You may be aware of the studies showing that people who own pets have a better chance of living healthier lives. In many studies researchers have found blood pressure levels of pet lovers to be lower than "pet-less" people, as well as many other indicators of overall wellness. Well, I am here to tell you they are right.
I was going through some life challenging and altering events. These events are the direct results of the madness of being HIV positive. I was years into disability and not finding the right thing to do, I had not ventured into volunteering or doing anything meaningful with my time. I had thrombocytopenia, peripheral neuropathy, and of course, depression. I had figured out one thing about helping myself. I needed to have a reason to come home, every day. I needed a routine for myself that did not consist of pleasure 24/7 or, at least, cut back a bit and decrease my risk factors.
The idea of a puppy was on the back burner. It sounded great but it was almost like committing to a relationship. Been there, done it, bought the tee shirt, didn't fit. One day my brother told me about a doggie, a Pit-Bull doggie. I was deep in depression, I thought it can't hurt and my brother's company is always action-packed, to say the least. We went to the "hood" where a beautiful bitch had a litter of pups. They were all adorable but one just gravitated towards me. I checked him out and it was definite. I was wearing Dickies overalls and I placed the pup in the front large pocket. We drove away and I started pretending like I liked the dog but I was depressed, I didn't know what to feel. After a couple of turns he puked on my Dickies. That's what I named him.
Dickie was my guardian angel. Besides the fact that he was a blast -- acting like a spastic Tasmanian Devil -- he made me laugh when I felt like I couldn't cry anymore. This animal was so glad to see me. This dog lived for me. I see it like this: they watch you produce food and water for them, they believe you're God. And you know what God spelled backwards is.
He was the reason I needed to be at home at least twice a day. I tried to go with early morning and late afternoons, you know, mimic society at large. I was still going out. That was my thing. I was on the "government cheese" and I still saw myself as an HIV victim instead of an HIV survivor. So the clubs were the answer. Besides, they still predicted we were dying of AIDS in "x amount of time" and I believed in "going out with a bang." I went out to bang just about every night. Dickie helped me get out of banging and get back in the house. I fell into a routine. I added regular visits to the gym. I started cooking more at home, thanks to Open Hand. I started meditation and one day while walking Dickie I met my partner. Did I mention this routine kept me away from the risk factors?
Little by little I began to realize that Dickie loved me more than the "tricks" did. I fell deeper in love with Dickie. He always wanted to stay with me the following morning just like every other second of the day. He wanted to stay around when my neuropathy hurt so bad I could only lie on the couch and he would lie there beside me. He stayed there with me when I cried in confusion just looking at me with those almond eyes, looking sideways, blinking, understanding me more than the "quickies" did.
We had to put Dickie down after he was about eight years old. He had cancer and to add drama his symptoms were AIDS-like. His lymph nodes were enlarged, his platelet count was very low, and his white cells were out of whack. It was a great loss. I was devastated.
The irony here is that there was one night during my bad spell when I came pretty close to giving up on waiting to die from AIDS. Dickie was there, nobody else. I remember sobbing because I thought I was giving up on him. I put him in his crate and he knew I was not right. He was barking and whining at me. He didn't have to speak words. It was clear to me that he was telling me to "get over it!" I didn't listen to his barks of wisdom and just drank and drank and did a "Judy Garland bender." Major hangover.
The next morning when I came out of my stupor I immediately realized the poor dog had not been out in hours, I mean like twenty-four of them! He was in his cage, which was clean as a whistle, and he looked so happy to see me. We were outside in no time. He was walking proudly, like Pits do with their chest flared and their butt shimmying from side to side and I had to smile. Dickie had pulled me through one of my darkest times and put me back on my routine. It worked for me. I have another angel now -- another Pit-Bull, named Papi.
Cats, ferrets and Savannah monitors will do as well, I'm just a doggie-kind-of-guy. But believe me they can help. There's nothing like having to care for another living thing when you're not yet sure how to care for yourself.
Carlos Perez is the editor of the Chicago Area HIV Services Directory and Information Services Coordinator at Test Positive Aware Network.