Going through an HIV diagnosis can be tough, living with it daily is no walk in the park, however there are a numerous ways to cope and lift ones spirit. As I have mentioned before it in previous blogs it is important to surround yourself with a support network of those going through the same thing wether that be in person or online as well as a group of affected people who are there to offer unconditional support. This support system is so important to our survival living with HIV because regardless of how strong we think we are, we all need some uplifting words every once in awhile. Another key component to my personal life of living with HIV is my dog Lobo. Scientific studies have shown that animals provide a number of benefits, many of these apply to those of us living with this condition. Benefits of animals include lower blood pressure in stressful situations, less likely to suffer from depression, elevation of serotonin/dopamine levels causing us to feel good, and lower triglyceride/cholesterol levels. A pet does not have to be a dog or a cat however most of the studies that have been conducted are focussed on these two particular kind of animals. I personally have grown up with dogs all my life, I couldn’t imagine my life without one, however I never “officially” had one of my own, until Lobo.
Throughout my multiple hospitalizations I grew very close to our two other dogs that are part of the family, Niko and Lacey. They were there for me through all my recovery of necrotizing fasciitis as well as my 30 + hospitalizations in a 2 year span for cellulite & MRSA infection. I realized that when I was with them they really did raise my spirits and that was something that never left my mind. They were there when I was diagnosed with HIV, non judgmental, and willing to offer love and hugs when needed. Both of them are extremely attached to my parents however throughout this time we grew closer together. When I would come home from the hospital they would be content to simply sit and lay with me when I wasn’t feeling good. When I was throwing up from the medication I was having to take and screaming in excruciating pain they never left my side. I wanted to add a new addition to our family, one that would personally bond with myself from the time of a puppy, and that is when my fluff ball Lobo came along :).
Since we had recently purchased a cabin in Big Bear I became more intrigued in finding a snow dog, I had never had one before. I figured it would be a new experience and finally we had a place where that kind of dog would be able to actually enjoy the snow. This was our first cabin and our first time of having a place anywhere that snow actually falls every winter. That is when I came across the Samoyed breed online and I fell in love with them. They are an ancient working breed from Siberia originally bred for herding reindeer and pulling sleds. Due to their heavy coat they also kept children warm at night, the Samoyed people would use the excess fur from when they lose their undercoat to make clothing. They have the coolest personalities and are referred to as the “smily dogs” or “smiling sammys” because there lips naturally curve upwards looking like they are always happy.
I found a breeder in Colorado and I picked up Lobo at the Denver Airport when he was 3 months old. He flew back with me on the plane, looking as cute as ever (baby picture attached :D), and was in a carrier under the seat in front of me eating ice chips the whole way. He never cried or whimpered it was if we were meant for each other. I spent all the following weeks next to him and bonding with him in every way that I could. I slept next to him at night time for the first couple of months just so he would know that I was his dad and there to comfort him if he needed me. He truly was like having a baby, it was one of the biggest responsibilities I have had to have. The ongoing process of potty training, teaching difference between right and wrong, making sure he was fed and had water, as well as socializing him to a variety of people and places so he would grow up being well acclimated was just part of the role. Everywhere I would go with him and I still go with him I hear “oooooohhhhh awwwwwww how cute”. He truly is a little stud muffin and a total chick magnet as I say hehe.
Lobo came in to the family a little over a year after I was diagnosed with HIV. He has been here for me since and we continue to grow daily together. We have a special bond that is unexplainable, we just click. He is perfectly content just laying around and hanging out with me if I am having a bad day or is willing to go let all his energy out chasing squirrels in our backyard. He is a true mountain dog and loves the outdoors, especially if its snowing, I can never get him inside when it does lol. He enjoys the simple things in life and is very independent, he will always find something to amuse himself. He is a pretty “chill” dog however does require daily walks and grooming in order to keep him in tip top shape, it has just become routine. He doesn’t hold grudges and is always happy to see his dad. As someone living with HIV sometimes I face stigma and discrimination for what I am living with, Lobo takes away any negativity that enters in. He has taught me so much including appreciating the small things in life, going with the flow, being around the ones that love you, sleep when needed :), and to take life one step at a time. No matter what condition I am living with he provides unconditional love, something that we will always have between us.
This is why I have decided to train Lobo to become a certified therapy dog. I was exposed to a therapy dog during my fight with necrotizing fasciitis and I know how much it lifted my spirits, knowing that it wasn’t a doctor or nurse coming to poke me for the millionth time. It was a beautiful golden retriever who’s goal of being there was to make me feel better, it truly did. Lobo is a work in progress when it comes to this as he is extremely independent however it is something that we continue to work on. A therapy dog has to be very well mannered, obey orders, and above all the safety of the patients come first. Lobo has all the great attributes of a therapy dog however soon I will be enrolling him with a professional trainer to help walk me through this process so hopefully within the next year or so he can pass his test to become certified. There is nothing I would love more than to see this love that Lobo has provided me shared with others. I would be delighted to see Lobo involved in visiting patients in the hospital with a special emphasis on those of us living with HIV/AIDS. I think so many people living with this condition could benefit from having an animal, wether its a dog or a cat, they are well worth the work put in. They give back 10 fold and it’s an unforgettable experience.
Lobo is now 18 months old and boy has he grown. He went from being a little fluff ball to a large fluff ball in such a short period of time. He is looking forward to the upcoming winter in Big Bear and is enjoying the summer months in the cool air conditioning and catching a dip in the lake/pool whenever he gets a chance. He loves his brother and sister who have grown very close to him however the little dogs still show him who’s boss. He loves to meet new people and new animals, Lobo literally loves everyone. He is so innocent, like a newborn child, he loves to explore and encounter new things all the time. He has also grown with all the other members of my family including my two nephews who are very young, despite his size he is very gentle with them. He is well taken care of, well loved, and a beloved member of our family. He is like my partner in crime, my Bonnie and Clide, the one who never leaves my side. His face alone is enough to make my stress go down while his ability to shake my hand with his paw simply adds to his overwhelming cuteness. As we continue to grow together we will explore more of the world, experience new things, and most of all continue the unconditional love that we both have for each other. Lobo is like my kid, love this little guy :-).
Thanks for reading and hope you all have a joyous day. If you are interested in learning more about Lobo please feel free to follow me on Facebook as I post many pictures there of him. Also check out http://www.positivelite.com who continues to do so much great work for the community of those living with hiv/aids. They have many other great bloggers on the site as well as resources/articles to look for. I am honored to participate for them and have them continually republish my blogs, I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Below is my contact information if you would like to contact me and until my next blog get tested, get educated, and stay optimistic.
-Joshua D Middleton