Finding comfort, love, and IBD support from a pet

Thinking back to my childhood, the one thing that always brought me joy were animals. My parents allowed my siblings and I to have pets, and we treated them like real members of our family. When I first got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, I remember feeling very overwhelmed. It always seemed as if my dogs knew what I was going through and would come to sit at my side while I was in any pain or discomfort. When I began my infusions, there were often emotional support animals that were allowed in the hospital to support patients like myself. Petting these dogs and allowing them to ease my anxiety gave me tremendous comfort.  I’ve come to meet dogs of fellow patients at support meetings, education seminars, and evening legislative visits. These animals bring us a sense of comfort, as we navigate through uncertain times. 



In November of 2017, I was re-diagnosed as Crohn’s disease, and I was told that I needed to begin a stronger treatment. As I prepared to start on a biologic, I needed to begin taking steroids to reduce the inflammation in my gut. I remember the anxiety that was very present during this time - never in my life had I felt so out of sorts. I had body shakes, my hands wouldn’t stop trembling, and I spent mornings and evenings crying on my bedroom floor for seemingly no reason. To be quite honest, I didn’t know what was happening to me. One morning, I woke up in tears. I felt so empty and confused, frustrated at the lack of control I had over what was going on in my life. At that moment, my dog, Chloe, came to my room. She comforted me in a moment when I most needed support. She provided this support that I didn’t know I needed and allowed me to breathe and relax. Slowly but surely, I was able to begin my infusion treatment at the hospital. The first few times I arrived at the hospital, I stressed out about getting an IV. One time, the nurses couldn’t get my vein and needed to try a few times to insert the needle. I remember they brought in a dog, Bella the Beagle, who sat at my bedside and comforted me. Allowing my focus in an incredibly stressful situation be directed to a puppy brought me ease and reminded me that I could control my mind and my anxiety. 

As my senior year in college approached, I found anxiety often creeping in my corner as the fear of the unknown paralyzed me. With lots of big dreams and a desire to move someplace new, with the additional factors of having to “adult” and balance a healthy lifestyle, I found myself desiring a companion more than ever. My senior year served as a time where I researched nonprofit organizations such as Canine Companions for Independence and rescue centers. The Friday prior to embarking on my Spring Break, my mom came to town and, in short, we fell in love. Benjamin, my new pup, and I shared an immediate connection. I came back home with a puppy, a pit in my stomach, and a big responsibility. I remember telling myself, “You are SO going to regret this.” Now living in the most uncertain of times, I am certain that taking the risk has given me a new source of joy and a companion who will always be there for me. 



As the news of COVID-19 has taken over our day-to-day, I’ve forced myself to find ways to distract my mind and focus on the one thing I can control: my spirit. Even in moments where I cry or am in discomfort, lying with my dog and allowing my mind to reset are game-changing. If I find that the news on the television is too overwhelming, I can take Benjamin on a walk and calm my mind. As opposed to thinking about how I could be “at risk” or about the next few months I may need to isolate, I know that I won’t need to do it alone. 

If you’ve ever thought about getting a pet, I encourage you to take the risk. Take it from the girl who really had no idea what she was signing up for but whose world has been much brighter. The best part about all animals is that they will constantly love you. If you make a wrong choice, if you are rocking a “steroid moon face” (been there, done that), if you forget to give them a little treat before going to bed - your pet will constantly support you and love you through it all. 

Bianca Hernandez is a Crohn’s disease patient from Florida and a member of the Foundation’s National Council of College Leaders.