How Dogs and Cats Are Helping Cancer Patients Heal

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No discussion of cancer treatment is complete without acknowledging the dogs and cats who help humans detect and recover from this disease.

No discussion of cancer treatment is complete without acknowledging the dogs and cats who help humans detect and recover from this disease. At least, that is what best-selling authors Allen and Linda Anderson say in their two books, "Angel Dogs: Divine Messengers of Love" (2005, New World Library, 218 pages, $13.95) and "Angel Cats: Divine Messengers of Comfort" (2004, New World Library, 172 pages, $12.95). The Andersons know from personal experience what it takes to survive a crisis with breast cancer. As Linda Anderson dealt with multiple surgeries, the couples' cats, dog, and birds aided in her healing by forming a circle of comfort and support.

After the bout with cancer, the Andersons continued to write a series of books that has been heralded by celebrities Willard Scott, Betty White, and Tippi Hedren as well as other well-known animal book authors. They have received letters from around the world about health-related experiences people are having with dogs and cats, such as a family dog sniffing at a suspicious spot that later turned out to be cancerous or a cat purring over a diseased area of a person's body. The authors were already believers in the canine/cat cancer connection when they came across a study reported in the British Medical Journal. It showed dogs detecting cancer cells even better than sophisticated medical tests. Now, the Andersons maintain that dogs and cats should be included in any ailing person's arsenal of tools for healing from cancer or other diseases and injuries.

Case in point, is the story in "Angel Dogs" of fourteen-year-old Ashley Phelps from Bend, Oregon. Phelps befriended Sharen Meyer's therapy dog Haley when the teenager underwent radiation therapy for Hodgkin's Lymphoma at the Central Oregon Cancer Treatment Center. This young girl was coping with not attending school anymore, losing her hair, and being sick all the time. On her first visit to the Cancer Treatment Center, while Phelps sat in the waiting room, feeling anxious and fearful, Haley ran over and put her head on the teen's lap. Throughout Phelps's four months of treatment, Haley performed tricks and succeeded in keeping the girl's mind off her troubles.

In a postscript to the story, Meyers reveals that Haley had been abandoned with her five-day-old litter of golden retriever-Lab puppies at a "kill" animal pound. Circle Tail, a nationwide organization that coordinates with Pet Prison Partnership Program, rescued Haley and invited Meyers to train the dog for service therapy. Meyers says that she soon noticed Haley had a special affinity for young people. Phelps would gratefully agree. She says, "Haley was an angel. She helped me and many other people get through the hardest times in our lives."

Not to leave cats out of the healing equation, the Andersons include in their book "Angel Cats" the story of Willie, the cat. Willie assisted registered nurse Judith Morris of Key Largo, Florida when she decided to use an alternative therapy on her breast cancer tumor. While Morris lay in bed, administering each treatment at home, the cat walked along the length of her body. Morris says, "Willie then insisted on massaging my afflicted breast tissue. As he did this, I saw deep love and compassion in his eyes. From that day on, Willie would stay with me, continuing his massage after each treatment session." Morris, now in remission and cancer-free, credits Willie with helping her realize that she was not alone in healing and she attributes much of her recovery to his therapeutic massages.

"Angel Cats" also reports information about how a cat's purr has been analyzed to be at the same frequency of vibration that mends bones. Some people even say that they receive relief from migraine headaches when a purring cat sleeps near their aching heads.

The Andersons aren't the only ones to tout the health benefits of pet companionship. Dr. Andrew Weil, the nation's alternative medicine doctor, says in the October 13, 2005 issue of his online newsletter, "Studies have shown that pet owners, particularly the elderly, have lower blood pressure, are less likely to be depressed, and have higher self-esteem than people who don't have companion animals. Among the more tangible rewards: A 1999 study in New York, Missouri and Texas found that medication costs dropped in nursing homes that allowed pets. In another study, 70 percent of the families surveyed reported an increase in happiness and fun as a result of acquiring a pet."

Linda Anderson says, "The stories in our books are only some of the hundreds we've received that show the tremendous difference a dog, cat or other family pet can make in the lives of those who struggle to heal from cancer and a myriad of diseases. Animals have a way of letting people know that they are supported emotionally, physically, and spiritually in the worst of times. We've heard of doctors who prescribe pets to sick or aging patients to keep them active and relieve their depression and loneliness."

In 1996, Allen and Linda Anderson co-founded the Angel Animals Network and its free online "Angel Animals Story of the Week" at Their recent release is "Angel Dogs, Divine Messengers of Love," an anthology of inspiring stories about courageous and loyal dogs with a foreword by Willard Scott. The book has favorable reviews in "Publisher's Weekly," "Best Friends," and "Foreword" magazines and will be a featured book in Book of the Month Club's One Spirit Book Club holiday catalog.

The Andersons are also the authors of "Rainbows & Bridges: An Animal Companion Memorial Kit," to aid individuals and families dealing with pet loss. It received an endorsement by Dr. Marty Becker, resident veterinarian for "Good Morning America," and Susan Chernak McElroy, "The New York Times" best-selling author of "Animals as Teachers and Healers," and positive reviews in "Spirituality & Health" magazine and Suzanne Hively's "Cleveland Plain Dealer" pet column.

The Andersons' 2004 release, "Angel Cats: Divine Messengers of Comfort," was recommended by "Cat Fancy," "I Love Cats" and "Best Friends" magazines, among others. It was a selection of One Spirit, Mystery, Health & Lifestyle, and Forbes book clubs.

"Angel Dogs" and "Angel Cats" will be featured on the Holiday Pet Table in Barnes & Nobles nationwide and can be purchased at bookstores, gift shops, Costco, and online booksellers.

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