In the latest issue of New Pathways, we look at the ways animals help people living with a long-term condition like MS. Here, one MSer tells us what her pets mean to her - read the rest of the article in the magazine.
“Having my animals means I have a responsibility to look after them,” explains MSer Ann Kerr. “I have to go out each and every day to them. I may not feel the same every day, but they don't know that, they need me. No matter how I feel in the morning, my animals are pleased to see me, and I always feel better for being with them. They don't comment if I'm a bit slower today, they accept me and are always pleased I'm there.
“I can, and do, spend all day with my animals, I never get bored, they are all different and all have different needs, but all of them give pleasure to me.”
Living in Scotland, Anne says she has a determined streak that means she won’t let MS beat her. “I ignore it and get on with life,” she says. “A neurologist told me about the Ashton Embry Best Bet Diet and I’ve followed it ever since – I don’t take any medication. Having my animals keeps my mind busy and active – I still muck my horses out, and ride.”
Anne took up riding as an adult, which she says is later in life than most keen riders, but was a natural and even took to endurance riding, covering vast distances on her pony, Tia. “Endurance riding is like orienteering on horseback – you are given a map and various check points and off you go.
“Tia came to me as a general riding pony, but we developed into a very good endurance riding team, doing distances of up to 50 miles at a time!”
Anne still has Tia, who has been with her around 18 years, and who she calls a “very good friend.” Also trotting around is Midge, a 37-year-old retired Shetland pony. “She came on loan from a friend to keep Tia company, and the friend has let her stay here as she is very happy with Tia,” explains Anne.
There’s also Saffie, a 10-year-old highland pony that Anne has had for four years. “She’s my youngster, a very gentle pony who follows you around like a puppy.” Saffie is the only pony Anne rides now. “I feel very safe riding her, and she adapts to whatever the rider requires. Due to mobility, I need to use a mounting block (a tall box which the rider stands on for ease in getting onto a horse) and she stands still and is very patient while I get on.
“Then there’s Bess, my 14-year-old collie-lab cross. She goes everywhere with us and again, is a very gentle girl. I’ve had her since she was tiny. I was riding Tia through a local farm when the farmer offered to show me the puppy he had left from a litter and it was love at first sight! She's never put a paw wrong since.
“Finally, I have Scoobie, a 12 year old ginger cat who came from the same farm that I got Bess from. I was then banned from going through that farm by my husband!
“They are all such good animals, so loving, well-behaved, calm and quiet, and they all come when they are called.”
Keeping active with MS
It’s clear Anne deeply loves her animals, but they offer more than just love, they give her a purpose and something that takes her mind off of having MS. “The animals ensure that I'm active every day,” says Anne. “It might not always be the same level of activity, but I'm always active, always needed and always having to plan their wellbeing.
“They keep my mind active and focused because I have to plan what I'm going to be doing every day, what I'll need, for example, do I have everything the animals need in, or do I need to order feed, and so on. Physically I need to look after the stables on a daily basis, I groom ponies, I pick feet out, clear the fields, and that's just the horses – the cat and the dog also need to be looked after and exercised. There are no days off for me – not that that’s a problem!”