Can Xolo Dogs Ease Suffering of Chronic Pain Patients?

By Hugh C. McBride

 In addition to providing protection, purpose, and the comforts of companionship, animals have, over the years, also helped humans overcome a number of obstacles, including both physical and emotional challenges.

For example, guide dogs have increased the independence of thousands of visually impaired individuals, and capuchin monkeys have been trained to provide everyday assistance to paralyzed people. In residential therapeutic settings, innovative programs featuring dogs and horses have enabled patients to establish meaningful connections and make significant emotional progress.
In recent years, the role of therapeutic animals has been expanded even further as one woman has been working to raise awareness about a legendary breed of dog and its ability to ease the suffering of men and women who are coping with chronic pain.
An Amazing, Rare Breed’
Nancy Gordon, the founder of the service dog advocacy organization Paws for Comfort, believes that a Mexican hairless dog known as Xoloitzcuintli (or Xolo for short) can provide relief to chronic pain patients who respond to heat therapy. Gordon said that the symptoms of her chronic fibromyalgia have been significantly lessened thanks to her Xolo, Toaster – and as a result she has become an enthusiastic proponent of the breed, which has a centuries-old reputation for healing.
Gordon describes her experience on the Paws for Comfort website:
As a result of a car accident in 1992, I became increasingly health challenged by two hidden, disabling conditions known as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Immune Disorder. I had worked as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice for 16 years, but by 1998, I finally had to surrender to the reality that I could no longer work due to my health. Letting go of my career was one of the most painful experiences of my life. …
But being influenced by parents who were both positive thinkers, I began to search for natural ways of healing and stumbled upon this rare breed of dog …
Before I discovered Toaster, my pain management required a microwaveable neck wrap around my neck almost 24/7. When I discovered Xolos, I was amazed at the healing power of their bodies when pressed against the skin for 15-30 minutes. Since they come in toy sizes, I knew immediately that I was going to get one of these live, HOT Dog[s], no microwave neck wraps, put her around my neck, and call her Toaster!
“They are an amazing, rare breed,” Gordon said in an April 11, 2008 interview with Lauren Cahoon of ABC News. “I do believe they are special; I do believe that you don't get the same effect from any old breed. … They're highly intuitive.”
Legendary Healers
Native to Central and South America, Xolos have existed as a breed for more than 3,000 years, and played an important role in the mythology of the ancient Aztecs, who believed that their accompaniment was necessary to ensure that their masters’ souls passed safely through the underworld after death.
Through the ensuing millennia, the dogs have retained a reputation for having healing powers. The animals make regular appearances in Aztec art, they are believed to ease suffering, and some cultures have even advocated that the animals be eaten in quasi-religious rituals or for medicinal purposes.
“If you go back and read these old dog books, they say, If you take the dog to bed with you for three nights, the disease will go from you to the dog,” Amy Fernandez, president of the Xoloitzcuintli Club of America (XCA), told ABC News.
Ranging in height from 10 to 25 inches, and weighing between 12 and 45 pounds, the dogs are described by the XCA as a tough and adaptable breed with a calm, tranquil, and attentive temperament.
How Xolos Help
Two articles on the website of the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) note that Xolos’ usefulness in pain relief is due to their hairless nature, which allows their body heat to be easily felt – and to provide surprising warmth when placed against a person’s skin. (While some believe the breed is especially “hot-blooded,” Xolos do not possess a higher-than-average body temperature, though their hairlessness makes them warmer to the touch than most other dogs.)
Nancy Gordon’s Xolo, Toaster, spends much time perched on Gordon’s neck and shoulders, providing a combination of heat and pressure that Gordon says provides life-altering relief from the pain that had previously derailed her ability to pursue an active life. And, as is the case with other therapy and service animals, the benefits extend beyond the purely physical.
“[Xolos] give both a physical and emotional support,” Gordon told ABC News. “I really can say they have saved my soul. You're not going to get that from a neck wrap.”
Overcoming Chronic Pain
Though doctors and other experts are quick to point out that, contrary to ancient Aztec beliefs, Xolos do not posses any magical abilities, the physical and emotional warmth that they offer to chronic pain patients has proved to be beneficial.
Though many chronic pain patients turn to medications in an effort to relieve their discomfort, this often results in substance abuse and addiction, which can actually intensify the symptoms. As a result, professionals who specialize in this discipline often find that a drug-free approach is the most effective means of easing the effects of chronic pain.
Though chronic pain can be a significant burden, innovative and effective treatments do exist – and successful professional intervention can help chronic pain patients live happier and much less painful lives.

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