Pets are not for everyone. And if you’re not an “animal person” you should probably avoid getting a pet. Pets require attention because they can do so little for themselves. If you feel stretched already, you may not want the additional work a pet requires.
Now, with that disclaimer provided, I’ll begin to tell why a good pet can be a wonderful thing for a person with MS. First, I’ll tell about my dog, Einstein. With a name like that you can imagine I had high hopes for him. He doesn’t live up to the name. He’s not a show dog. And he’s bright enough, but he really excels in just a few things. Fortunately, what he excels in is the important stuff.
Einstein’s a two year old Cocker Spaniel we bought from a friend. We picked him out of the litter in my friend’s living room when the pups’ eyes were just barely open. It was a great way to choose a dog. My wife and daughters bonded with him before we ever brought him home.
He’s an excellent house dog with great bladder control. We live out of town on a couple of acres, but he’s never been off the leash outside so he stays clean and doesn’t bring in the smells he would if he ran free like most of the neighborhood dogs.
He’s a lazy dog, sleeps most of the time and isn’t hyperactive like some smaller dogs can be. In point of fact, he’s stretched out asleep on the floor here beside his/my chair. The only furniture he claims as his is my chair. He hops in it as soon as I get out of it. The chair sits beside the French doors and I think he likes the view it affords of the backyard. Lately, he’s had his eyes on my neighbor’s rooster and three hens which make regular appearances in my yard. I can say, “Einstein, chickens!” and he runs to the back doors barking and whining with excitement, tail and butt wagging as he looks out the windows for the crazy birds.
He’s a fun dog to own.
Here’s the main reason I think a good pet can be a wonderful thing for someone with MS: a good pet is pet-able. Few things are as calming to my wife as petting Einstein. I’ve read research about the benefits of pet ownership for improving blood pressure, extending the life span of heart attack patients, and soothing distressed geriatric patients. I see the best evidence of the good a pet offers when watching my wife relax while petting Einstein. Even if I didn’t like him, that alone would be enough to make it worth tolerating him.
Another benefit is that Einstein is entertaining. My wife and I both laugh watching the girls play with him. And laughter is good for the heart.
Caring for a pet requires that one exert effort beyond what they may wish. I know my wife spends more time outside with Einstein than she would without him. He tugs on the leash enough to exercise her arms. And while she doesn’t walk him around the neighborhood, she does walk him around the backyard each day.
There are two things I didn’t want to do a couple of years ago, but having done them, I’m glad I did. I painted our living room yellow and white and I bought my wife a dog. Sometimes I still miss the green walls and wood paneling, but I’ve not yet regretted having Einstein.
Caregiver Tip: A caution is in order. If caring for an MS patient requires all of your time or would be additional stress, you don’t need the extra burden of caring for a pet. However, many cities have pet therapy programs which may offer access to a well-trained pet without requiring that you care for it. A weekly visit to your house by a pet therapy animal may be just as soothing and beneficial.