Toby: The Natural Therapy Pet

Published: October 19, 2008

Toby is one of God’s little creatures—a happy, vibrant, and friendly puppy. Loyal and affectionate, Toby has helped me recover from my strokes by relieving the tremendous stress with which I, a workaholic, have for so long lived.

I suffered three strokes in February and March 2006. I was chopping wood in my backyard in the bitter cold when blood clots formed in the left vertebral artery in the back of my neck. The clots led to two strokes, one in each the left and the right side of the cerebellum. Suffering vertigo and nausea, I entered the hospital. A few days later I experienced an extreme headache due to hemorrhaging in the brain, technically another stroke. These strokes happened unexpectedly. At 54 years of age, a relatively young age for a stroke victim, I was in healthy and robust condition. I had never smoked and did not drink alcohol. Afterwards, I went on disability and lost my job at an international research and development company. I was fortunate to have survived; and with the help of doctors, other medical personnel, family, and friends, I am recovering. Each case of stroke differs, and a stroke survivor can face a variety of physical, mental, and emotional rehabilitation issues. In my case, my family wanted me to reduce my stress level. Like Therapy Pets, animals trained to help human beings cope with and heal from medical problems, Toby has helped me to escape the tension of the “dog eat dog” world. We have embarked on a series of hearty adventures together.

Toby is a Shih Tzu and Pomeranian mix. I am finding out that many people are interested in a dog’s breed. Recently, my wife and I took Toby to the train station to pick up our daughter. We arrived early, so I took Toby for a walk around the station. When the train arrived, I saw a conductor get off the train ahead of a woman. (There was no rain or lightning, but I kept Toby away from the conductor.) The woman really liked Toby and said to me, "What a cute dog! What kind of dog is he?" I answered, "He's a Shih Tzu mix." Then she looked at me, puzzled. After a pause, she asked, "Is he a Japanese dog?" I was tempted to say “No, Toby’s not from Japan. People have nationalities; dogs are identified by their breed.” I just smiled.

On a recent walk in our neighborhood, Toby and I met another owner and her dog. The dog appeared to be Pomeranian, about the same size as Toby, with white curly hair. (Forgetting my own admonition about nationality and breed, I wondered to myself whether Toby dreamt about his homeland Pomerania and where it was located.) As the two dogs played, the woman asked whether Toby was male or female. I said, "He's male." And she muttered, "Me too." I probably misheard what she said. If not, either she really identified with her dog, as many dog owners do, or her dog was a great ventriloquist.

Toby is also a companion in my stroke recovery fitness program. We recently went to exercise at our local high school athletic field, where there is a 220-yard track and a football/soccer field inside the track, all within a 4-feet fence. Off his leash, Toby ran around the track. He sprinted a 100-yard dash and rested. He then sprinted another 100 yards back and rested. Rehabilitating my unsteady gait, I walked around the track as fast as I could. At the time, the soccer/football surface was being re-sodded. Ever helpful, Toby went to the center of the field, at the 50-yard line, and dedicated it. We went home—after I picked up what Toby had left behind.

While I continue on pleasant adventures with Toby, I'd love to hear from other stroke survivors who have informational, amusing, and/or inspirational real stories of their therapy assisted by pets—horses, dogs, cats, parrots, or other animals and fish!

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