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My WebMD: How Our Adopted Dog Changed Our Lives

The WebMD Healthy Pets Contest winner shares her story and her top pet-care tip: Play every day.

My husband, Bill, and I became friends because our former spouses were brother and sister. We used to spend a lot of time together -- going skiing, celebrating holidays, that sort of thing. We were all very close. But then first his wife died (in 1998) and then my husband died (in 2003) -- both of cancer. Bill and I supported each other. We gave each other shoulders to lean on. Eventually we fell in love.

After we got married, it took us four years to find a nice home that we could afford (our spouses' medical bills had practically wiped out our savings). But once we found that home, we knew we wanted to adopt a dog, from either a local shelter or a rescue.

Bill served in Vietnam and has posttraumatic stress disorder. He had a much-beloved golden retriever years ago and remembered the positive effects that having a dog had on his PTSD. One of the markers of PTSD is a tendency toward increased irritability, and we thought there was no better remedy than the wagging tail and empathetic gaze of a good dog. Many veterans with PTSD now have trained service dogs to help them with psychological issues.

Healthy Dog Play

We adopted Max from our county animal shelter when he was just 12 weeks old. He's a lab mix of some kind and he was adorable, but he had a lot of health problems, including allergies, a chronic urinary tract infection, and demodectic mange. Without knowing how he spent the first 3 months of his life, it was hard for our vet to figure out why he got ill so often. But once he turned a year old, he got better. He is now a very active, very playful 2-year-old.

I think the best way to keep a pet healthy is to set aside time each day to play. One blessing of Max's forced inactivity as a puppy is that we played a lot of brain-challenging games so he didn't have to run around a lot when he wasn't feeling well. I hid lunch meats around the house and told him to "go find it." Or I hid myself and he had to come find me. Eventually we taught him to swim in our pool. I think that aided his mental growth -- it also kept him occupied (he wanted a lot of attention). Today he still loves games, and I find that playing with him makes a big difference in his behavior. He's happier and it opens the lines of communication among us.

Every night when we're getting ready for bed, Max curls up on the hall floor, near the front of the house, until Bill finishes what he's doing. Then, as Bill turns out the lights and heads for the bedroom, Max scampers ahead of him, picks up his "good-night bone" and hops up on the bed, where he snuggles up next to Bill and chews his bone while Bill reads a book. It's truly a joy having him as part of our family.

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