Unconditional Love

Unconditional Love

When living with chronic pain, life can get so complicated, stressful and many times a sense of a lack of control. All these issues can often produce intense anxiety. And then, at that unexpected moment, one can observe something so simple, loving and tender often bringing a sense of emotional renewal.

What I am about to describe could be for us all, if we just allow ourselves to let it happen.

My husband and I were stopped at a light and I happened to look to the car on my right. In the car was a dog, back feet on the back seat and the front paws over the driver’s shoulder. The dog proceeded to snuggle more and more into the crest of this woman’s neck. As he proceeded to get closer, she kept giving him kisses as she waited for the light to change to red. The sight was simple, loving, caring and just filled my husband and me up. We have described this incident to many of our friends as it was such a wonderful example of the simple delights available to all of us if we open ourselves up to them.

Living with chronic pain can bring on uncertainty, anxiety and chaos into one’s life. Those of us suffering from chronic medical conditions often find ourselves waiting for the next shoe to drop. Simple pleasures can get ignored due to the pain and often unanticipated change in our physical condition. But this young woman and her dog brought back into our lives the importance of unconditional love an animal brings to your life.

Ellen Lenox Smith

My husband and I are lucky to have Maggie, my service dog, in our life along with an older rescue dog, Lilly. One of the most loving and tender parts of each day is when we wake up and invite the dogs onto the bed to say hello. We get licked, loved up and filled up with happiness starting out each day. We both feel like this might the most powerful time of our day. The love of an animal is hard to even put into words.

I have spent my life surrounded by pets – cats, dogs, cows, goats, pigs, turkeys, chickens, rabbits, to name a few. And I even had the honor of working at Turtle Back Zoo in NJ, through high school and summers when home from college. I was lucky to experience the love from wild animals, too. Working in the nursery as an animal keeper, I had the honor of raising babies that lost their mother and were brought to the zoo. My favorite was the raccoon I raised. I would walk around the zoo with this racoon on my shoulders. When it was time to leave for college, my special friend was put into a cage for the first time with other raccoons. Upon my return to visit at Thanksgiving, he came running down off the branch of the tree to greet me. By December, visiting again when home, I was horrified to find he had overeaten himself to the point of death. It was explained to me by the zoo staff that this most likely was due to the loss of our relationship. He had bonded so closely that he never got over the parting. If only the college had allowed me to bring him to college too! And yes, I was so attached to him I had called the college to see if I could bring him with me. They must have wondered what type of nut they had admitted.

No matter how tough the day gets with pain, recovery, or even feeling isolated, my pets have always helped me cope. The love, caring, attention and even life-saving acts from my service dog are beyond measure. I can’t imagine life without a pet to love and love me back. When out in public with Maggie, I have been approached by so many individuals inquiring about my service dog. Many of them seem drawn to me due to the recent loss of their lost pet. I understand that empty feeling and always encourage them to think about loving again. So many people are sure nothing can replace the pet they lost and thus choose not to get another one. But, why not consider adopting a new pet? It may mean saving one that is sitting in a rescue or pound frightened, lost and scared. I don’t think we have ever had a day with our rescue pets that they haven’t shown appreciation to belong and be loved. And in return, we get the unconditional love from them.

So if you are feeling frightened, lonely, lost and saddened by the losses of living with chronic pain, consider adding a pet to your life. You will be loved, understood and have more purpose and meaning in your life. That pet will need you as much as you need them! I know it may seem impossible with your medical challenges to care for a pet, but that challenge to work out is worth it. May you too, enjoy the unconditional love of a pet.

May life be kind to you,

Ellen Lenox Smith

Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain– And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.

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Authored by: Ellen Lenox Smith

Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website. https://ellenandstuartsmith.squarespace.com/

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You have no idea how much I rely on my Service Dog Abbie. I went to a party this week and everyone yelled her name before they even noticed that I was there! She was not really working so it wasn’t a problem but because she is so cute everyone talks to her and wants to pet her. They think I am being mean when I say no to petting. My compromise has been that she can be petted on the way out of a store but never inside or on the way in. You would all agree if I could post her photo. My husband has dementia and I am on my 45th year of chronic pain that has been unbearable at time and many times a week. Abbie gives me joy and a reason to live.

Denise Bault

What a wonderful article! It is so important to find joy in each and every day. My current pet, a sweet cat named Smuckers, gives me unconditional love and support – which is more than I have received from a human being. She is my reason for being today. Truly a Godsend!

Sandra Stedinger

We have had small dogs for thirty years (five). I don’t know how I would have tolerated my life without them. Little Bella, our poodle-doodle mix, wakes us up each morning, by her schedule. Then it’s PARTY TIME! She snuggles and licks and kisses, and thrashes around to get her morning stretches in. When my Migraines get bad or my abdomen is acting up, she is always ready to snuggle in and make me feel better. God bless these wonderful little creatures!

Tracie Lundy

Great article for me to read after me looking at rescue sites searching for my next service dog tonight. I would not have survived without my wonderful service dog. When my family and friends couldn’t/wouldn’t understand this “crazy pain called RSD/CPRS, I had her, right by my side. She never judge my pain, my tears. I feel soo blessed to have her in my life. She is getting older now and while she still wants one We are looking for a sibling. I’m wanting her to help train her/him, it’s something all three of us are going to do together. I’m excited. A long time coming.

