Featured Image Description: the Disability Pride Flag, featuring a lightning bolt shape of blue, yellow, white, red, and green lines combined overlaying a black background. You can find its symbolism here.
It’s been Disability Pride Month all July and I have something I’d love to share, finally! (My demand-avoidance does not like having to write themed posts within the correct time period, go figure.)
This is Bella, my mom’s dog. Mom kind of acquired Bella by accident. Granted, Mom was looking for a puppy, but the litter that she was hoping to get one from had already all been claimed. However, just before Christmas, the breeder called my mom up and told her that someone had returned a puppy, and wondered if Mom would be interested in purchasing her. Naturally, Mom said yes.
Now, while I don’t agree with the existence of breeders per-se, and I think Mom should have gotten an older dog from a shelter, period, I am very grateful for Bella in my life. She’s a lot to handle, as Goldendoodles aren’t exactly even keeled, especially this one as she’s more Golden than Poodle—she’s a doozy. Even so, she’s more than not a delight and brings a lot of joy to our lives.
You might be wondering why I am writing about her for Disability Pride Month though. Well, I’ll tell you: it’s because we share the same connective tissue disorder, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (Hypermobile type III, or hEDS). Granted, Bella has never been diagnosed officially, but I know what my disease looks like, and dogs can and do have autoimmune/connective tissue disorders.
Here’s a list of some symptoms, just so you can see it too:
- Incredibly lax and stretchy skin (it’s absurd how far I can pull her fur away from her body)
- Hypermobility (like SUPER hypermobile, she can turn herself into a ball where her head is far overlapping her rear end; I swear she could be an owl with how far she can turn her head too)
- She’s ridiculously clumsy (like, no proprioception—the body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location—at all)
- Chronic illness of others sorts such as bad allergies, upset stomach, and UTIs
- Beyond sensitive skin (we think she’s allergic to metal or something, but she’s constantly needing medication)
- She braces herself when she sits (has to do with hypermobility, where one must find external support, move around a lot, or hold oneself awkwardly, as the joints do not hold themselves together properly)
- She can’t play for more than 5 minutes at a time; she stops to either eat grass because of her stomach or to catch her breath (I’m assuming she’s usually in some kind of pain)
- Her gums are super sensitive and it takes next to nothing to cause them to bleed
SO yeah, Bella has been incredibly expensive to take care of due to illness and I’m glad she’s my mom’s dog and not mine. That being said, I love the ever living crap out of her. It’s been a wild time reliving some of my medical and social trauma through loving and taking care of Bella, but it’s also been healing.
There was one time where I came home to find Bella unable to move well at all. She had overexerted herself playing with some new doggy friends at the park earlier that day, and when I came into the room, she tried her best to hobble over to me, but it was a tragic attempt. Seeing her like that shocked my system. It was in that moment that I knew without a doubt we shared the same connective tissue disorder. I crumpled to the ground, with sobs racking my body as I hugged her close. I knew the pain she was in, and the strength that it took her to want to move at all towards me. I saw how pure her love was at that moment too—to want to be close to me and still feel excitement through the pain. Quite the trooper.
Seeing that shared lived experience in an entity that’s other than human just…I don’t quite know how to describe what it’s done for me. Like of course it’s great to relate to other humans and learn from their experiences and heal together in our sharing, or sometimes just commiserate without healing, but I don’t know…there’s just something about relating wordlessly with an animal. I honestly attribute the phenomenon to my autism, as it’s an indescribable experience. My words truly fail me here. (One stereotypical trait of autistic individuals is to relate better/be more comfortable with animals than people.)
As beautiful as that experience was, it is, however, hard to deal with Bella’s health on and off. It makes me confront the not-so-far-off past of not having answers for most of my life about why I am the way I am. (I frequently have to disengage as memories flood my mind about how much I’ve been dismissed and discriminated against for the symptoms I’ve endured.) The vet keeps treating her symptoms, but it appears there’s a lack of understanding of why she is the way she is. I’m grateful they keep trying to find better food for her though, and they have meds for her allergies too.
The good of our relationship though? She teaches me how to rest, how to be proud of my strength and love, how to stay and live in the present moment. She grounds me to the earth and to my body. She is my friend.
Here we see Bella assisting (read: distracting) me from writing this very article. And you can see how she uses my as a backrest because it’s hard for her to sit up right, just as I have a hard time holding myself up because of hEDS. Kindred spirits, her and I. I consider myself very lucky.
So, all this to say: Happy Disability Pride Month. It’s things like this relationship I have with Bella that I seek, to bring me joy and peace amidst the chaos and pain of chronic illness. Thanks for reading!