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How Our Dog Oliver Helped Us Through Cancer


Our Dog Oliver

Growing up, we never had a family pet. Well, my sister may have had a goldfish or two. And I vaguely remember her asking for a dog but having a dog or cat or guinea pig was not something I thought about much. Back then, the dogs I encountered in our neighbourhood seemed to be mostly tied up outside and not a big part of family life.

Then fast forward many years…along comes our daughter. Since the time she was a baby, she was drawn to all things furry…dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits…and even the non-furry kind…turtles, snakes, and other reptiles. But dogs have always held a special place in her heart. From a very young age, we had to teach her how to ask an owner, “May I pet your dog?” and how to let the dog sniff her hand, and then to gently pet the dog. I remember going to the library and borrowing the book, May I Pet Your Dog? by Stephanie Calmenson and Jan Ormerod, and reading it to her over and over.
May I Pet Your Dog by Stephanie Calmenson & Jan Ormerod

I would recommend this book for any child, whether they like dogs or not, because it teaches children how to safely be around dogs and treat them with respect. These days our neighbourhoods are full of dogs and they certainly are a big part of family life.

Of course, it wasn’t long before our daughter was asking for a dog. Those were probably the first words out of her mouth! We always told her she could get a dog when she was 10 years old because then she would be responsible enough to look after it, and because it seemed like a long way off. I couldn’t imagine adding a dog into the mix of our busy life. So we hung tough on our “not until you’re 10 years old” rule.

And then…I got breast cancer…that was not in the plan! My daughter was 6 years old when I was diagnosed. I started with chemotherapy first to shrink the rather large tumour. And who would have thought, in the height of chemo treatments and all the stress and anxiety that comes along with it, not to mention the side effects, that we would get a dog. Definitely, not me!!

And you know what…it was the best thing we could have done. We adopted Oliver from my sister. She had another much older dog who was not very active anymore and really just wanted to be quietly left alone most of the time while Oliver, on the other hand, was full of energy and wanted to run and play. My sister and her husband knew how badly their young niece wanted a dog and that Oliver needed more exercise so they thought the two of them would be the perfect match. They could wear each other out!

Colleen, Maddi, Adrien & Oliver on July 1, 2011, the day they adopted Oli
Colleen, Maddi, Adrien & Oliver on July 1, 2011, the day they adopted Oli
Oliver was good therapy for all of us. Our daughter got her wish 3 years early! Yes, we broke our steadfast “not until you’re 10” rule. But it gave her something happy to focus all her energy and attention on at a time when things, I’m sure, felt quite bleak despite our best efforts to keep everything upbeat and as normal as possible. She had a furry best friend, a buddy, she could hold onto and hug and tell her deepest and scariest secrets to.
Maddi and Oliver
During that year, her teacher would tell us how she would often be off by herself at recess or holding the hand of the teacher on duty. I have often thought it was because she felt safe with an adult. She was trying to keep her home life separate from friends at school who might ask innocent questions she didn’t know how to or want to answer.
Oliver gave all of us something joyful to focus on rather than the cancer. There were things to do like walk him 3 times per day, and clean up after him, which my daughter gleefully did back then…not so much now mind you!
Most of us have read or heard about therapy dogs and the healing benefits they provide to people in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, schools, and disaster areas.
I can tell you first hand that Oliver helped our family get through our cancer experience. He provides all of us with unconditional love and a welcome distraction from our busy social media driven world. He is sweet and gentle and patiently allows us to dress him up for Halloween!
  Cowboy Oliver  Batman Oliver  Chef Oliver
And he gets us outdoors and walking every single day even on the cold and snowy days.
Dog Walk in the Snow
“They” say that just petting your dog can lower your blood pressure. Here’s an article published by the National Foundation for Cancer Research on 7 Ways Dogs Help People with Cancer.
7 Ways Dogs Help People With Cancer
So give your furry best friend a hug and a walk today and enjoy the healthy and healing benefits!
Colleen Kanna is a breast cancer champion and creator of coKANna designs, a line of bamboo knit, Canadian-made adaptive clothing for women touched by breast cancer.

1 comment


  • Marilyn Cook

    Happy endings are truly the joys in life. Glad we could help.


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