Katie Olmstead

One of my black cats is warming my lap and purring wildly. A little awkward to type around him but well worth it. He’s a lap hog. He sometimes even cries in asking me to sit down and provide a lap. I wake up every day to his brother aggressively loving me. They greet me at the door. I live alone so it’s all the more essential that I have my cats. There are times when I am stressed and I just sit with a cat in my lap and one at my side and breathe with them. My life is infinitely better for their companionship.


Oh my, this article made me cry. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have my furbabies in my life. They bring so much joy, love, and laughter to my life and have helped me through and continue to help me through the most difficult times.

Ellen almost says an interesting thing about love. Love is a Presence and not an Absence.

In the law we go to great trouble to prohibit all manner of hatmful misconduct. Misconduct we prohibit, because it does even greater harm to people, than if they were completely isolated and lonely.

Our society is in trouble because we conflate righteous anger over true misconduct, with frustrations felt by the lonely.

I cannot prohibit others from ignoring me. I cannot use the instruments of force and fear to command love into existence. Instead I must take the step of showing love and returning it, if I am to connect with others on a level of mutual caring.

Our culture misunderstands this very badly. I refuse to insult anyone’s act of love, as being “selfless”. Insulting someone as “selfless”, implies that love simply happens by accident and through no choice or effort.

A dead animal bone has no self.

Neither does a rock.

They are selfless objects. They cannot care about anyone nor choose to do a kind deed.

At minimum, we must be thankful and appreciative for the love of others, if we are to experience love ourselves.

Thanks, Ellen, for that conversation starter!

Sally Arany

The dear souls of other animal species can help so much, give so much, teach so much, if only we arrogant humans give them a chance and open our hearts and minds. Please adopt a special friend–there are too many who need a loving person/family.

Rosalind Rivera

I LOVE this post! I too absolutely adore my babies. I have two Chiwawa mixes and two pure breed German Shepherds. They are what keeps me hanging on. If not for them, there’s a good chance that I would have been gone long ago. My constant chronic and intractable pain is at a point and has been for some time, impossible to bear if not for my babies. It’s not only having the comfort and joy that they bring but just thinking of what could happen to them if I’m gone is much too much to bear.
My children have abandoned me and to compound their selfish shyness and lack of caring and love have actually had the gall to tell me that I should re home them because they are too much for me to care for.
I feed my babies well, see to all of their needs and most importantly give them tons and tons of love and affection as they do to me.
I have had them all for ver 8 years now and I will admit that they can be a handful but I will keep them, protect them and love them until my last breath, after all, I am merely giving back what they give me, every minute of every day. I love my babies! They are my comfort, my protectors and my companions. They are my best friends. They are my babies!

Ellen you have again touched me on so many levels. Today is a high pain day (I have Postherpetic Neuralgia) but I have my 13 year old mixed breed dog at my side. She especially stays close by with my husband out of town. I have been trying to do some volunteer work at our local SPCA. So many dogs and cats in need of good homes.
I have days where I say to my husband I don’t know if we will get another dog after Millie.
Largely because of my limitations. Yet our dog has brought such joy into our lives. She is good medicine. Thanks for this heartfelt piece. Jeaneen

Teresa Ingebrigtsen

You always write the sweetest things. I so appreciate them. In addition to having pain, I also live with Bipolar disorder. Last year I went through the worst depression of my life, 4 long black months, I didnt think I would live to see the light at the end of that tunnel. My rescue dog, Iggy, literally saved my life. He is a lab/pit mix that I rescued from the shelter and only God knew that I would need him more than he needed me. Every day he sat by my side, he never asked anything of me, he didnt care that I didnt shower, or change, or brush my teeth, he didnt care that I stunk, he just stayed with me. Until one day he didnt. And I thought that was odd until I got up, showered, dressed, made the bed, did the dishes and realized he knew I was ok. 3 days later, he brought me the ball, as if to say, ok, mom, you can play with me now. I LOVE that dog!! Wow! I never would have made it without him. Everyone should rescue a pet. They are precious. He isnt my only one, but he is my most special one.


Thank you, Ellen, for another thoughtful, insightful post. I always enjoy reading your posts, and I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree, pets are such a blessing! Non-judgmental, loving, caring animals that greet us with a wag or a meow or a chirp…but so vital to me to have that warm companion.

Bram Judy Cast

My rescued kitty means so much to me!!


My pain reliever pet just died of cancer after 13 years of unconditional love! My pain is worse than ever, trying to cope with the loss is mind numbing, and I get no relief at any part of the day from the pain. And it will be 2 months Dec 17th.
Luckily we took in his real baby brother from the same mom and dad! But Cookie was always the little brother and he cannot handle the emotions Puggy could.
Pug was a real gift from God an angel sent down to protect me. And he was a puffy tear holder too. Puggy held so many tears.with out anxiety or fear. He was the definition of love.
So yes please get a dog if you have chronic pain. When you pet them it actually stops for even a few moments. And those moments are enough.
Please get a Puppy because or 1 to 2 years old. You do not want to deal with the loss as I am any earlier than 12 to 15 years.
Happy Holidays! Maybe get a Puppy under the tree!! Remember they need love too. They force you to do things you may not do. Like walk more, cook more, love more. It will keep you alive longer and keep you going.
P.s. i wish you had got to keep your racoony. Breaks my heart. I have one that lives under our deck we have turned domestic. :).