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Stronger Together

Doctors tell lupus patients to avoid stress, but stress didn’t avoid her. That’s where a white and fluffy pooch came in.

By Jackie Surls, Austin, Texas

As appeared in

I threw my arms around Joey.

The next step: research. Joey and I pored over books and websites. I wanted a small dog, friendly and intelligent, that didn’t require tons of exercise. I analyzed traits like they were data in my lab and reached a conclusion: West Highland white terrier was the breed for us.

The fact that Westies were white and fluffy, like my childhood dog, sealed the deal. We went to see a litter. A tiny male with perky ears jumped on me, then tugged at Joey’s jeans. No matter how many times we pulled away to look at the other puppies, he followed. Small yet determined...kind of like me.

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“Looks like he’s chosen us,” Joey said, laughing.

Before bed that first night, we put Gunner in his crate and turned out the lights. He didn’t make a peep. “I think we got the perfect puppy,” I whispered.

A cry jolted me awake the next morning. I glanced at the clock. Five-thirty! I needed way more sleep, but Joey had already left for work, so it was up to me. Besides, we had to get Gunner house-trained. Once I got a job, I wouldn’t be home so much. Slowly I got up and made my way to the crate. He whined softly.

I opened the crate and clipped on his leash. “C’mon, little guy.” I trudged down the stairs with Gunner and let him take care of business. “Good boy,” I said, yawning. Back up the stairs. By the time we got to the top, my knees were throbbing. At least I can go back to sleep now, I thought.

Gunner had other ideas. He grabbed one of his toys and dropped it at my feet.

“Okay, okay, I’m awake,” I said, tossing the toy across the room. Playing fetch zapped my strength. I could barely get up from the couch when Joey got home from work.

“Don’t worry,” Joey said. “He’ll settle down.”

Really? Gunner was a bundle of energy. And I was the sickest I’d ever been. The lupus flare hadn’t let up, and my puppy alarm clock wasn’t letting me get the rest I desperately needed.

Gunner wriggled in my arms. I stroked his velvety ears. “God, I know you brought this puppy into my life,” I said. “I want to be the mom he deserves. But I need your strength again.”

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Gunner looked at me with his big, dark eyes as if he understood, and snuggled against me. We fell asleep with me holding him like a teddy bear.

Ding, ding, ding!

The bell again. This time I felt a surge of energy. I took Gunner out to his spot, then right back in, so he’d know the bell was for bathroom breaks, not playtime. Soon he got the hang of it.

One afternoon a neighbor came up to us. “Can I pet your puppy?” she said.

“Of course.” But Gunner ducked behind my legs. Strange. Westies aren’t known to be shy.

The next day I brought some treats on our walk. Our neighbor bent down to pet Gunner. Again he backed up. “Would you mind giving him a biscuit?” I asked. “I’m trying to help him get over his shyness.”

She held the treat out. That broke the ice. Gunner took it and wagged his tail.

Next we met a guy in a golf cart. The maintenance man. I explained about Gunner’s shyness. “Hi there,” he said to my puppy, waving a treat. “We’re going to be pals.” Gunner ate the treat and even let the man pet him.