The Human Animal Bond
By Cindy Zaring
This fall we were all provided a lesson on what it means to be a true companion to an animal. In September, we all began noticing the kind man in the corner of our lobby holding vigil next to his canine companion, Wiley. It was hard not to notice Wiley’s teddy bear face. Sadly, he spent his time lying flat, resting, and unable to use his legs in the ways that he had been accustomed. He was being challenged by the pressures of a growth along his spinal cord and the subsequent removal and treatment of that condition. He was patchy with the marks of shaving and surgical scars and he was lacking for energy and spark. But in spite of the maladies, the love between Wiley and his owner, Ron, spread and filled the lobby like a sunbeam.
All day, every day, Ron tended to every need that he perceived Wiley to have. When the weather allowed, the corner camp was moved to the grass and sun. Ron could be seen hoisting and carrying Wiley wherever he needed to be. Rather than languishing in a cage between his twice daily treatments, Wiley spent his recuperation next to his dutiful owner. And Wiley’s love of Ron was palpable. On any trip through the lobby, we could observe Wiley receiving massages, soft toned encouragement, treats, praise, and abounding love, care, and concern. Ron had traveled here from another state and spent his nights in a nearby motel, but from the beginning of the day to the end … he sat on the mat with Wiley. This went on for six weeks.
What a warming experience it was for all of us to watch the skills and knowledge of our doctors and staff combine with all that tender loving care to produce daily improvement in Wiley. Steadily, you could see the twinkle return to that lovable face. Wiley’s desire to engage grew day by day. He was beginning to hold his head up again and tracking what was going on around him. Soon, he could be seen taking his first tentative and wobbly steps. A few days ago I watched him walk in his new sway style down the hall and around the corner alongside Ron and some of our staff. They were walking in the direction of Bustad Hall. Dr. Leo Bustad, one of our institution’s pillars, devoted much of his professional life to the healing of humans through their relationships with animals. We have all had the opportunity to see his words and beliefs brought to life through Ron and Wiley. Watching them round the corner that day filled my heart.
Ron thinks he is simply doing what any one should do for an animal in their care. He is a humble and quiet man. To hear him tell it, Wiley saves him each and every day through his companionship. Yet, his connection with and dedication to Wiley epitomizes the human-animal bond and the healing that thrives in the midst of it.