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Pet Therapy Helpful for the Pain of Fibromyalgia

  [ 385 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By By: M. Y. Mim • • October 13, 1999

Have you, as I have, tried almost everything from acupuncture to zinc to help relieve fibromyalgia pain and fatigue? Each night, I take a veritable cornucopia of pharmacopoeia. I do everything insurance pays for and, when I can afford it, I get the uncovered treatments.

Everything helps a little, nothing helps a lot, and short-term relief is the very best I hope for.

Until last July, when I tried a new treatment.

This new and effective therapeutic modality weighs 45 pounds, is soft and fuzzy, has four legs and answers to the name of Rosa.

The idea of using a therapy dog first occurred to my husband and me when we met a standard poodle and her "mom," a woman with multiple sclerosis. The poodle, the woman explained, pulls her out of a chair, picks up things she drops, and even gently removes each piece of clothing from the dryer and hands it to her so she needn't bend down to retrieve the clean clothes!

While Rosa hasn't yet learned such advanced techniques, this past year with her has yielded extraordinary benefits and improved my condition beyond my hopes.
Our first challenge involved finding a dog that didn't make my husband wheeze and sneeze. This eliminated buying a pretrained dog as we decided the chances were unlikely that we would find a professionally trained service dog that happened to be a nonallergenic, nonshedding breed.

After extensive research, we chose a Portuguese Water Dog. Virtually any breed or mixed breed can be a service dog - but that does not mean any dog can.

Professional trainer Laurie Hardman, president of Sirius Healing, a nonprofit organization dedicated to animal-assisted therapy, advises:

"Have the puppy or dog tested for suitability by a professional. He or she will look for the qualities that indicate service-dog potential, such as intelligence and problem-solving abilities; an even, confident temperament, and a desire to work and please people."

We picked up five-month-old Rosa over the July 4, 1998, weekend. She possesses the trainable traits, the hypoallergenic coat, and, most important, she stole our hearts.
Friends worried that the burden of a dog, especially an untrained one, would flare my fibromyalgia. Rosa turned out to be a "miracle cure" from the very beginning.

First, we walked. In life BR (Before Rosa), my fatigue level was so high that I could maybe walk a block - on a good day. Fortunately, the puppy couldn't manage much more.

Slowly we increased our distance. Each day we got stronger and walked longer. Our "personal best" to date is an amazing four miles. Not only am I in better shape than I have been in years, I'm much less concerned about osteoporosis. I enjoy myself so much walking with Rosa through the local parks, that my stress level has plummeted.
Enjoying myself is a therapeutic key: After only four months with Rosa, I felt confident decreasing my antidepressant dosage by a walloping 30%.

Studies show that people with disabilities who have service dogs score higher for psychological well-being, self-esteem, community integration, and the amount of control they can exert over their environment. Additional research documents that companion animals provide:

* Lower blood pressure
* Moderation of stress
* Improved motivation
* Decreased serum cholesterol
* Mitigation of the effects of loneliness.

Some other immediate benefits of Rosatherapy for me include less dependence on pain pills, increased feelings of safety and independence, and an important intangible that baffles healthy folk but one well understood by fibrofolks.

When we live in bodies wracked by constant pain and fatigue, our consciousness occasionally elects to leave that uncomfortable place. For me, this presents as fibrofog supreme. I've been in dangerous situations when I was so spacey I couldn't make change for a quarter or remember the purpose of a stoplight.

Rosa, literally, grounds me. She tethers me to the earth, keeping me safely in place. Because I take responsibility for her, I am more responsible for myself. I enjoy a "levelheadedness" and alertness when we're out that previously eluded me.

Rosa accompanies me everywhere. She sits quietly under the table when we're in restaurants; she's nearly invisible under my seat at the movies. She's an old hand (paw?) at musical concerts, not even raising a whimper during the storm section of Beethoven's Pastorale or registering a complaint at a delightfully noisy jazz saxophone quartet.
The American Disability Act guarantees Rosa's right to assist me everywhere I go, but I don't expect local cafe owners and shopkeepers to know that. As often as not, the clerk or server will challenge us. I patiently, smilingly explain the law, trying not to let any annoyance come through!

As Hardman notes, having a service dog means training the public almost as much as training the dog!

Hardman, through Sirius Healing, also trains "therapy dogs," animals that visit hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. From Hardman, I've learned to use my dog as a therapy tool.

For example, my rotator cuffs and shoulder muscles have atrophied as a consequence of fibromyalgia. To get a good gentle stretch, I stroke Rosa from neck to tail. To get a better stretch, I play tug-of-war with her, alternating my arms. I'm working up to fetch: My goal is to throw the ball overhand without my shoulders popping!

By the time Rosa learns to hand me clean laundry and haul me out of chairs, maybe I won't need her to do so. But if I do, she'll be there for me.

Rosatherapy rules!

About the author: Ms. Mim's career as a writer, editor and marketing specialist includes many years working in textbook publishing, technical writing and strategic marketing. She spent 15 years as a professional copywriter and creative director in advertising. After nearly 10 years at The Seattle Times, the severity of her fibromyalgia prevented her, at the age of 44, from continuing employment. She was first diagnosed in 1991 and since 1996 she has been on disability.

Mim lives in Seattle with her husband and their son - when he's home from college - and their Portuguese Water Dog Mimtodd's Aguamist Rosa Keta.

For more information:
Laurie Hardman, Sirius Healing
12046-12th Ave. N.E, Seattle. WA 98125

The Delta Society
289 Perimeter Road Est, Renton, WA 98055
(425) 226-7357

An online service dog directory may be found at

The following list is not an endorsement but rather a sample of programs in different areas around the country.

Sedona Service Dog & Wellness Programs
Southwest Offices
2370 W. Hwy 89A Bldg.11-111, Sedona, Az. 86336
Southwest Regional Training Centre
2801 E. Illini St.
Phoenix, Az. 85040
Southeast Placement Centre
P.O. Box 1073, Captiva Island, Florida 33924
Utah Training Centre
POB 282 , Roosevelt, Utah 84066

Tender Loving Canines, Service Dogs
197 Woodland Parkway, Suite 104-425
San Marcos, CA 92069
760-736-4852 (760-736-4-TLC)

The Wisconsin Academy of Graduate Service Dogs, Inc.
WAGS, Inc., PO Box 7203, Madison, WI 53707
(608) 241-WAGS

Pets and People: Companions in Therapy and Service
P.O. Box 4266
Meridian, MS 39307
(601) 483-8970

Dogs for Disabled
321 Old Saluda Dam Rd.
Easley, SC 29640
(864) 220-6090
(864) 220-0502 FAX
(864) 862-8626 (Training Center)

East Coast Assistance Dogs
Lucille Picard
149 Newfield Rd.
Torrington, CT 06790
(860) 489-6550

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