The Importance of Pets for Our Medically Complex Family


One of the best memories I have of my son Peter’s early years is the sight of our dog’s eager face greeting us at the door every time we came home from a surgery or extended stay at the hospital. It is always a relief to get home and finally be able to relax, but to have such an excited friend waiting for your return makes it that much more endearing.

Having a dog in the house when Peter was a baby helped me as well. We were nearly homebound for Peter’s first couple of years due to the fragility of his health. With my husband traveling for work, Divot was my constant and sometimes only companion.

Peter always says that Divot was his very first friend, and I would have to agree. When at home, those two were inseparable! Our dogs have always been part of our family traditions, celebrations and milestones. They have witnessed our boys’ first steps, first days of school, birthday parties, and family holidays. They have also shared in our grief during family tragedies and our stress and worry over surgeries and hospital stays. Our dogs have given us endless entertainment and comfort over the years. They are always faithful and eager to please.

Peter is especially fond of dogs. One of the first signs he learned as a toddler was for “doggie,” and he used to do the sign for it when he was in the hospital. We have at least two white stuffed dogs that were gifts because people heard he was missing Divot. Peter loved stories about dogs when he was little, and he had a collection of nearly every dog breed of Webkinz stuffed animals! There was even one named “Children’s” that he received when the tooth fairy visited the hospital after a surgery.

I want my boys to always enjoy the friendship of a pet as they grow up and face the challenges that can come with adolescence. Having a pet can give a child a friend who loves them unconditionally, a friend who silently listens to all of their troubles, and a friend who cuddles next to them when they are sick.

Collage of the author's two sons holding dogs, with photos of one of the author's sons at younger ages next to the family dog

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