My Story: A 4-Legged Prescription to Fight Chronic Pain

My Story: A 4-Legged Prescription to Fight Chronic Pain

I wasn’t even in the country when Charlie first came into my life.

My mother’s bichon frise Gracie had developed an ear infection in August 2011, and while at the vet’s she noticed a flyer advertising a mini poodle mix that needed a home. Knowing I was interested in adopting a dog, my mom emailed me on vacation at a Dominican Republic resort with the details.

“Sure,” I wrote back. “But will they hold him a week for me?” The photo indicated a cream-colored puppy with tan ears and narrow, fine features…inexplicably laying on a grassy expanse with a radish hanging from his mouth. I doubted such a cute little guy would be homeless for long.

But apparently, it was meant to be. When I came home, I contacted the woman who was temporarily fostering Charlie. (Apparently she was a gardener, with a love for radishes.) Although she’d had a couple of interested applicants, it seemed I was in the lead. She was concerned that Charlie go to someone who was aware of his special needs; when he’d been left at the vet’s, he had been dangerously ill with parvo, a highly contagious canine virus that is spread through feces. Normally puppies are vaccinated against parvo. In Charlie’s case, this had never happened.

Luckily the vet had taken Charlie as a charity case, though he later admitted he didn’t think the dog had much chance of surviving the operation. Happily, Charlie pulled through, although at six months, he only weighed six pounds. Poor Charlie also had severe separation anxiety, spinning in frantic circles and urinating whenever he was left alone. It would take time and patience to break him of some of his current habits.

Yet when his foster mom brought him to my house for an introductory visit, it seemed destined. The dog who howled at nearly everyone bounded happily up my front steps, complete with a single jaunty spin, acting like he already lived with me.

Joanna Mechlinski

Joanna Mechlinski

Maybe Charlie sensed that we were two of a kind; I too had my own personal battles with serious illness. Diagnosed with lupus and polymyositis in my early twenties, I have spent over a decade struggling against chronic pain and debilitating exhaustion. Although I still manage to function somewhat normally and independently, it’s no small feat. Many days, I simply can’t get out of bed. And whenever that happens, Charlie seems to know instinctively. He will burrow under the covers with me, snuggling happily. On occasion, he will wander off to his toy box, returning with a beloved stuffed animal or a well-gnawed treat, which he will then gently lay upon my shoulder. Within the family, we jokingly refer to Charlie as my CNA, or “canine nursing assistant.”

This summer marks four years that Charlie and I have been together. While he’s come a long way in terms of his puppyhood problem behaviors, Charlie is still, admittedly, far from perfect. When I go to work in the mornings, I need to put a belly band – a kind of canine diaper – on him to prevent finding a disaster on my carpets when I return. (Even so, the man from the local carpet cleaning company is becoming more familiar with my home than I would like.)

For better or for worse, Charlie and I are a pair. Sure, he has his flaws, but then, who doesn’t? I, for one, am willing to overlook any of the negatives in favor of the positives, of which there are many. I may officially have rescued Charlie, but he himself continues to be a high point of all my days, no matter what else they might bring.


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Authored by: Joanna Mechlinski

Joanna Mechlinski is a former newspaper reporter who now works in education. She is a chronic pain sufferer who lives in Connecticut and is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report. You can follow her on twitter @castlesburning.

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Idalia Garcia

I absolutely love reading these kind of stories with the great endings knowing full well its not always great. I have thought of getting a puppy to keep me company but I live with family and they think I am giving myself more work and I cant always handle it but I believe that with a puppy it would give me somebody to be responsible for and it would help both myself and the puppy. Still working on their heart strings….gentle hugs

What a great story! Thank you for posting such a positive, yet realistic look at life and sharing. In the same token that you and Charlie are a flawed pair, so is everyone. We are all needed. Sometimes my pain causes me to forget that others have pain too, almost everybody. We need to take each other in so we can stop turning in circles and urinating!
( I have a cat like Charlie and we have the same story. Pets, like people can be a great therapy)

Mark Ibsen

As is usually the case, the rescuer becomes the rescuee when we focus on contribution.