2010-11-17 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

“Happiness is a warm puppy.”… TheAztecs knew the depth of this statement long before there was a Snoopy or Charlie Brown. That’s because the Aztecs invented the canine heating pad, better known today as the “Mexican Hairless” or “Xolo”, a rare breed.

As far back as 3,500 years ago, the Aztecs realized body heat generated by Xolos - the small, often hairless dogs they bred - could soothe aching joints and sore muscles. Nancy Gordon of San Diego stumbled on this medical marvel in 1999, when she discovered that a friend’s Xolo puppy sitting in her lap eased the constant pain of her fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, brought on after a serious car accident. She understood how pain could bring life, as someone once knew it, to a standstill. Because of her debilitating illness, Nancy was forced to give up her practice as a social worker and relocate from Oregon to California.

Henry and Rachel. Henry and Rachel. Now Gordon and her Xolos for Chronic Pain Relief™ (X-CPR™) are sharing this canine remedy with other sufferers of chronic pain. Since 2002, via X-CPR, her 501 c3 nonprofit service dog program, Gordon has placed 15 trained Xolos that offer pain relief, assistance with daily tasks plus companionship. Xolos are natural retrievers and can be taught to pick up dropped objects, open/ close cupboards and pull up socks or tug on sleeves.

Living with these intuitive dogs can also repair the depression, immobility and isolation brought on by constant pain. Nancy said: “One of my clients credits her Xolo with her ability to return to the ‘productive’ world. The woman was able to go back to school, acquire a job and get off disability income, all because of how much better her Xolo made her feel.”

Besides easing pain, these unique Xolos, including one my friend, an X-CPR puppy raiser, placed with a senior citizen, are warming their owners’ hearts. Henry isn’t the first to brag about his new best Xolo buddy-“Rachel”. More about Henry and Rachel later.

Xolo, short for “Xoloitzcuintli” (pronounced “show-loweats queent-lee”), is derived from a combo of the name of an Aztec Indian god and their word for “dog” because the ancients believed the dogs had mystical powers. Xolos can be hairless or coated. The hairless pups radiate more heat. Xolos come in three sizes: Toy, Miniature, and Standard. Toys, about ten pounds, are the preferred therapeutic size. They instinctively know how to drape themselves over necks, knees, and limbs to relieve arthritic aches. Nancy’s own dogs work as a team. Her coated Xolo “Toaster” provides traction to her shoulders while “Toaster’s” hairless daughter “Pinky” adds hotter relief. When you consider all society’s problems due to addictive pain pills, Xolos offer a safer, warm fuzzy alternative.

My friend Sharon Sakson in New Jersey is a volunteer puppy raiser for X-CPR, which is only one facet of her vast canine résumé. She is also an author, TV producer, breeder of champion Brussels Griffons and Whippets and dog show judge. Sharon has written extensively about the healing power of dogs. When researching her book Paws & Effect (Alyson Books; 2007), she visited Nancy Gordon and was so impressed by the Xolo talents. “Their instant rapport with people in pain amazes me,” remarked Sharon, “Xolos tend to bond with one person.”

Since then, Sharon has raised eight Xolo puppies for the program. Nancy purchases the pups from breeders. They come to Sharon where they are socialized, leash/crate trained, and housebroken. In addition to the basics, Sharon teaches commands including “Look” and “Wait”. The pups are ready for placement between six months to a year old. Meanwhile, Nancy matches the dog’s temperament to the client’s needs. Some dogs will be of service at home; others in public too. Last week Sharon delivered a Xolo to a teacher in Suffolk.

Providing, training, and transporting service dogs are costly endeavors. Since X-CPR is a small and relatively new idea, the program does not have a large donation base as established organizations such as Canine Companions for Independence do. Including veterinary care, it costs about $2,500 to get each Xolo ready. Presently, hopeful and approved recipients must arrange their own fundraising through an individual FirstGiving™ website. As follow-up, the new owners receive service dog consultation and training resources from Nancy to fine tune the dog’s specific skills.

The demand for pain relief dogs far surpasses the supply. Pleas are heart-wrenching. Nancy is dismayed because she started X-CPR to help others who could not help themselves, especially single women without a source of income; yet she realizes financial hurdles may prevent them from ever getting a therapeutic dog. X-CPR and the Paws for Comfort mission can only expand with more sponsors and more volunteers. Please check www.pawsforcomfort. com to see how you can reach out to those in pain. Tax deductible donations can be sent to: X-CPR, PO Box 601784, San Diego, CA 92160.

In September, my veterinarian asked me to find a dog for Henry, an active octogenarian left alone suddenly. When his best friend died, Henry adopted Aiden, the man’s dog. With little warning, Aiden succumbed to cancer. Henry’s next dog would have to be less than 20 pounds, because he is on a waiting list for senior housing. Henry called his late friend’s daughter in Connecticut who accompanied him to meet a Terrier at Babylon Shelter. We decided this pup was too rambunctious.

Timing is everything when it comes to cosmic canine match-ups. The same week, Sharon mentioned that “Zora”- one of her Xolo pups was a bit too timid and a bit too big for X-CPR placement. She needed to find a good home for her. Zora is a one-year-old coated miniature Xolo weighing 19 pounds. Zora sounded perfect for Henry.

Sharon brought Zora to Henry the next day. Love at first sight is an understatement. Zora, renamed “Rachel,” is Henry’s shadow. They are inseparable, and go on long walks. Rachel has a sedate maturity unlike a typical one year old dog. Her soul reflects the wisdom of her Aztec heritage. She may not be offering physical pain relief but she is soothing a senior’s loneliness. “I love her, and Rachel loves me. She makes me glow,” says Henry. Rachel is doing what she was born to do.

For Adoption at Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: My apologies to the shelter pets for cutting their space short this week. Sweet “Dunkin’” #93565 blends into the brindle Pit bunch. This silly guy guzzled some decaf Colombian. “Mac” in C-9 is a mellow, Big Boy cat, as is his tuxedo brother “Oreo”.

Dog Sampling: a trio of Chihuahuas in the Puppy Room; “Blue” #93487-gentle Retriever; “Jake” #93649-Boston Terrier/ Beagle.

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