For this month’s ‘care’ edition we have a ‘Me and My Pet’ that shows that sometimes a canine can be more than just a pet.

Whoever said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend obviously never owned a dog.

Introducing: AJ & Louise

Dr Dog II.

WORDS Louise O’Reagain

Known as AJ to most, this man in black is living proof that there is no such thing as ‘just a dog’. Very much a prescribed part of my life, AJ is my best friend, house mate, colleague and personal cheerleading team. He’s even been trying to convince me lately that he’d make a really good dustbin or composter, though I’m sceptical straying so far from Royal Canin Hypoallergenic and the occasional carrot baton is such a good idea. Horrendous diarrhoea at 4am doesn’t exactly make a trial seem worth it. Sorry AJ.

So why is AJ ‘prescribed’? and what is it about my health that requires such an intervention? I could just tell you that I have Autism and ADHD, both of which were only picked up in adulthood. But the question requires a better explanation than that, and a mention of a certain lady and faithful companion who my family said our goodbye to just a month before AJ touched down in Jersey with FlyBe. Nandi, our family dog of fourteen years was my childhood companion and best friend.

 Nandi came bounding into O’Reagain family life when I was twelve years old and swept us all off our feet. Scampering through every part of family life and at least as hyperactive as I was, Nandi has gone down in O’Reagain family history. She put the trailer of Marley and Me to shame: swap the football stadium for sports day at FB Fields and we’ve been through every single one of those scenarios with her bar the car incident. Admittedly, the latter was ticked off by myself and some friends after a party one night in sixth form many years ago. I was enchanted with Nandi –I still am. She was prism through which I saw my world and she helped me navigate what could be a very confusing and unpredictable world.

 I view both Autism and ADHD as gifts as they offer me a unique perspective and experience of the world that I wouldn’t be without. It’s important however to acknowledge that it is this that can make them a very painful gift at times. Whatever way you look at it, my life is hard and I face challenges each day that those without Autism or ADHD cannot relate to.

One example is the sensory dysfunction I experience. Like many with these difficulties, I am a mix of hyper and hyposensitivities. How many people can sincerely say they are able to routinely hear electricity humming in walls? My hearing is too good in that it is very sensitive, but what is gains in acuity, it can lack in discrimination. Busy restaurants can be very unpleasant for me: I can hear the sound of cutlery on plates the other side of the room along with drinks orders being made several tables away. It seems that being able to solely tune into my table would require a zorb being fitted around it.

At the other end of the scale, there’s the hyposensitivities which dominate my sensory profile. I’ve broken a few bones in my time, and never once has it been obvious to me because of my high pain threshold. The staff at A&E have uncomfortably watched me a few times wiggle a broken bone, perplexed by its new diagonal slant. I also don’t easily realise whether I’m hungry or thirsty; too hot or too cold. Growing up, I had Nandi to return home to if we’d been out for dinner (or when I was getting a little hangry). She was an instant destress; turning challenge into victory each time.

As she began to grow frail in the two or three years before going to her final resting place, my growing anxiety at prospect of saying goodbye was matched by the professionals involved in my care. ‘You need a dog’ I heard countless times. My four-legged companion always felt like oxygen to me; but I hadn’t realised quite how apparent this was to those around me. My family confirmed the dog requirement hardwired into my system – my mum approaching me in the last year of Nandi’s life asking me whether I’d thought about getting another dog. She feared the simultaneous impact on my health and wellbeing of losing Nandi and not having a dog. Nandi, my first Dr Dog was nestled at the heart of my care from her beginning. She arrived less than a year before I sailed unwittingly into stormy seas and she helped me navigate storm after storm. She somehow made my toughest years some of my best, and a sterling example of courage and hope.

I write this now, with AJ at my side. He keeps me on track during the day providing me with structure, routine and prompting me in all my activities. In the last year I have reached a healthy BMI because though recognising when I’m hungry is till often an enigma to me, AJ still doesn’t let me forget. He used to remind me to take my epilepsy medication too, though I am now seizure-free for the first time and so don’t need his help with this anymore. I should also mention then he even provided the unexpected service of alerting to some of my seizures ahead of time when I was still having them (he was less than five months old when he started doing this). AJ steps in when I’m feeling stressed, taking the initiative to engage with me – and just as Nandi did, he effortlessly turns frowns and fears into laughter and smiles. Of course, above all just like Nandi, AJ provides me with a friendship that helps me navigate a world that is so often confusing and unpredictable. Like a tour guide he shows me around, and things all of a sudden – like pieces of a jig-saw falling in place – begin to make sense.

 

In loving memory of Nandi, a dog known for being full of character. 

Nandi Sally O’Reagain

09.07.01 – 13.08.15