Chronic Illness Solutions & How to Add or Subtract Spoons
with Ruby Leslie of WelfareForAnimals, Training Advocate

Working & Having Pets with a Chronic Illnesses

Invisible illnesses are a physical, mental or neurological conditions that are not visible to others but highly limit or challenge a person's day to day life.

I have endometriosis (endo), and as a working animal professional who has pets, working and having pets while battling this invisible illness is exceptionally challenging. Endo is where tissue similar to BUT different than the lining of the uterus grows throughout the body, it has even been found in the brain. Endo lesions create its own blood and estrogen supply, adhesions which then cause bands of scar tissue that glue organs together. It affects 1/10 women and trans individuals. It's excruciatingly painful yet women on average wait 8.5 years to be diagnosed as it is thought that painful periods are normal, which they're not. There is no cure but the gold standard for endo is excision surgery, which is equally as complex as cancer surgery. Endo requires a multi-disciplinary approach to help patients like me.

Having flare-ups or agonizing pain that couldn't be seen was very hard for my family and friends to understand, let alone dog students. "But you don't look sick?" is a common refrain for those with invisible illnesses. As people couldn't see my endo they had a hard time believing me when I said I couldn't go out or wasn't feeling well. I felt so guilty that I would go, go, go until I couldn't, which put me into even more pain and brain fog. I learned that I had to be open and upfront about what I was feeling as having an invisible illness, if people can't see it, they don't understand or believe it.

Coping Strategies for Dog Training/Working in pain

How to train when chronically ill and in acute pain? These solutions helped me, but each of us are distinctive individuals who feel pain differently and it's good to find what works best for you.

  • Be honest with clients, tell them when it is bad and in acute pain
  • Deep breathing exercises for when pain increases and/or mind does circles as pain spirals
  • Prepare a cancellation policy that is open and honest about your condition and stating that you may need to cancel due to your condition
  • Buy a hot water bottle and place it under your clothes, stick on heat pads or heat rub
  • Stick to your niche- you may feel desperate to do anything and everything to make $$$ (I did), but stick to your niche to keep solid grounding
  • Join associations for training like The Association of INTODOGS who offer free mental health services for their members
  • Talk openly about your disease in person and on social media, it may even become your niche! There are so many other professionals and individuals who suffer and need to hear your story to inspire them. This may even untap a new audience for you and your work!
  • Don't over commit, take it slow and only increase as you can
  • Create boundaries with clients- don't go on social media or work before or after certain times so you can rest
  • Create an online presence with webinars
  • Take the time you need to heal to learn a new certificate or diploma

Coping Strategies for at Home

  • Talk to a friend who is good at listening
  • Be YOU despite any stigmas against women's health or mental health
  • Take quiet times for yourself
  • Self care is critical
  • Join associations or Facebook groups for your disease to increase your knowledge and support base
  • Do things that help to calm you down like knitting or going for a walk with your dog, or brushing your cat
  • Have creative outlets
  • Talk to a mental health professional!
  • Book acupuncture, physiotherapy and other holistic therapies on your off days or evenings when you have time to rest and recuperate
  • REST! and don't feel guilty to rest, you need to heal!

The Spoon Theory

The Spoon Theory is used to describe what it is like to live with a chronic/invisible illness such as arthritis, fibromylagia, lupus or endometriosis. People with chronic illnesses have limited energy which is represented in spoons. It was created by Christine Miserandino. Each unit of energy for the day is measured in a spoon. Some activities cost more spoons than others. For those with chronic illness, if they do too much, they will not have enough spoons for the rest of the day.

For those who are healthy, on a regular work day they start off with 12 spoons and on a day off, they start with 19 spoons. A person with chronic illness can start their day minus 4 spoons, starting only with 8 spoons, and if they have a bad pain flare, they will only have 4 spoons to go through the day. If I had a flareup and had to train a dog, that was all my spoons for the day, the rest of my day, I had to rest.

But how does it relate to your dog?

All dogs have limited energy, same as all people do. Puppies, adolescent dogs (teenagers), senior dogs and dogs with chronic illnesses have more less ability to cope before they go over the threshold, meaning their emotional bucket is overflowing. This is like subtracting their spoons.

This can look like;

  • Your puppy starts puppy nipping uncontrollably when overtired
  • Your senior dog tolerating and then snapping at a younger dog or puppy and needing space afterwards
  • Your dog with hip dysplasia or arthritis growling at you for coming too close after a long walk
  • Your dog of any age randomly barking and lunging on a walk at strange dogs after a stressful vet visit or grooming
  • Your dog freezing on a walk and refusing to move after being trigger stacked from scary things like seeing a strange dog or a man in the dark
  • Your adolescent dog suddenly leash biting and refusing to walk a day after a big hike the day before
  • Your adolescent dog suddenly nipping you after a long training session
  • Your adolescent dog nipping your kids non-stop when they refuse to leave the dog alone

How to Add Spoons

How to help your dog cope? What you do can add or subtract your dog's daily spoons, in other words, help them to cope and not go over the threshold when they have limited energy.

Adding spoons

  • Let your dog rest after a big day or a big hike and don't disturb them
  • Massage, do TTouch or even long calming strokes on your dog after a big day to help them relax and loosen stiffened muscles
  • Watch your dog's behaviour closely if they're with energetic younger dogs and take them way before they stiffen up and snap
  • Take your dog for a sniffari/sniffy walk after a long day or hour with the kids or at the vet or groomer to help your dog and you relax
  • Be mindful to not take your dog with a chronic illness out for long walks, instead do shorter walks. If you do long walks, leave them alone and let them chill with relax my dog music on YouTube
  • Don't take your dog out for a long walk after a big day previous, let them rest
  • Provide time away for your dog from the kids, give them their own doggy den or even a room for them to chill, that if they enter a baby gate goes up, and that's their spot until they decide to re-enter the room
  • Use doggy furniture and multiple water bowls and beds to help your dog with a chronic illness have choices
  • Put your puppy in their playpen when they start getting tired with a stuffed KONG or scatter feed in their snuffle mat so they have something to refocus on and help them calm down (chewing and licking helps dogs calm down). Don't wait for them to get overtired

When we forget about our dog's limitations and emotional states, we subtract spoons and often unintentionally trigger stack our dogs to the point of going over the threshold. Let's add spoons in our and our dog's lives.

Ruby Leslie of WelfareForAnimals

Training Advocate
Dogly loves Ruby because she brings her rescue experiences to our dogs - to increase our bond, decrease behavior issues.

Ruby guides you

New Dogs - Manners - Enrichment - Reactivity - Barking - Walking

Ruby is certified

Low Stress Handling - Fear Free Veterinary Professional - Fear Free Shelters - Shelter Welfare - Enrichment - & Canine Behaviour