(59) Shingles, Ice, and a Bone: Dog loyalty and aging veterans

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


Dog Loyalty 

Molly stayed home yesterday, as we took William to an unplanned VA Hospital visit for an outbreak of shingles. Molly’s training requires her to maintain physical contact with her master for his brace and balance needs. With the pain from shingles, the pressure of a 135-pound service dog against your side just might be enough to induce a guttural scream.

When Molly wants to go with us to the VA Hospital and we want to leave her at home, she sticks her head in the door to the garage and forces her body into the opening so she can get to the car. She knows I will never close the door on her head. Although this trick fails to book her a seat for our drive, she never gives up trying. I started giving her a rawhide bone to keep her company and remind her we love her as we head out the door. The bone distracts her from wedging herself between the door and me.

The last few times she stayed home, William found her rawhide bone tucked under his pillow—un-chewed. Once we get home, Miss Molly recovers her bone and eats her treat over the next few hours. Annoying as it is to see a rawhide bone stuck to your pillow, William recognizes her gesture as a sign of loyalty and love for him.

Ice and Easy 

The two-hour drive to the Denver VA Hospital makes for a long day—especially when you are not feeling well. This trip ranked high on the challenge scale because of snow and ice. Fortunately, William’s driving skills rival those of a NASCAR competitor. He enjoys the challenge of dodging unskilled drivers on ice.

Without delay, William and I followed the doctor to her office. The diagnosis came quickly from the young physician, who consulted the internet to answer our questions about shingles and treatment.

“Why did he get shingles when he received a vaccination two years ago?”

She shrugged at my question but added that his outbreak would be less severe than if he never received the vaccination. Since the outbreak started three days prior, she indicated the anti-virus medication may not be effective. She agreed to prescribe it and sent us on our way.

What normally takes three hours at the pharmacy took me only thirty minutes to fill his prescription.

“What gives?” I asked the pharmacist why I had no wait for the initial check-in, why there were no lines, and why it only took 20 minutes to receive William’s medication. I am hoping to hear that the VA instituted a new system or that the VA improved its customer service.

“Ice.” The pharmacist handed me William’s medicine with a smile. He sounded pleased that I complimented him on customer service that made me want to pirouette out of the Pharmacy. He explained that veterans stay at home when the temperatures fall along with the snow.

How strange that such a treacherous commute made for an easy day.

About Veterans and Shingles 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that one in three Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime. Over one million new cases develop each year.[i] While it can strike children, over 50 percent of cases develop in people over the age of 60. The CDC website states, “Anyone who has had chickenpox or received chickenpox vaccine in the past may develop shingles.”

VA researchers helped develop the shingles vaccination to help its veterans. The inoculation is reserved for people over 60 with healthy immune systems. Of course, being inoculated does not guarantee you will not get shingles but at the least it should make any outbreak more moderate than if you did not receive it. You can also have multiple outbreaks over time. As we know from television commercials, shingles hurts—a lot!

It took William nearly two years to get the vaccination due to a waiting list with the VA. If you are nearing the age of 60, checking with your physician about getting the vaccine might be a good idea.

The Comfort of a Dog 

Returning home, Molly rushed to the garage door. She skidded to a stop when she saw layers of mud and ice dropping from the side of the truck. Although she is a dog, she’s still a girl and the mess from the trip home was enough to discourage her from romping into the garage and greeting William. Instead, she ran to the bedroom and retrieved her bone. She dropped it at William’s feet. He leaned over and scratched her ears. What a better homecoming could a veteran with shingles possibly have?

Footnote: [i] “Increasing Incidence of Herpes Zoster Among Veterans,” by David Rimland and Abeer Moanna in Clinical Infectious Disease pp. 1000-1005, V.50, Issue 7 (New York: Oxford University Press, April 2010); David Rimland works for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The link for the article is: http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/50/7/1000.long

Post your Comments: 

What does your pet do to show you love and loyalty? Please comment below. 

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.