The Cuddle Cure

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Understanding the Pet Bond

Michel Selmer, DVM, of the Advanced Animal Care Center, in Huntington Station, New York, isn't surprised at Gordon's dramatic turnaround. "Xolos are perfectly suited for soothing joint and soft tissue pains because they easily give off body heat," he says. And owning any kind of dog has therapeutic benefits. "Just petting a dog has been shown to lower blood pressure," Dr. Selmer says. "Dog owners tend to be healthier, and taking care of a dog can lower stress and help ward off depression."

When Toaster, now 10, was 1 year old, Gordon enrolled her in a service-dog program, which opened up Gordon's world even more. With the service-dog-in-training certificate, Toaster could accompany Gordon wherever she went: the movies, the mall, even restaurants.

Xolos are rare and expensive -- until recently the American Kennel Club considered them nearly extinct -- so part of Gordon's deal with Toaster's breeder was that she'd breed Toaster and give him the pick of the litter. Toaster had four pups in 2002, and Gordon eventually decided to keep the runt, an even-hotter-to-the-touch dog she named Pink. (There are two types of Xolos, both essentially hairless, but Toaster is the variety that has an extremely short coat and a hairless belly. Pink has hardly any hair at all.)

Pink got into service-dog training as a puppy and excelled at it. Now 6, she brings Gordon the cell phone and picks up anything she has dropped, so Gordon doesn't have to bend down. "She can retrieve all four of my television system remotes by name." And at night, when Gordon's pain turns to stiffness, Pink helps her to get ready for bed by pulling off her socks and sweaters.

When Gordon went to place Toaster's other puppies with people who suffer from chronic pain, she found that there was a huge demand. So, inspired by her dogs, Gordon slowly got back into the business of helping others. In 2003, following up on an idea she'd had when Toaster was a puppy, she set up Paws for Comfort, a company selling greeting cards that feature cute pictures of Toaster and Pink and inspiring messages for people living with chronic illness. And in April 2008 she founded Xolos for Chronic Pain Relief (X-CPR), a nonprofit that matches these unique dogs with pain sufferers who can't afford to buy one.

To date Gordon has placed about 10 Xolos in loving homes, where they provide their owners with comfort and pain relief. She hopes to increase the number of dogs available through X-CPR and is looking to partner with more breeders and to secure corporate funding. "I'd love to be able to match a Xolo with everyone who needs one of these wonderful dogs," she says.

With both Xolos snuggling on her lap, Gordon laughs when she thinks of how in her younger years she was a confirmed cat person. "My friends use to rave about their dogs and I never understood the bond they claimed to have with their pets," she says. "Now, these two are a part of my family and they make me smile every day."

Is your pet cuddle-worthy? Post a picture of him in our pet gallery!

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, March 2009.


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