How a pet can be the best friend and the best medicine when you have a chronic illness.
I became ill in August 2001 and I was diagnosed in January 2005. I spent the next nine months after diagnosis trying every alternative therapy known to try and ‘cure’ myself. No way could I be ill! In 2005 I went away for four months to try these therapies and when I came back home in October, my family had adopted a German Shepherd puppy. This is the story of how that little puppy and how he became my saviour during the darkest time of my life.
My family had a German Shepherd dog before. My sisters and I grew up with Jack, who was the best friend any children could have. He passed in 1999 and we’ve all missed him every day since then. After Jack, we often spoke of getting another dog, but with all of us grown up and in and out of the family home, we didn’t think it was a good idea. Also, one never forgets the pain of losing a dog, and that in itself can make you think twice about getting another one. But as I mentioned before, in 2005 while I was away, my sister heard about a German Shepherd puppy that was up for sale. The family that had bought him had had second thoughts about owning a dog, as so often happens. So, my sisters went to visit the family and as soon as they saw the puppy abandoned in the garden without any water, they brought him straight home.
His first human family had named him Jimmy, but that was not a suitable name for this boisterous puppy. My sister decided Masti (meaning ‘fun’ or ‘mischief’ in hindi) was a much more suitable name. Masti was very different from Jack. Where good old Jack had always been a sensible, giving dog, Masti was a brat. This had a lot to do with the fact that he was very spoiled by the whole family in response to having a dog after so long. So, when I met Masti, I was not impressed and missed Jack more than ever. I was very ill at the time and this crazy puppy just seemed more trouble than he was worth. That soon changed though.
He became my companion, my saviour and at times my reason to live. I may have been confined to the house or even the sofa at times, while everyone else went out to work, but I was no longer alone. I had a new funny friend to keep me company. I’d wake up from naps and there’d be this big furry face hovering over me, while his tail thumped away; an indication of how happy he was that I was awake. Very soon I could have full conversations with Masti, and one of the best things about German Shepherds is their extraordinary intelligence. He knew the names of all his toys (‘Burger’, ‘Piggy’, ‘Tree’, ‘Ball’) and one of his favourite games was one that even I could play with him, even though I was ill. I would hide a toy (usually Piggy) in the room, while Masti was instructed to wait outside and then he’d come running in, when I called “Where’s Piggy?”
Masti kept me sane when I felt I would go insane with the effort of being ill. He was my friend, when I had no others. No matter how little energy I had, even if I could not speak, it was enough for him. Masti was also much more tactile than Jack. In fact, we often thought that Masti did not realise he was a great big German Shepherd, and instead believing himself to be a lap dog with how much he loved cuddles. After the alternative therapies it was a good year before I felt able to deal with being ill. I learned about the illness, started managing my own health and I ended the grieving of the pre-ME me. But it was a dark year full of despair and depression. I think I may have ended my life during that time, had it not been for Masti. He truly saved me in every way a person can be saved.
In 2010, my health improved enough to allow me to move out into my own place. The hardest part was being without Masti and he did not make it easy when I went back to visit. He always seemed to know when it was coming up to time for me to leave. He followed me around and watched me with a sad questioning look “Leaving again? But you just got here.”
As you can probably tell by the past tense, this story does not have a happy ending. On Monday we had to make the awful decision that every pet owner dreads, and call the vet to have Masti euthanized. A month ago he became very unwell and the vets told us that he had tumours growing and there was nothing that could be done and they gave us a ball park figure of two months. The news was devastating. I think I cried for 24hrs straight when I found out and I went to see him. What really hurt me was that he had helped me so much when I was ill and had even been a reason for me to live at times, yet there was nothing that I could do for him now that he was ill. But this past weekend he stopped eating and just stopped being the Masti we knew. I saw him on Wednesday last week and he was extra sweet and gave me more cuddles than he ever had and I think I knew then that he was saying goodbye. Masti was nine years old, but he never lost that boisterousness he’d had as a puppy, so it was heartbreaking to see him so fatigued and lifeless on Monday. The vet came to the house and we were all with him at the end. He was brave and beautiful right until the end and I will never forget him. He was a true angel that came into my life when I needed him most.
Have you had a furry angel help you during the dark times of chronic illness?