What Dogs Can Teach Caregivers

by Dr. Vicki Rackner

What does it take to become a beloved caregiver?  Many people in pain simply want a good friend, and  I believe my dog Elvira can offer some lessons.

When we adopted Elvira six years ago, she was an adult dog with a story. Elvira quickly came to be my loyal friend-a trusted  companion, exercise buddy and soft landing spot.  Over the years she became friends to many.

What’s her secret?  Here is Elvira’s Formula for Friend Success:

ElviraFirst, she was physically present.  She graciously found her way into a room, whether it was beside someone in need, in the midst of a celebration or at the feet of the person at the dinner table most likely to give her some human treats.

Second, she cared. Her brown eyes conveyed concern and wisdom as if to say, “I accept you just the way you are.”   We live near a school for children with special needs, and when Elvira interacted with a child, the adult would often comment, “That dog just brought out the best in this child.”

Third, she was not scared off by strong emotions. She could be with a person experiencing joy or sorrow or fear.  She would wince when I displayed anger, like the time when my computer ate my adult homework. Elvira quickly settled when I just looked at her and said, “It’s okay, Elvira. I’m not mad at you.”

Fourth, she read people.  On our walks, she knew who liked dogs and often approached them.  I was always concerned on the rare occasions she growled at strangers.

Fifth, she was always up for fun.

Elvira had this way of making things better, even though she couldn’t run an errand, make a doctor appointment or pay a bill.  Her magic had something to do with her ability to be a good friend.   Elvira offers evidence of the power of presence and caring and acceptance.

Many caregivers feel compelled to fix things. To do something.  They wonder if they can add value by simply being there.

If you were a person in physical or emotional pain, what kind of friend would you want?  Would it be the person who fixes your problems?  Or would it be the person who reminds you of your ability to come up with your own solutions, then helps you execute them.

You can be that kind of friend to others.

What do you think?

PS On a personal note, I feel blessed that Elvira found her way into our lives.   Virtually every thought I committed to paper over the past 6 years was written with Elvira at my feet.  As I write these words I feel her absence.  She died yesterday. Elvira spent her life filling the world with joy and love.  She was a great dog.   I’ll treasure the time we spent together.

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2 Responses to What Dogs Can Teach Caregivers

  1. Joyce says:

    I completely agree, I have two cats and they always know how to support me. they are silly when i’m stressed and cuddly when I am tired or sad. they often nudge me untill i give them the attention they want. I also have 6 grand dogs, and they too usually come to me when i get home or to their home.
    thanks for recognizing the importance of pets and the special place they hold in our world.

  2. Carl Lazenby says:

    Dear Dr. Vicki, I am so sorry for your loss of Elvira! It is so sad to lose a beloved friend, and I still miss Sassyfras after more than a year. My fourteen year old Abby shows signs of nearing her days with us, and we are already mourning. We are blest that Lizzy joined us about ten or eleven weeks ago, and her energy and joy of living are a new experience of mutual caregiving.

    Loss seems to be a part of living and loving, as we feel a loss of our monthly radio chats which enriched us for a brief few years, and now are no more. But our caring does not depart us, nor our delight at Meir’s growth! God bless you in your ministry of care-giviing, which is so meaningful to so very many! You are loved for all you do. Carl

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