“My Pet Is the Best Therapy!”

Why animals are your best friend when it comes to dealing with your rheumatoid arthritis.
Katie Alberts
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Here’s why folks with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) love spending time with their animals—one of their stories may just inspire you to get a little pet TLC!

“An animal needs no explanation!”
Developing RA as a teenager meant that Shelly Spence, now 32, spent a lot of time explaining herself to teachers, other kids and potential dates. “With RA you often don’t ‘look sick’ so you’re always educating people about the disease and justifying your limitations. Luckily, my family always had pets that were there for unconditional, quiet support. With a dog there is no need to explain and you can just be.”

“My cat has a nose for flare-ups”
In the 25 years that Leslie Vandever, 56, of Cameron Park, CA, has lived with RA, her dogs and cats have been amazing stress relievers. “My dogs always got me out of the house, but it’s my cats that really knew when and where I needed comfort. One of them, my dear old tuxedo cat, used to actually snuggle up over whichever joint was hurting me most, providing deep, comforting warmth exactly where I needed it.

It always just amazed me how he seemed to know when and where I was hurting!” When he died, I didn’t expect that my next cat would do the same but sure enough, my newest cat-friend, Mouse, a rescued Maine Coon cat, does exactly the same thing, snuggling as close as she can get to whatever joint is flaring and then purring her heart out!”

“My Jack Russell lifts my spirits with a show”
“People who have rheumatoid arthritis, like me, are more susceptible to depression, and you need to find ways to push against that,” says Roberta Stenzel of Waseca, MN. “My dog, Buddy, who at age 3 still acts like a puppy, is so entertaining, he won’t let me get the blues. How can you be depressed when the little guy is doing somersaults, begging or any of his other tricks?”

No pet? You can still enjoy the benefits!
Become a volunteer: That’s the advice of Pia Silvani, vice president of training and behavior at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, NJ. “Our volunteers walk dogs, spend time sitting and socializing with cats or become canine coaches, helping us train animals.” Ask about programs at a local shelter, or visit paws.org.

·         Sign up for a “dog vacay!” DogVacay.com is a new free site that connects you with pets in your neighborhood that need watching and walking. You can take your “weekend puppy” on a simple stroll or a rigorous hike; it’s up to you. And you can earn a few bucks from the dog’s owners, who will be relieved not to have to kennel their beloved animal.

·         Go to the park and observe. Studies show folks who are close to animals spend more time thinking about the day-to-day and living in the here and now, says Aubrey H. Fine, author of Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy (Academic Press, 2010). And that includes simply watching animals. “They can teach us how to adjust to physical limitations,” reveals Fine. “I had a patient who watched the perseverance of a bird who couldn’t perch, and it helped put her adaptations in a new light for her.”

July 2013