A woman puts a hand out to a dog with a heart between them

By My Side Through It All: Chronic Illness and Our Pets

With Crohn's and ulcerative colitis comes pain, sickness, flares, and so many emotions. Through all of my difficult health struggles, having my service dog Piper by my side has been so important. The connection and support of an animal is something special – like nothing else.

If I could write a letter to my dog Piper, this is what I would tell her.

Dear Piper...

Hey pup, can you believe we've been been a part of each other's lives for over 2 whole years already? I've gotten to wake up almost every single morning since we've met next to your sweet face.

I think you knew you were in for a surprise when you came to visit me in the hospital for the first time in the middle of a bad Crohn's flare and we hadn't even had each other for more than a week at that point! I remember you came to take naps with me in the hospital.

There have been many days and nights, sadly, that mom has been really sick and has needed a little more care and attention than at home. That part has been incredibly hard for both of us.

You're with me through Crohn's hospitalizations

I remember a lengthy hospital stay last year, where I was gone for more than a week. You really had a lot of anxiety, even though it meant a vacation at Grandpa and Nana's house. I knew after that hospital stay how worried and anxious you were because you were scared to come by me for almost a week.

I didn't blame you. You didn't know how sick mama was and I can't imagine how it must have felt for you since dogs often feel like time is so much longer than reality. I remember having to warm back up to you when I got home after nearly 3 weeks had gone by and how abandoned and out of sorts that must have felt.

I rely on you so heavily now. You are such a part of my life, that when I turn around, I know with certainty that I will see your pink and speckled nose, and those tall, beautiful listening ears waiting for me to talk to you. And your response... Just waiting to hear instructions from me like a radar.

You know when I'm in pain

You have been at my side for my bests and you have been there for all of my worsts. My nurses love you, how much pep you have in your step, and your innate ability to gauge when something is very wrong. You have the knowledge to know when to go get immediate help, and when to stay by my side and reassure me that I am safe.

You know when I am sick before I do, poking your nose at my belly, sometimes hesitantly as if to say, "I know you're in pain, but please know I am here." You are like a washcloth for absorbing all of my figurative and emotional tears. When I feel empty, or sick or that there is a void, I look at you and I am instantly fully charged, comfortable, and feel loved.

You understand me

If there was one thing I could change about you, it would be your ability to speak. You have so much to give me and love me, that I wish I knew how to love you extra when you are scared and when you have the ability to know when mom is just not all that great. I know you understand when I tell you how much you mean to me, and comprehend just about all the ways I'm able to love you.

To know you will be gone and to a better place before I will crushes my soul, so I try to never think about that day. If I had just 1 wish, I would just want you to know how much you've impacted my life and allow you to look me right in the eyes and tell me, "I know, mama."

You understand me more than any other human being has been able to. I'm sometimes incapable of verbally telling humans my needs and what my love language is without coming off as needy, or having my emotions be confusing. Since I was a young girl, I have always known that I connect more with animals who are incapable of telling me they love me – more than humans, with who I should be able to verbalize and express my wishes and emotions.

You soak up so much of who I am, I want to know what you're thinking about every time our eyes meet. Especially on the bad days.

We're a team

I know you are a working dog, and feel so safe with you, even when we're outside being silly. To have a living, a medical device that goes places with me, for psychological and other medical diagnoses, has been a very special thing I never thought I needed but has been the best prescription medicine I've ever received.

You and I - we make for a great team. I look at you and many fears just vanish. And when they don't, you know exactly what to do when something is off.

We've had a lot more bad days than good ones lately. I'm sorry for that. Like all creative teams, partners, and caregivers of one another, we've had major setbacks because of things we've encountered that required both of us to get extra help and training. There have been really hard times, including situations when mama had to pull out of things and go inpatient to rewire her brain, just like when she is gone to get treatment for her tummy.

But we're still doing this. You've never given up on me. You've never given up on us.

You bring me so much comfort

I love waking up to your long legs next to me, even when you're upside down. I've loved that no matter where we are, or who we are with, you sleep next to mama's heart, to make sure it’s working and to make sure I feel safe and wrapped in love.

Despite all of the hospital stays, the surgeries, and the flares and bouts where I haven't been able to leave home, you've continued to give me hope to continue to always put in the effort to heal. Even when it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Your look of approval will always mean so much to me.

I know I will always struggle with being a human in a world that easier for me to interact with animals. Some people aren't lucky and don't understand the bond of the emotional well-being an animal can present you with. I will forever be in debt to you, for how your love has actually turned me into a better human being. And how it continues to help me build the blocks of how to communicate better with other humans.

Helping me through the struggles of Crohn's

I constantly doubt myself and look down at my feet and there you are giving me a sideways smile, reminding me that life is worth taking that step. And the next one after that, even when it's hardest. I'm okay living like this, moment to moment now, and know/hope things won't always be like this.

You're so much more than a pet. You're my teammate for life and there's no one else I would take on these journeys with me other than you.

Thank you for continuing to save me in so many ways. I know you're only a footstep away and that you'll continue to walk through this life with me, for as long as you can. I love you, Piper.

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