The Daily, Most-Controlled, and Least Expensive Therapy following Brain Injury, Spinal Cord Injury, and Chronic Illnesses

02 Mar

Are you searching out affordable, consistent, reliable family therapy to restore life after traumatic brain injury or chronic illness?  Do you feel as though no one is listening? No one cares or understands? Where is that unconditional love?  What is the best therapy that works, stands by you through thick and thin, and does not pass judgment? When you and the family feel things have stabilized after your injury or illness it may be time to consider something you have not considered before injury.  It’s time to think about having a pet … a dog, cat, fish or something you are interested in?  Do not jump into this idea … I’m just saying consider it.  There is the human-animal bond that has existed for thousands of years.

  1. A pet needs tender loving care (TLC).
  2. You can relax and be yourself around your pet.
  3. They accept you for who you are.
  4. They don’t correct all your mistakes.
  5. They don’t point out all your faults.
  6. They are not critical.
  7. They simply love you for who you are.

There is a therapeutic use of pets as companions, and research in recent years has proven this fact.  Here are just a few medical diagnosis that animals are beneficial:  cancer, traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, Down’s syndrome, depression, anxiety, mental retardation, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, seizure disorders, and so many more.

I remain optimistic and advocate for human-pet interaction therapy and believe this impact is beneficial for the brain injured and those with chronic illnesses.  Pets help you navigate in the real world.  They protect you and are a symbol of strength and control. This is valuable when your life feels like it has lost control.  Strength and control is something very difficult to achieve with all the vulnerabilities that brain injury and illness causes.  Superficially, those previously injured and others working through chronic illnesses appear in control and have strength because that is what society expects and dictates especially those with invisible injuries.  Actually, most illnesses and injuries are easily masked by individuals hence a false sense of health.  This false sense of health may actually be a stronger inner self and play a positive role in recovery.  Who wants to look or feel sick anyway? What does illness or injury look like after a couple of weeks anyway?

Even those with visible injuries society believes you just need to adapt and move on.  But, what they don’t realize is this is a never-ending process of adjusting and adapting through all phases of life.

No one knows how difficult and complex living is until they have a drastic change in their lives.  At this time one realizes how everything including every bodily function was once taken for granted, hence a feeling of appreciation of life and the complexities we face.

The following are few added benefits to having a pet:

  • People with pets live longer
  • Decrease stress induced symptoms
  • Improve cognitive functioning
  • Improve social skills
  • Helps with emotional well-being
  • Affectionate and warm relationships
  • Opportunity for fun and relaxation
  • Creates an opportunity for humor and laughter
  • Help make one feel young and worthwhile, even if elderly
  • You need less medical care
  • Constant source of comfort and focus for attention
  • Bring out our nurturing instinct
  • Feelings of being safe
  • Unconditionally accepted
  • Provide a reason for living
  • Anxiety levels decrease
  • Reduce depression and chronic pain
  • Improve circulation while walking the animal
  • Provides companionship
  • Improve moral especially when undergoing intense medical treatments

Everyone will not be able to offer a home for a pet, even if they would like to. Other options to consider include: Therapeutic Horseback Riding and Pet SittingTherapeutic horseback riding helps with many neurological conditions.  By riding the body adjusts through muscular movement and the neurological system adjusts as needed. Pet Sitting is where you offer to give temporary care in your home or their home while the owner is away.  These are other non-medical sources of therapy that improve your overall well-being.  This has a goal to integrate body and spirit.  The outcome is the same as though you owned a pet.  Any regular therapy helps more than something done periodically or randomly.

Regardless of your source of pet therapy it also creates a bond between animal-lovers.  It is amazing that these animals are aware of the internal states of the human being.  They often alert people of an impending seizure, illness or episode.  They will also make others aware of impending problems or search for help.  This is instinctive of animals and should never be minimized. By their instinctive nature, they will keep you safe.

Dogs sense impending medical situations and conditions most likely because of the change in electrical charges in the brain.  This is like dogs sensing a thunderstorm, also because of the electrical charges.  Is it there innate sense of smell, that they can detect hormonal changes and sweat in the body?  Is it the chemical changes within the body that they are able to detect because they have somewhere between 20 -40 times smell receptors than humans.  Whatever the reason, animals instinctively know more than human’s give them credit.  My dog will eat anything except artificial sweetener products and diet drinks…now that’s scary!

We lost a dog years back and after that my husband repeatedly said “No Dogs!” for twenty-five years.  Until one day his heart sank when he saw “That Doggie in The Window”.  That began our new road into a therapy that worked for our family, more than any other family therapy we received in healthcare.  And by far, it was the least expensive therapy.  Even including all the medical bills we’ve endured because of “crazy” things that happen with brain injury.

Actions and reactions are not predictable with brain injury.  You always believe and feel you are doing the right thing.  At least, it is the right thing at that moment.  I mention this because our dog survived something that seemed impossible.  At the time I didn’t know what was happening.  Over a two month period our dog was sick every day and night.  I have always minimized illness, so this was not out of character for me.  It wasn’t until I finally took him to a Veterinarian  January 2009.  I was out-of-state with my 8 year-old dachshund “Shaky” Scott Sigmund Freud. I was told he wouldn’t make it past a couple of hours.  We did not know what was wrong with him, but his blood work was abnormal in every sense imaginable.  He sat in his bed and could not stand to greet us. I drove frantically through a snowstorm to return to Ohio.  This was a day my daughter was also undergoing a surgical procedure…so we had a sick daughter and dog!  I prayed and talked to the dog throughout the journey as his eyes continually rolled back.  I know he was counting on me, and I did not let him down.  He knew we all loved him.

