(left to right Peggy, Dougall and Dudley)
It’s official. Pets are a huge asset to people living with HIV. Two PositiveLite guest writers have confirmed that already this week, and I'm not disagreeing.
Denise Becker said of her doberman pinscher Ziggy “pets are our joy, our companions, our support. They give us something to care about, they make us feel needed and make us realize that we can’t give up on life because we would be giving up on them too… and they are always there for us . . . they are priceless. ”
Kengi said of his loveable mixed breed (?) Dodger “(he) has been very much like a rock for me, something to lean on when my friends are not enough. He seems to fully understand what it is that I need without me even being able to say it to him. I can talk to him and he listens and hears me. He's been my comfort in the time of great sorrow and pain and he has been the source of so much laughter and many smiles."
So it’s my turn to weigh in. Of Dougall, Dudley and Peggy, I’ll just say ”I wish they didn’t take up so much room on the bed at night.” Specifically chocolate lab Dougall and basset hound Dudley occupy the bed; basset hound number two Peggy occupies the large pet cushion beside our bed, but moves up to full bed-sharing status early each morning. Don’t even ask why; let’s just say it involves her less than athletic build.
Actually the bed thing is a key point of contention in dog ownership - as in “do you let them on the bed or don’t you”. For some owners, it’s awesome to be snuggling up with their favourite canine pal. For others it’s ewwww-some. Me, I’m firmly in the first camp.
I remember in the mid 90’s when workshops for HIVers included such earnest sign-of-the-times topics as “palliative care for beginners” I raised my timid little hand (well, it was timid in those days) and asked if it was OK to have your dogs on the bed when you passed away. Honestly. Those are the kind of things we talked about in those days. The answer was of course, “yes” and I left all the happier about how my palliative care was going to look.
At that time we had two wonderful black labs. Baxter (his name lives on in my email address) was a handsome fellow, wise beyond his years. He so excelled at obedience classes he became a therapy dog, visiting seniors, walking in parades and such. Bailey was less of a brainiac; his main interest in life was a ball he always wanted you to throw, even, if I recall right, the day he passed away. Both dogs succumbed to cancer. It’s a nasty thing indeed to make that one last trip to the vet with them – perhaps one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. But it’s a testament to how important our pets are to us that we stay with them right to the very end.
I cry as I write this.
But we move on. Baxter and Bailey were replaced – and I absolutely HAD to have a replacement - by Dudley our first basset, who is technically my partner’s dog, and Dougall the chocolate lab, who is technically mine. The lines of course are extremely blurred, particularly as dogs typically will not admit to being owned by anyone, At least, bassets won’t admit that. They are the most strong-willed, difficult to train animals on the planet, short of hedgehogs. (And yes, I have had a hedgehog.) Why we got a second basset - Peggy – is one of life’s little mysteries, if one ignores the fact that for all their quirks, bassets are as loveable as all get out. Huge bodies, elephantine ears, short legs and jowls for days give them an air of ridiculousness which I find totally endearing.
Now I don’t want to give the impression that I’m all about dogs. We have been a cat household too – at one point we had FIVE cats. We have none now. Are cats better, more endearing, more supportive pets than dogs? You be the judge. The old adage “dogs drool, cats rule” has some truth in it, after all, in that cats will NEVER be the underdogs in a dog-owning household. It really is a matter of preference as to which animal you pledge allegiance to.
Whoever you pledge your allegiance to, chances are they’ll quite likely be incredibly smitten by you. It’s a wonderful thing to have a creature that's descended from a wild animal – we are talking four-legged now – to be so head over heels in love with you. Dogs, most of them, LIVE to please you, LIVE to be your friend. This, surely, is incredibly comforting for people who live by themselves, are dealing with illness, or both.
Treats thrown their way once in a while only cement the bond with them. So what if that bond is built around food. I’ve had human relationships of that kind too, LOL.
Built around food or not, Dougall, Dudley and Peggy love me. I know that, and I love them right back. Our HIV-laden lives can be incredibly self-centered at times, don’t you think – and pets are a way to divert all the attention from US. The fact that they are warm and cuddly at night – if we let them be- is a bonus, the icing on the cake. And I love cake, particularly with lots of icing.
So do our dogs. But then they'll eat anything.
Want to see more of the three pooches? The video below was filmed last year. Nothing much happens on this Dog Day Afternoo (sic) but you get to see where I live.