Pets for Pain Relief: Nancy and Toaster

For many children, adolescents, teens, and adults managing chronic pain, depression, or anxiety, interactions with domesticated animal companions — dogs, cats, bunnies, birds, and more — increase self-esteem and improve mood, lower blood pressure, and decrease anxiety.

Read the inspirational story of how a nonprofit founder with fibromyalgia is reaping the benefits of pet- and animal-assisted therapies in Pain-Free Living’s “Healing Power of Animals” series.

Warm as toast

In a matter of seconds, Nancy Gordon’s life was changed forever by a serious car accident in 1992. She thought it was just severe whiplash, but it was much more serious. Within a few months, she transformed from an active, self-employed licensed psychotherapist to someone who had to crawl from her bed to the shower because of excruciating pain.

After three years, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. She knew nothing about the disease and started her journey by learning about the condition and finding ways to cope with her new life. She was also diagnosed much later with traumatic brain injury resulting from the accident.

“I’m a type A personality, and I was frantic to get my health and life back,” says Gordon. “Getting things done came easy to me, but healing my body was something I couldn’t do and that was enormously frustrating.”

Finding hope

After six years of trying to juggle her severe pain and work, Gordon finally admitted she couldn’t do everything she used to. She gave up her thriving psychotherapy practice in Portland, Oregon, and moved to California to be closer to family. She tried many pain medications, but most caused unpleasant side effects. She turned to chiropractors, acupuncturists, and physical therapists, but that didn’t seem to help either.

She started testing her own concoction of stress management, spiritual healing, exercise and pet therapy. She discovered a rare breed of dog called Xoloitzcuintili, or Xolo, which the Aztecs believed had healing powers. Xolos have no fur, so they generate heat to stay warm and are hot to the touch, like a heating pad. When Nancy put her hand under her friend’s Xolo dog, she found that her wrist felt better.

Gordon was regularly using a heating pad on her neck, but realized she could replace it with a “hot dog.” Her first Xolo dog was named Toaster. When Toaster was three years old and about to have puppies, Gordon and Toaster appeared on Animal Planet. She received hundreds of emails and inquiries from people interested in learning more about Xolos and how to get one.

This led Gordon to start the nonprofit Paws for Comfort and Xolos for Chronic Pain Relief to help locate and sponsor dogs for those who could not afford such a rare and expensive breed. Gordon captured the story of Toaster and her puppy Pink, who required an amputation, in the children’s book Pink, The Three-Legged Dog Who Lost Her Leg and Found Her Courage. Her first book in her 7 Steps of Hope and Healing series is titled Healing the Emotional, Mental and Spiritual Impact of Chronic Illness and Disability.

“My dogs aided me on my recovery, but most importantly, I transformed my relationship with my condition,” said Gordon. “Rather than be a health hostage, I found a way to heal myself from within this prison, and that in turn gave me purpose to help others find psychological and spiritual relief.”

Read more inspirational stories in Pain-Free Living’s “Healing Power of Animals” series.

Paul Wynn, a writer based in Garrison, NY, has covered health-care trends for the past 20 years.

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