I might mention within 20 minutes of writing about burning things…my husband came running downstairs.  I put his pizza in to heat up.  For some reason I put a teflon spatula in the oven…it’s melted now!

Make sure you have working smoke detectors and change the batteries twice a year when you change the clock to-and-from daylight savings time.  A Carbon Monoxide Detector is also a great item for safety in your home.  Put these items on a gift list, if you do not have them.  Most fire departments may also supply free smoke alarms.    My dog’s alarm always goes off first, but if you cannot smell or vision is not clear you may not know immediately what your dog is conveying.  They will bother you until you search for the answer.

Unfortunately, I should have intervened much sooner before he got to this point.  I guess my judgement was a little off…but it hasn’t been the only time.  This time it nearly cost the life of our dearly beloved dog.  He had a peach pit removed that was lodged for 2 months.  It’s unbelievable that he survived, but we’ve had many survival miracles in this family.  He recovered quickly after exploratory surgery.  According to blood work it was certain of a blockage, but not sure where.  The blockage was at the entrance of the stomach.  They removed a peach pit.  I purchased a case of peaches just two months earlier and I gave the dog a part of a peach.  It was easy to identify time and place of onset of symptoms because we were out-of-state visiting with a sibling and wife when he first became ill.   He loves his fruits and vegetables…and so do I, but this was a serious mistake!  But, it’s been only one of many mistakes…and if you have a brain injury you can understand…and we don’t count the thousands of mistakes…we just move on.

Many pets have senses that know when you are not well, and know how to help you.  Do you have a family pet?  Are you in need of one or would you like to try it out? Pets comfort, help and heal you.

I suggest offering to watch your friends favorite companion while they are away.  This is a trial on how you would do with your own pet.  See if you have the energy to offer for a pet.  See if you have the financial means to care for the pet appropriately.  A small dog takes less physical energy than a large dog if you need to walk them and have limited yard space.  They still need walks and TLC.

It was 25 years since our family had a dog!  Two children, an active lifestyle, and a husband that said “no dogs”!  Was I ready for a dog in 2001?  It needs an agreed upon decision where others will help in all aspects of the animals care.

Search on-line for a specific breed such as dachshund rescue.  There are thousands of animals looking for a wonderful home.

Here are a couple of pet rescue sites:

Here is a partial list of Positive and Negative things to think about before considering a pet.


  • An Ability to Shift Your Focus
  • Help Us to Feel Connected
  • Exercise
  • Companionship
  • Happiness
  • Social skills
  • Non-judgmental, unconditional, love and affection
  • Soothing and Relaxing effect of touch
  • Provides a Reason for Living
  • Helps Provide Routine to Daily Living
  • Does Demand a lot of work and attention to detail
  • They do not bring negative emotions to relationships, like humans do.
  • Humans demand speech with interactions, Animals can have totally speechless communication!
  • Speechless Communication or Watching provides a relaxation response with little demand increasing Joy & Happiness
  • Feel Needed and Responsible


  • Can increase stress for some who cannot handle the responsiblity
  • Can increase stress if you feel a pet would be a burden
  • Can increase stress if you don’t have manage your own ADLs (Activities of Daily Living).

The following are just a few examples of ways our long-haired miniature dachshund has touched our lives in special interactions:

I once started the car in the garage attached to the house. I forgot I started the car. I do not know how long it was running, but my dog was acting funny.  He was running around sniffing all the heat registers in the house.  Because of his behaviors I choose not to go anywhere.  I did not know what was wrong.  Later, when I went out to the car to grab my purse, I realized the car had been running.    If it were not for his acting out or simply strange behaviors this could have proven to be a fatal error affecting several of us in the house.  He saved our lives!  He hides every time I’m burning something on the stove or in the oven.  I do try to cook, but it is commonly disaster…but sometimes successful!  It’s the lack of sense of smell that makes it more difficult…if I could notice smoke or smell that would be great.  Because my vision is always blurred, I don’t notice smoke and because I can’t smell the combination of these issues compounds the problem especially with  cooking.

Our dachshund started sitting by my mother-in-law constantly about 6 months before her death.  She was not even diagnosed until 4 days prior before death.  She had liver, lung and ovarian cancer.  What did this little dog know?  His name “Shaky” Scott Sigmund Freud.  This was this best therapy for our entire family.  He brought “JOY” back into our lives.  We share laughter and adore him.

  • APL  Animal Protective League
  • Websites:  Specific breed rescue sites
  • Referrals from friends and relatives

There is no difference as far a therapeutic benefit when it comes to having a specific type animal.  As long as you have an interest in some type of animal or pet is all that matters.  It can be a dog, cat, bird, reptile, a fish or anything.  The pet needs to fit in with your lifestyle.  You do not want it to be something to add more stress.  Read up on the breed or background of the pet before you adopt and prepare yourself as well as others in the family.  Find out if others are willing to help when you are not able to provide.  You don’t have to start with a puppy that takes house-training and totally breaking in unless you are up to that challenge.  If you are … great!  If you are not there are other opportunities.  There are young dogs/cats as well as older-animals looking for homes.  Check out the Rescue websites for the specific breed of pet you are looking for.

Ultimately, pet ownership offers companionship and stress-relief.


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2 responses to “The Daily, Most-Controlled, and Least Expensive Therapy following Brain Injury, Spinal Cord Injury, and Chronic Illnesses

  1. Kimberly Flickinger (@kaflickinger74)

    March 4, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    Very Helpful! Thank you!

  2. spinal cord trauma

    March 14, 2012 at 5:15 am

    Really nice and helpful post.It has a good tips here. Thank you for sharing..:-)


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