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.

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I just read the story about Gunner and his people mom! I also have Lupus and I have a Miniature Schnauzer named Oreo that's 5 1/2 years old and I have had him since he was only a few weeks old. I recently adopted two more dogs that are little white malti-poos and they are about 4 years old, I was told. They ALL fill my life with UNCONDITIONAL LOVE and LOYALTY that NONE of my HUMAN "FRIENDS" have lived up to! Because of "religious differences" - all of my FORMER FRIENDS have CHOSEN to cut me out of their lives TOTALLY as if I am DEAD! It is a LEGALISTIC/CULTLIKE ORGANIZATION that hides behind the TITLE of a RELIGION but all they do is preach that they are a LOVING WORLDWIDE BROTHERHOOD while at the same time, throwing out lifelong members that may not agree with every RULE they have whether it is in the BIBLE or not! Needless to say, having formerly been a very "People Person" to now being totally DISABLED and across the country to where I knew nobody and then suffered a devastating accident! I could not BELIEVE it when THAT was when they tossed me out like yesterday's garbage, even my BEST friend since early childhood and we are both in our 50's now and I NEVER dreamed SHE would turn on me!! Thank God that DOGS don't do those kinds of cruel things! When you are down, they get down right there cuddled up next to you!! THAT'S TRUE FRIENDSHIP! If I had not had the love and friendship of my dogs when my PEOPLE turned on me and left me ALONE, I don't think I would have wanted to live much longer because I was so deeply hurt in my heart!! With Lupus, you REALLY do not need STRESS and when PEOPLE make your life more stressful than it's worth, you NEED a DOG to let you know that you still matter and just carressing their fur actually lowers your blood pressure and heart rate and actually makes you RELAX all over and that is GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH ALL OVER, IN GENERAL! My Prescription for Lupus, Depression, Flu, Migraines, High Blood Pressure? Go to your LOCAL SHELTER and adopt TWO DOGS and CALL ME IN THE MORNING!! Then? Be a responsible Pet Owner and have your animals spayed or neutered to avoid pet overpopulation that causes far too many humans to give up those pets that depend on them and their humans betray them by letting them get euthanized!! Only something HUMANS WOULD DO, HUH? That's just TERRIBLE! WE ARE SUPPOSED TO SET THE EXAMPLE FOR ALL OTHERS AND BE LOVING AND CARING FOR OUR HUMAN AND ANIMAL FRIENDS!! It STARTS with YOU!