The Cuddle Cure
A Dog That Heals
When Nancy Gordon relaxes in front of the TV in her San Diego living room, the pain in her neck often flares up. But instead of reaching for ibuprofen or a heating pad, she simply says, "Neck, please," to the little gray, brown, and white dog snuggled at her side. Right away Toaster jumps onto Gordon's shoulders and wraps her 14-pound body around her owner's neck, offering instant relief.
Toaster is a Mexican hairless breed known as Xolos (pronounced show-low). Considered sacred by the Aztecs, who believed that the dogs have healing powers, the breed has a 3,000-year history of soothing arthritic pain. The body temperature of a Xolo is a toasty 102 degrees F., the same as any other dog. But the lack of fur means there's little to no insulation -- when you touch a Xolo, you feel every bit of that heat. Combine that with the dog's friendly nature and you've got a living, breathing heating pad.
Gordon, 54, says her Xolo saved her life. She was living in Portland, Oregon, and working as a licensed clinical social worker when her car crashed on a rainy highway in 1992. Doctors told her she was lucky to have survived the accident, but Gordon was left with excruciating neck and back pain. "A year later the pain wasn't any better," she says. "There were days when the simple act of driving to work would leave me feeling sore and exhausted."
Medications and physical therapy didn't help, and Gordon sank into a depression. In 1995, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Finally, in 1998, she closed her psychotherapy practice. "Letting go of my career was one of the most painful experiences of my life," she says. "I loved helping people, but I didn't know how I could really be a good therapist when I couldn't even help myself."
In 1999, when a friend called to tell her about Xolos and how they relieve pain by giving off extraordinary body heat, Gordon was cautiously optimistic. The friend knew a breeder who had told her of the Xolos' history as healers. Intrigued, and smitten with the dogs' cute appearance and bat-like ears, Gordon bought a Xolo puppy -- her first dog -- and named it Toaster.
Gordon was amazed at how quickly the cuddly puppy could not only lift her spirits but also relieve her pain. "Before I adopted Toaster I had to wear a microwavable wrap around my neck almost 24/7." Toaster's not quite as warm as a heating pad, which means she can lie on Gordon's neck indefinitely without causing burns, and Gordon says that the little dog's weight provides gentle traction, which helps relax her muscles.
The benefits go far beyond that, though. Before she got Toaster, simple errands were exhausting and painful for Gordon. Suddenly they became fun. "She'd be wrapped around my neck while I was driving, helping my muscles stay relaxed and lifting my mood," Gordon says. Toaster turned out to have plenty of other qualities not found in a medical device. Often, before Gordon could even utter a command, Toaster would intuitively move to lie against the area of her body that was hurting. And Toaster needed her, too. "Having to get up each morning and take her for a walk helped me to focus less on my own pain."