco is our baby.  She sleeps between us, she has a pool to swim in, she is groomed to perfection.  This is her dog nirvana and I truly believe she knows how good she has it!  We love her like a child. I truly believe Coco saved my life and my sanity.  I don’t know how I would have gotten through the past year without her constant companionship and her unconditional love.  She and Jhon are the loves of my life.  I thank God every day for giving me the dog  (and the husband, of course) that I needed. I would like to continue talking about the benefits of pet therapy and how Coco is teaching me how to love unconditionally, but in the interest of length, I will continue this topic tomorrow. Do you have a pet?  Has your pet helped you through tough times?  I would love to hear about (and see) your canine companions!


  1. I love this story so much! We lost our 2 dogs fairly close together. Tater was a shelter dog and came to us at 7 years old. One morning he was sitting on the ground and couldn’t get up. Turns out he had 2 ruptured disks in his back and had to be put down. He was 11. Then our 5 year old beagle, Freckles, died unexpectedly one Sunday. She was fine on Saturday from all appearance and Sunday – gone. So sad! Especially for my daughter. It was her dog and she had her from a puppy. Husband says no more dogs so…

    Anyway, I know people say dogs don’t go to Heaven, but I won’t believe that any animal that is more faithful and loving than ANY human being, who give to us all of themselves unconditionally and comfort us always would go anywhere else. God gives them to us to love and they deserve Heaven much more than we do so I can’t believe, won’t believe they are not there.

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