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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Your Dying Spouse 265 - Caregiver Lessons From Dogs

This post was suggested by my service dogs, Sylvia and Ladron, and their assistants - Red, Strawberry, and Chris.

Everyone intuitively understands that dogs make splendid companions, and that they can provide a degree of caregiving far beyond what we might expect - look at seeing eye dogs, for example, and dogs trained to recognize the onset of epileptic fits...and trained to call 911.

But what about the nuts and bolts of caregiving? What, in the day-to-day stuff, can a human caregiver learn from a dog?

Plenty, and again, it's not necessarily that which you would expect.

  • Be there - one of the most important things dogs know how to do - which can be hard for people - is just being there without trying to improve the situation. A dog will not ask if you need something to drink, or whether you want the channel changed, or note that you're looking depressed and do you want to talk about it? Not that these aren't good caregiving actions - they are. But more often than you may think, the best thing to lend is your presence. Illness, especially terminal illness, is a terribly lonely road. A quiet companion who's content to stay with you is wonderful
  • Gentle touch - when watching a DVD, i sit on the floor - chairs are far too uncomfortable now. One of the dogs will sit near me, with a paw lightly touching. It isn't intrusive, and I think it serves two purposes. First, it's a warning mechanism, in case I lose consciousness. But I think there's more, a desire to say, Hey, I'm here. For your husband or wife, a hand resting lightly on a knee or shoulder would be, I think, greatly appreciated. And so would an affectionate and light touch as you walk past.
  • Be a little bit demanding - when I got worse, Ladron, who never rolls on her back for anyone (she's a Red Heeler, and they don't do that) suddenly decided she needed belly rubs from me. She didn't ask Barbara. This is Ladron's way of keeping me involved, and making me feel like I have a responsibility right back to her.
  • Commiserate - the process I'm going through is frightening, and sometimes I cry in private. The dogs will come and cry with me. They don't try to make it better, they don't suggest that I look on the bright side ("You'll see Jesus soon!"), and they don't judge ("It's good you can finally cry!" Which makes me not want to.)
  • Offer to play - though you, as a human caregiver, might not wish to walk around with a tennis ball in your mouth, in the hope that your mate will throw it for you, it's good to recognize that play may be more important than ever in your spouse's life, and in your relationship.  Board games can be a lot of fun, and a challenge, and (so I am told) can video games. Puzzles can offer fun and companionship as well. And if your sick husband or wife is ambulatory, how about some miniature golf...or a game of pool?
What do you think? Are there any other canine-taught tips you'd like to add?

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  1. Thank you Andrew for always providing perspective into your journey but insight as well. I do not have any pets but my son owned a Golden retriever at one time and everything you said about your dogs sounds like how Parker cared for my son Daniel and me when he came to visit. You are blessed to have such caring, faithful companions.

    1. Mary, thank you so much for sharing your memories of Parker...dogs do seem to have the knack, don't they?

      I'm so grateful for your presence here today. Thank you!

  2. I love what the dogs are doing and the lessons we can learn from them!

    1. Helene, thanks so much! Stripped of so much that I could once do, I have learned so much from just living with the dogs...sometimes at their level, and sometimes they come up to mine. (As an example of the latter, they have their favourite movies, and can recognize the DVD cases. Ladron's hands-down favourite is 'Saving Private Ryan', and she'll grab the case and whack my leg with it when she wants to see it.)

      Thanks so much for being here.

  3. I think the points you've made convict me as a spouse, Andrew. I don't think I take this approach nearly enough with my hubby and I know, whether he is ill or not, he would appreciate these kinds of gestures.

    Know that I continue to pray for you daily. I'm sorry that you must suffer so relentlessly, but am selfishly glad you're still with us, my friend! I'm sure Barbara is too!

  4. Although I'm not quite the animal lover that many people are, dogs are my favorite for many of these reasons you state. For the first time in a very long time, Jeff and I are currently dog free. Our 22-yr-old recently bought a house and wanted her dog back so we moved Kandie back in with her. They are both are thrilled with the arrangement, and now we are completely empty-nesters, but with no complaints about that. :) I'm glad that you have such great companions in your dogs, Andrew. You are doing a good work.

  5. This is beautiful. Been praying for you, mostly in the evening. I think about your suffering and it my problems are small in comparison. You are a good friend to all of us. Thank you, Andrew. Praying God's help through this. May the warmth of God's presence lessen the discomfort.