When I Realized My Chronic Pain Meant I Could No Longer Have a Dog


Over five years ago, in the midst of our divorce, we had to put down our beloved 12-year-old golden retriever, Lila. In many ways, it was every bit as difficult as the divorce itself. She was my confidant and non-judgmental friend and I loved her like she was my own child.

I knew that I eventually wanted to adopt another dog but I was concerned that I might not be able to manage the responsibilities of caring for one. Even with a cane, I’m not able to walk very far without exacerbating my leg pain.

However, it was the need for companionship that convinced me to give it a shot. Like most of us that live with chronic pain, we tend to think we can do more than is sensible.

After talking to veterinarians, friends with dogs and doing my own research, I decided that basset hounds had the kind of temperament that might work for my circumstances.

Fortunately, for me, there was a wonderfully caring basset hound rescue group in my area that made the adoption process incredibly easy. I told them what characteristics were important to me (housetrained, spayed, under 50 pounds, etc.) and, eventually, they matched me with Mabel.

It was estimated that Mabel was about 7 years old when she, and her brand-new litter of puppies, were abandoned by the side of the road. After her rescue, she lived with foster parents while she recovered physically, got microchipped and received her updated shots and treatments.

Finally, a transportation volunteer for the rescue group brought Mabel to me and I fell in love before the door shut. It immediately appeared that her primary goal in her short little life was to let me love her. Success!

However, it became evident after a few days that she was having trouble maneuvering around someone who walked with assistance. Whether it was going for a walk or even just getting around my apartment, Mabel would bump into my leg or my cane in a way that caused me to lose my balance, trip and often fall.

Of course, those of us with chronic pain know how that kind of trauma affects the balance of our day (#spoons) and the cumulative effect of those falls quickly amped up my pain to a higher level, leaving me virtually unable to care for her later in the day.

I kept telling myself that she would learn and we’d be OK, but I eventually realized that she was just being her doggie self and it was selfish for me to expect her to accommodate my disability. After all, it’s hard enough for some of our fellow humans to do it.

I heard about others who walked with a cane and had made it work with their dogs. I tried as many variations as I could think of to avoid the negative manifestations of her excitement, but I was tripping more and felt my agitation increasing along with my pain. That’s the trigger pet lovers watch out for – getting angry at your animal for something that’s not their fault.

I absolutely hate that Mabel will now have to make a transition to another home. Despite her brief time with me, I desperately miss her pressing herself next to me on the couch, even lying across my lap despite how much it hurt. I miss her little Elvis sneer and her silly dance when she knew she was getting a treat. And those eyes, oh my God, those sad basset eyes. My heart is broken. Again.

I honestly think this is the first time in my 16 years with chronic pain that I’ve asked, “why me?” If it’s possible, I’m angrier at my pain than ever for taking so much from me. If I can’t handle a dog as sweet and loving as Mabel, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have another one. Once again, the pain that never takes a sabbatical has robbed me of another joy that I used to take for granted.

Be well, Mabel. You will always be with me.

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