Teddy is a black, tan, and white collie mixed breed. To my eyes, she’s a dog of exceptional beauty, and we’ve been together as best friends and companions for nearly fifteen years. Teddy and I share an understanding based on total mutual commitment to each other. I have never doubted that Teddy would give her life for me without the slightest hesitation. My paltry human love cannot equal her unequivocal devotion. I have always described our relationship by saying, “My dog and I are completely bonded.” But I had no idea how true this statement was until I was diagnosed with cancer.

Through the stages of my recovery from three operations, Teddy stayed near me, sleeping beside the bed, watching my every move. She was clearly anxious and upset when I felt uncomfortable or distressed.

Then came chemotherapy. I had been able to cope with many of the difficulties so far — the loss of body parts, the fatigue, the side effects of medication — but the thought of losing my long hair during chemo plunged me into depression. On the good advice of a cancer nurse, I had my hair cut short at the start of treatment. This would forestall the shock of seeing clumps of it falling out.

Over a three-week period, handfuls of hair separated from my itchy scalp. Each loss brought me greater distress. My coping skills quickly eroded. One evening, I sat in my rocking chair, pulling out tufts of hair and sobbing energetically. Teddy lay on the floor beside me and watched intently. Suddenly she began to pull at the fur on her tail. Before I could stop her, she had ripped out a few clumps.

Teddy’s action, of course, stopped my tears and self-pity. I went to bed that night marveling at the depth of this dog’s compassion.

The next morning, I found Teddy sleeping in a mass of long black hair. She had yanked out almost all the fur from the midsection of her tail, no doubt with considerable pain. Her beautiful black tail and its white plume now looked like a funny little rat’s tail with a pale-colored brush on its end. Then Teddy looked up at me with her devoted little face. It was as if she was willing me to feel better. I could almost hear her saying, “If you have to lose your hair, I’m going to lose mine, too.”

Teddy and I both appeared a bit strange that summer. In the fall, when her winter coat came in, Teddy’s tail quickly began to look better. My hair took a quite a bit longer to return, but I never cried about it again. Sharing my loss with my best friend Teddy took the sadness away.

Has an animal climbed on your lap when you were ill or sad and warmed your heart? What messages have animals conveyed with their actions when you most needed comfort?

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