Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday Stroke Survival: How Pets Help Motivate You After a Stroke

A pet in your house after a stroke is a must/must not argument. They have their pluses and minuses. I know people who have given away their pets post stroke, but I kept mine and even added to their number since moving to northeast Georgia. I'm not talking about service animals here, but pets.

Pets are a huge responsibility (as big as children) which is a good and bad thing living post stroke. On one hand they have to be cared for, loved, and are almost constant companions. But on the other hand, it may be more responsibility than you can handle just after a stroke and they pose a fall hazard. As with all things in life, you weigh the good and the bad in the decision making process.

The bad-
The fall hazards of owning a pet is a real concern. If they were in your home before your stroke, after a stroke your movements are not the same as the animal is used to. It will take some time for you both to get used to each other again. In this adjustment period missteps happen.

My older cat, Patches, threw me off balance as I opened the door to let her out. It was in the first month I was home from the hospital after my stroke. The resulting fall caused an AC ligament tear in my shoulder that took months to heal (surgical repair was not an option). I lost valuable rehab time during the golden 6 month period of my recovery due to this injury.

Now, almost 6 years post stroke, Patches will look up at me while I'm moving. She's quick to move away from me if I start to fall. It only took one time of me falling on her to teach her this. When I climb up stairs, she's only one step ahead of me. Most times when she trips me up is a miscalculation on her part between our mobile speeds and distance. But she's gotten pretty good at these calculations.

The good-
This same cat will escort me to and from my van. If I take longer than usual to get out of my van, she'll jump on the running board to check on me. Because of the way my spasticity hurts me worse in colder and damper weather, she will lay her full body length on my spastic arm to keep it warm at night. I don't know how she knows how to do this, but she does. If I'm outside, she's no more than ten steps (her steps) away from me. She'll play in the tall grasses and weeds that I pull for the rabbits. Her antics of tiger in the grass always puts a smile on my face. She is my shadow.

I'm envious of her black eyeliner
Lil Bit waits on me with a go ahead command so we never collide. She doesn't race me to a location but waits for me to get settled so that I can give her undivided attention. Even when she was little, she waited on commands from me. She's very timid when it comes to interactions with her new housemates.

She always makes herself known to me so I know where she is. She hasn't tripped me or made me fall yet. She's always aware of her surroundings and she's as much my comforter as I am hers. She lulls me to sleep each night with her purrs. She awakens me each morning with gentle licks with the tip of her tongue on whatever body part is exposed. If she really is insistent on waking me up, she'll use the rough part of her tongue on my eyelid. At these times there's danger. She used to wake me up when my beloved was alive and in trouble.

My puppies, the German  Shepherds, were sold before I moved to northeast Georgia, but we were assimilated into a new pack of pets with the move.

Nnyus, a pit bull/ridge back mix dog, is as gentle as they come so long as you are not a predator.  Her main danger to me is her rambunctious nature and her whip like tail. She's been great at helping me keep my balance. She's just the right size to help me up too if I've fallen. If I fall, she's right there licking me into submission. Her soft brown eyes full of concern. If I can't get up, she'll bark until Mel comes to see what she is barking at.

She is deathly afraid of snakes even yarn ones, she'll "dog scream" and run away. It's hilarious to watch her do this when I drop a few rows of knitting on the floor.

Strangers are afraid to get out of their cars or trucks at the sight of her. She's got the distinctive pit bull squared head and body, but the long snout of a hound. She's harmless unless you hurt those that she's protecting. To predators like coyotes, raccoons, and wolves she's lethal. She even chases deer off our property to my dismay during hunting season.

Herbie, a border terrier, is  like all terriers. A more loyal as a companion as you could ever wish for. He's constantly at my feet. Ever watchful for any movement. But like most terriers, he's very vocal about everything. His allergies to fleas causes him to bite and chew himself much to his whining aggravation. He's stubborn and argumentative.

Although Mel taught him how to whisper (gruffle rather than bark), He has to agree with the command for him to comply. Several times a night we are awakened by his agitation at the fleas or something else that's popped into his head. 'Hey, it's getting colder in here. Get up and tend to the fire.' 'Hmm, I'm awake and everybody is sleeping. I'm lonely.' It will set him off barking until someone gets up. Usually, it's me. That suits him just fine.

If anything this little dog is too smart for his own good because when we get aggravated at him we make him go outside. Now that I'm sort of laid up with a broken foot, he'll make a bee line to under Mel's bed. He knows I can't balance well enough to chase him outside. But even given that, he has become my dog. If I go outside, he follows me. When I drive off, he sits on the porch until I return. When he sees my van coming down the driveway, he gives a series of happy barks as if saying, "She's home! Jo's back!"

That leads me to Ms. Whirling Dervish. She's Mel's service cat. Derv has been queen of her domain. She and Patches went round and round in a power struggle when I first came here. They have decided on splitting the power for the sake of peace in the realm.

I swear this cat is an alcoholic. She actually has a specific cry for wine.  But it has to be red wine. Mel will give her finger droplets of the beverage. But she'll also drink screwdrivers. Usually cats will turn their noses up at citrus, but not her. If Mel is drinking it, it must be okay and she wants some too. She'll even lift a paw and points to the glass to let Mel know when she when she wants more.  If Mel leaves her glass on the table and goes to the bathroom, the cat will help herself to the drink sticking her whole head in a glass to lap it up.

Needless to say, Mel and this cat have a special relationship. Wherever Mel goes Derv is sure to be within ear shot. Occasionally, she will allow me to pay homage to her.

And last but hardly least is Flynn. She's the baby we found abandoned in our lower acreage this past spring. This baby is definitely Mel's baby. If she isn't playing, eating, or sleeping she is cuddling with Mel. She's already learning how not to streak between my legs.  She hasn't made me fall yet, but close. I rarely see this kitten walk by. It's always a blur of orange and cream. Everything is a toy to her even little scraps of wood. She's just so cute you can't stay mad at her.

 This little kitten started her day like normal by harassing Lil Bit and playing with Patches, and then she went outside to have fun with the chickens. Her idea of fun with the chickens is to hide in the Monkey grass or bushes and jump out at them. She has great fun watching them squawk and jump straight up. Unfortunately, this week, she ran into a snake to play with. It was poisonous and we lost Flynn. We dutifully killed the snake. All the rain we've had are driving them out of the woods.

All these new pets have had to learn that I'm not stable when I'm walking by. They give me a wide berth. We tend to watch out for each other. I'm watching where I step to keep an even foot step and by the same token, they are watching me.

Having household pets takes diligent caution on everyone's part to keep accidents at bay, but the rewards are priceless. In my mind they are well worth the trouble of owning them. I've had animals all my life so it's natural for me. Cleaning up messes on the floor that they make (pee, poop, vomit, shredded paper, etc), changing litter boxes, and feeding and grooming comes as second nature to me although challenging just after my stroke. My dogs enjoyed baths while Mel's don't. So she washes them.

I get genuine companionship from these pets. Each in their own way. They change my focus from me to them. It allows me to care for something other than myself. Having something to care for is motivation to get up and do which is very important after a stroke.  Motivation is hard to maintain in the long race to recovery or even day to day life. Pets will make me smile even when all I feel like doing is cry. My pets, I think I'll keep them.

Nothing is impossible.

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