For the Gretas of the World

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From the time I was five, when we first brought her home from the vet, Greta was my fur sister. Six years later, she became a nursemaid when my ear infections changed from a childhood nuisance to a serious illness. Recurring every 4-6 weeks, the infections and three sets of ear tubes destroyed my eardrums, threatening to make me deaf by age sixteen. Desperate to save my hearing, my family took me to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where I underwent seven more surgeries to fix my eardrums and remove infected tissue.

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Through each of these surgeries, my furry little nurse found different ways to offer me comfort. Greta sat with me in bed during recuperation, even when I was in excruciating agony or had my head in a barf bucket. Every time I needed further procedures, she let me sob into her fur while I watched Titanic to express my grief. The best comfort Greta offered, however, was her purr. Until the doctors at CHOP fixed my left eardrum, I had never heard a cat purr in my life. Since that surgery, I often put my ear to her chest to hear her rumbly, low-pitched, “I love you” in cat language. In the four procedures needed to fix my right eardrum, I called Greta my at-home hearing test. If her purr was louder than it was before surgery, I knew that some of my hearing had been restored. By my tenth and final procedure, Greta was well versed in comforting patients and was able to help my parents through their surgeries too. Her patience and understanding helped every sick member of the house, causing her to earn the nickname, “the traveling soul of our family.”

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It is because of Greta that I was drawn to working with PACT. After hearing about the Hospital Pet Foster Program, it occurred to me how lucky I was to live in the Greater Philadelphia Area. Had I not grown up so close to CHOP, I would have had to travel out of state to get my hearing back. What would have happened to Greta in that scenario? Following that question, I wondered, “what happens to the pets who offer so much comfort if there is no one to watch them when their owners are sick?” Temporary pet care is crucial when one is in the hospital, for both the pet and the owner. Once outpatient recuperation begins, pets offer the unconditional love and support needed in a crisis. Like Greta, they offer sources of comfort simply from being themselves, or understanding your pain without saying a word. I speak directly from experience when I say this support is especially important if you are a sick child. Processing illness in childhood is difficult, but having a pet like Greta makes it easier to do. We need temporary pet foster care for all the Gretas in the world, and those who depend on them through serious illness.