I just got home from taking my dog Koby to the vet. The vet thinks it is allergies that are making his eyes swell and gave me some drops and pills to treat him. Seeing Koby look so sad trying to open his eyes makes me sad and fits with a theme that has been floating in my mind lately. The comfort that pets and other creatures gave me during the aftermath of my accident and a lot of my recovery for the last eight years.
Animals in general and a lot of people would say especially dogs know when you need them. Our dogs, Bo & Tana, were there when I first got home from the hospital. If I would go outside to walk around or just get some fresh air, without any prompting, they would go with me one walking on each side of me as if protecting or giving me stability. Koby came to us in October 2008 as a gift for our son Mike and stayed when Mike got a job at Kia Motors and moved to Alabama. He showed this same instinctive empathy when our neighbor Larry Burdette was recovering from a heart attack. The story was published in GEMG Georgia Magazine in October 2014. Another dog, Vick that Mike shared with his girl-friend, LaVonne, was a pit bull that broke all the stereotypes associated with the breed. After Bo & Tana had decided I didn’t need their constant accompaniment anymore Vick would still come running every time I stepped out the door. She was the embodiment of absolute loyalty.
Not all the animals that helped in my recovery were what you would consider pets. The most significant of these is a Bengal tiger named Golden that now weighs in at over 400 pounds. When I first saw him, he was not much bigger than a house cat. He came to an animal sanctuary where I volunteered for more than five years called Noah’s Ark in Locust Grove, Georgia. My most memorable encounter with Golden came about a year and a half after I started volunteering when he had torn some electric fence lines lose in his enclosure. Charlie Hedgecoth, the founder’s son was going to Golden’s enclosure to remove the lines before Golden got tangled in them. The problem was Golden was now around 120 pounds and very playful. I was working the Habitat answering guests’ questions and talking about the animals when Charlie said “Hey, Rodney, can you give me a hand here? I’ll keep him busy while you get these wires out of his enclosure” Charlie who stands about six foot five put Golden’s front paws on his shoulders and kept them there while I poked the wires out through the fence. Pretty impressive especially when I saw what Golden did to a tree with those paws later. Golden was eyeing me the whole time but Charlie kept him in check.
The experience inside Golden’s enclosure was very cool but what happened the next week when I came to volunteer was equally impressive. As I turned the corner and entered the stretch of the habitat in front of Golden and the other tiger enclosures, Golden saw me and immediately jumped to his feet and ran to the corner of his pen closest to me and followed me as far as he could. I had been working the habitat and helping feed the animals for almost two years and knew by his actions and the look in his eyes that he only wanted to play since he missed the opportunity the week before. This relationship continued until I stopped volunteering due to our move to West Virginia.
These are just a few of my experiences with the animal kingdom since my Brain Injury. While I was undergoing rehab at Shepherd Pathways, I saw a number of animal therapies. They took several patients to the Georgia International Horse Park for equine therapy. This was the venue for the equestrian events in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. They also brought a number of specially trained therapy dogs in to interact with patients.
The bond a person has with an animal can be very special and is a therapy all its own. I recommend it for anyone recovering from a brain injury. Sometimes it seemed like the animals understood me and my trials better than people did.