When we adopted Matilda in 2008, I emphasized that we wanted a dog that could handle the chaos of three young boys. When we brought Matilda home, we saw that she had the most even temperament. Even my three rowdy sons couldn’t break her calm and loving demeanor.
When Matilda was three, I knew she was ready to be a therapy dog. After we became a certified pet therapy team, we visited residents in a nursing home every week for a year. The following year, we visited a children’s day care center. I hoped to visit patients in a hospital setting, and I even considered entering her into a study in which dogs visited chemotherapy patients.
In June 2013, I had to put our therapy visits on hold. We received news that is every parent’s worst nightmare: My 9-year-old son was diagnosed with a rare type of pediatric cancer. He would require nearly a year of chemotherapy treatments plus a 6-week round of radiation.
The first few months were rough. After each cycle, my son experienced terrible nausea and lost a considerable amount of weight. He’d lie on the couch and sometimes became increasingly anxious about not feeling well. I’d call Matilda over to him so he could pet her. His face would instantly relax.
In those early days after my son’s diagnosis, my husband and I were in a constant state of stress. Sleep did not come easily to either of us. When we finally did fall asleep, inevitably one or both of us would wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 A.M., tossing and turning.
Matilda has faithfully slept next to our bed since she was a puppy. Maybe this was canine intuition, but as soon as my husband or I began our early morning stress-induced toss and turn, Matilda would jump up on our bed. She’d lay right next to me and I’d rub her belly a few times. Having her cuddling next to me, I’d fall asleep within minutes.
One of Matilda’s routines is to jump up on to my son’s bed and “tuck him in.” She lies on his bed until I say goodnight, and she follows me out the door. Lately, before my son goes to sleep, he cuddles for a few extra minutes with Matilda. He puts his arm around her neck and gently rests his head on top of her shoulders. She patiently lies there and waits for him to have his fill.
My son recently finished his last round of chemotherapy. It’s been a very long year, filled with lots of anxiety for our whole family. Through it all, Matilda was our therapy dog, giving us licks and letting us hug her whenever we needed it, which was quite often. She has brought our family laughs, joy and a whole lot of love—just when we needed it the most.
Emily Cappo is a writer and blogger at Oh Boy Mom. She is a mom to three boys and one girl dog named Matilda, a sweet and cuddly Labradoodle. Matilda and Emily are also a certified pet therapy team.
Spring is finally here, and the sun is shining at last. It’s the season for spring cleaning and outdoor adventures, but before you start enjoying the fresh air, consider a few tips for keeping your furry friends safe and happy this season:
Screen it: After months cooped up indoors, it’s tempting to throw open your windows to let the breeze in. However, pets—especially cats— are apt to jump or fall through open windows. Make sure your windows are fitted with screens before opening them.
Grow a green thumb: As you work to beautify your lawn and garden, be mindful that some popular springtime plants including Easter lilies, rhododendron and azaleas are highly toxic to pets and can easily prove fatal if eaten. Fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides are dangerous to pets as well. Visit our full list of garden tips, and consider teaching your kids which plants are potentially harmful to your furry friends.
Ah-choo!: Like humans, pets may suffer from allergies during the spring season. Dogs and cats can experience allergic reactions to pollens, plants, dust and foods. If you suspect your pet is suffering from allergies, take him or her to the vet as soon as possible.
Spring cleaning: As you prepare to divvy up the chore list and give your house a deep cleaning, be sure to keep all cleaners and chemicals away from your pets. Most commercially sold cleaning products contain chemicals that are harmful to pets. Always read and follow label directions for proper use and storage.
When you’re out and about: Chances are that as the weather warms up, your family will spend more and more time outdoors. If your family likes to ride in the car with the windows down, be sure your pet is safely buckled in or rides in a crate. Going for a walk in the park? Be sure your pet is wearing an ID tag and has been microchipped.
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown.
I love listening to family stories, especially when the protagonist is the family pet. Friends talk about cuddling kittens or welcoming kisses from new puppies when they were children. Their stories are vivid, filled with multi-sensory details.
In his book, The Secrets of Happy Families, author Bruce Feiler reveals that a commonality of happy families is in storytelling. He writes of the value to children who learn about ethical behavior and resiliency from parents who share family history. In my opinion, stories including pets should also be treasured as oral heirlooms, passed down through generations.
When I was little, twice a year, we drove eight hours to visit my grandparents who lived in far west Texas. I have vivid memories of my grandmother’s stories about “Kitty Boo,” the cat our mom dressed in doll clothes and strolled around the neighborhood. She told us about my uncle who rode horses and who once befriended an angora goat by sneaking him into the house.
Long ago, our children learned about Blackie, my husband’s dog who daily walked all six kids to school and returned home to await the end of classes. They heard about Pierre, the silver grey poodle my parents chose as a companion for their two little girls.
Our kids are already telling stories of growing up with Choco, Argus, Moose and Gus—our four chocolate labs. These pups have generated plenty of material—most of it humorous, some occasionally smelly, and much that is heart-in-your-throat poignant. Interwoven into each story is an ethic of responsible pet ownership that is one of our family’s core values. When I hear them begin a tale about their dogs, regardless of the details, what is most memorable is the loving regard in which the dogs have been held. That seems perfect to me.
Do you have a story to share about your family pet?Email your story to [email protected] and we might feature it on the ASPCA Blog!