My animals keep me motivated as I navigate life with COPD

Columnist Caroline Gainer has found many benefits to owning pets

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by Caroline Gainer |

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Those of us with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) sometimes struggle to stay motivated to do the things that keep us healthy. My animals keep me focused and get me out of bed, even when I don’t want to get up. They must be fed and cared for in the morning and evening, and their needs help me stick to a routine.

Snowball is my famous cat. A video created by pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim is dedicated to my relationship with her and her late dog sibling, Albert. They were very important during my recovery from the pneumothorax (lung collapse) that required me to start oxygen therapy. Snowball has alerted me several times when problems have occurred with my concentrator, such as the hose coming loose. These things seem to always happen when I’m asleep, and she frantically works to wake me.

My sweet Albert crossed the rainbow bridge two years ago in October. If you watch the video, you might notice he had an old driveway sealer bucket he loved to play with. We’d use it to play a modified game of fetch.

I now have a sweet little lady named Mush, who’s mostly golden retriever and loves to play with regular toys and a T-bone chew toy. Mush is a rescue, as was Albert. In my opinion, rescues make the best pets, as they seem to appreciate their second chance at life.

A fawn golden retriever stands on a wooden deck behind the author's home.

Mush on the deck. (Photo by Caroline Gainer)

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How my animals help me keep a routine

If I’m not up by 7:30, I’ll feel little whiskers on my face or a little paw digging into my hair or patting me on my arm. If I don’t respond, Miss Snowball will begin pulling the covers off me, and as a last resort, she’ll lie on top of me and sing loudly in my ear.

If I’m off schedule, Miss Mush shows her disappointment by just staring at her food until I go out and coax her into eating her breakfast.

Once I’ve finished my medication routine, Snowball and I head to my dressing room. She sits on the lavatory and waits for me to comb my hair. I then comb her hair and sing to her. She sits patiently while I brush my teeth and wash my face. She doesn’t tolerate any variation in this routine and shows her displeasure by knocking things onto the floor.

Snowball has two toy mice that she carries around like they’re her babies. When it’s bedtime, she gets one of them and starts making the sounds that a mother cat would make when carrying her kittens. She sits in the bathroom making this noise until I bring my nightclothes in and start running a bath.

Once I’ve started the bathwater, she brings her second mouse in and makes biscuits on my nightclothes, which I’ve placed on the floor, because she wants some of my clothing to knead on. After I’ve finished my bath, we head to the bedroom and curl up together to go to sleep.

My animals give me companionship and help me maintain a routine. Because I live alone and have no living immediate family, my pets are important in helping me not feel lonely. I can’t imagine life without them.

While I’ve found many benefits in having pets, they may not be the best choice for everyone with COPD. Pet dander, for example, can cause flare-ups in some people. Like all other decisions in life, the choice to own a pet has pros and cons, and each person has to make the decision that’s best for them.

Note: COPD News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of COPD News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.