“People may tell you in detail about the pain in their elbow or leg, where and how it hurts, but they may not tell you about the emotional pain they feel in their heart,” says Dr. Jim Melling, a family physician who sees patients at his office near Victoria, and at local hospitals. This is where Todd, a registered therapy dog, comes in. In Melling’s view, the dog’s deep loving looks, quiet demeanor and attention to those in need create an atmosphere that is calming for patients. And, this paves the way for them to open up more to the doctor than perhaps they would otherwise. Todd’s presence seems to send a message that this doctor is ready to listen – a message that isn’t sent if he just reaches for the ever-present prescription pad.
“It can be difficult to give the patient the time they need to express, or even consider what is going on under the physical symptoms they are experiencing, because of time constraints for doctors,” Melling explains. Sometimes the cause of a patient’s pain is not as simple as it seems at first glance.
With Canada’s prescription use of painkillers at an all-time high, perhaps a deeper understanding of what is often behind the pain may be helpful, Melling feels.
“In our society, many people are in distress. They are anxious about their finances, their jobs, relationships and family issues. This might show up as sleep problems, anxiousness, indigestion, or even physical pain with no physical explanation,” he says. He wonders whether medical practitioners are listening to discern the real problem, or just writing prescriptions to treat the symptoms.
As Todd pads quietly into another patient exam room, he may have something to teach us about our health. So effective is his loving empathy that many patients find themselves crying when he puts his paw on their arm or nuzzles up to them.
Todd himself has experienced healing. Melling found him online, and when they met, it was an instant connection. Todd had been a cattle herder from in Alberta, but not a very good one; hence he was in need of a new home. He winced and cringed whenever Melling picked up a stick to throw for him. He had no idea what play was, or how to swim. Through love and the development of their relationship, Todd now plays – and even swims. Most importantly, he brings this healing sense of love to others when he senses they need it, releasing the often hidden issues underlying physical illness and bringing them up for healing.
The practice of reliance on scans and tests that look only at the physical symptoms – though sometimes helpful – is now questioned by many both inside and outside our western medical system. The new frontier of discovery and study regarding wellbeing is sometimes called a “whole patient approach,” which takes into account the thoughts and beliefs of the patient. It’s actually a rediscovery of the influence that our mentality plays in our health.
There have been health pioneers throughout history, but not many have discerned a spiritual component to our health. One who did, and whose writings I study deeply, is Mary Baker Eddy, a 19th century Christian healer. She discovered that understanding the mental condition of a patient was of fundamental importance in healing physical problems. However, Eddy went further in her discoveries. She wrote, “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need.” She brought to light how the divine can change human thought, and bring physical healing in its wake.
The inspiring story of Todd the therapy dog and the response of the patients who meet him, opens the door to understanding that there is more to wellness than can be discerned in a physical body. Realizing the connection between thought, spirituality and wellness is actually a return to what we already know.