Family dog is good medicine

Two children and their mom who has stage four breast cancer adopt a young dog to help the family cope. The dog is just what the doctor ordered.
By Nicole Hamilton

Stella, a one-year-old dog from the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Salt Lake CityThe first thing you’re likely to notice about Stella, a one-year-old dog from the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Salt Lake City, is her seemingly limitless energy. Stella has a love of life that she gives in large doses to everyone she meets. But even so, she was surrendered twice to a county shelter. For one family, though, Stella’s passion for living was exactly what the doctor ordered.

In search of a dog’s love

Jeneanne Lock’s young children, Ruby and Andres, had been asking for a dog for months. But since they live in an apartment complex that does not allow pets, Jeneanne explained that they’d have to wait until they moved. But that all changed when Jeneanne received some life-changing news: She had stage four breast cancer and would need extensive chemotherapy and radiation in order to get healthy again.

Jeneanne immediately thought of her brother, a cancer survivor, and his dog Oliver. She had seen, firsthand, how Oliver had been a healing presence for her brother and his family. A dog’s love, she decided, would be the perfect medicine to help Ruby and Andres (and her) to cope with all the challenges that cancer brings.

Her doctor agreed, and wrote a letter to Jeneanne’s apartment manager asking permission for a dog to live with the family. The manager gladly obliged, and so on a cold December day, Jeneanne and kids made their way to the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Salt Lake City, where they met an exuberant puppy who was ready for a little good news herself.

Stella meets her new family

Before that day, Stella was waiting ― again ― to be adopted from Davis County Animal Services, one of several municipal shelters partnering with Best Friend Animal Society’s No-Kill Utah initiative. Stella tolerated being at the shelter alright, but walls weren’t able to contain her excitement about, well, everything. Stella couldn’t wait for the day when she could go outside and play with someone for hours in a Salt Lake City mountain landscape that’s about as big as her personality.

Learn about Best Friends’ No-Kill Utah initiative

As it turned out, that day was closer than Stella thought. Each day, dogs from different shelters take turns coming to the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center, giving them extra help to get out of the shelter and into homes. The day that Stella and other dogs arrived at the center from Davis County Animal Services was the day Jeneanne and her kids were there, too. And Stella was perfect for them.  

“Stella could not have had more energy,” says Jeneanne, recalling the first time she and her children saw the young dog, and how exuberantly she wagged her tail when they reached out to pet her. “I knew she’d be perfect for us because the kids could keep up with her. But around me, she was very calm.”

Samantha Nelson, the center’s adoption specialist, helped Jeneanne and her family that day, “They made an instant connection,” she says. “Stella fit right in, and it was a very inspiring thing to see.”

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Stella the dog was literally just what the doctor ordered

Dogs as natural healers

The more comfortable Stella became in her new home, the easier it was for her to sense how to behave around each person ― especially Jeneanne. “Dogs are natural healers,” says Jeneanne. “Cancer isn’t just physically taxing. It’s also mentally taxing.  Stella gets me outside and moving, which improves my mood. Around her, I’m less anxious about the future.”

Stella also gives the family a lot of emotional support. At one point during chemotherapy treatment, Jeneanne’s immune system became so weak that she had to be hospitalized. “Cancer changes your perspective, and you realize how fragile life is,” says Jeneanne.

It’s during these moments, she says, that Stella’s presence is the most calming. “Even when she’s just sitting next to us on the couch or lying near us, she is helping us feel more relaxed.”

Stella has also showed Jeneanne and the kids the importance of turning their attention away from their computer screens, phones and televisions so they can pay more attention to each other. And because Andres and Ruby have to walk and feed Stella, they are learning how to be more responsible. But Stella is learning a lot, too. She’s taken obedience training and is getting better at walking on a leash. And Jeneanne hopes soon to enroll her in a training program to become a reading education assistance dog to help children develop their reading and communications skills.

The more comfortable Stella became in her new home, the easier it was for her to sense how to behave around each person

A book about Stella

Today, Jeneanne is feeling great. The family has begun working on a children’s e-book, inspired by Stella. It’s the story of a dog (Stella, of course), who is adopted from the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center and goes on to have all sorts of fun adventures with her new family. She also helps her family heal.

“It’s Stella’s story. We didn’t make anything up. We really didn’t have to,” says Jeneanne. “Stella’s life speaks for itself. She’s a pretty amazing dog, because she helped us feel better, just by being herself.”

Give to Best Friends and help save lives

Adopting Stella has inspired her family to write a book

Photos by Sarah Ause-Kichas

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