Catherine (Smith) Marra loves her dogs. Reilly, an aging dog with arthritis, returns that love in an extra special way.
The power of love between pets and people can be profound. Nurturing, comforting, and lifesaving — quite literally in this case.
Caring for Dogs in England
Catherine, who grew up in Oxford, England, lived with her dogs in Millom, a small English town. She was a groomer there and ran a canine home-stay business. Dogs of all shapes, sizes, and ages were cared for so they didn’t have to stay in kennels.
Catherine had worked for a veterinarian years earlier and was more than happy to take care of elderly and sick dogs. A 21-year-old Yorkie who stayed with her regularly, as well as two dogs with cancer. Catherine’s compassionate heart got attached to the animals in her care.
“I felt every single one,” she says.
In 2012, Catherine married an American, Todd, who had been stationed in England. Their family included Catherine’s three Setters: Harrison and Gracie, both Gordon Setters, and Reilly, an Irish Setter.
Dogs to the Rescue
You can’t choose what challenges life hands you. Catherine was given a big one. She became ill, was initially inaccurately diagnosed, and eventually hospitalized for four months. Then she was told by her neurologist that she had about a week to live. She could barely move or speak at that point.
Knowing how much Catherine had missed her dogs, Todd and Catherine’s father bundled her up in a wheelchair and snuck her to the back of the hospital. One by one, each of the three dogs bounded through the back door to greet their ailing owner at the end of the passageway.
When Reilly came over, Catherine says,
“This boy leant his head against my face. Even though I was in the wheelchair, he was so gentle. And the side of his face, the warmth that came out of the side of his face and leant into mine — it was the strength I needed. And one by one they each gave me something to make me fight on. And that was four years ago.”
Watch the video to meet Catherine and Reilly and hear her tell the story:
Life on the Farm
Catherine, Todd, and the dogs moved to the U.S. in 2014. The cold winters in the rural New Hampshire town they moved to has been something for Catherine to get used to. But it has its compensation.
“When the surgeon told me I wasn’t going to make it, my husband made me a deal. He said, ‘If you survive this, you’re going to have that small farm you always wanted.'”
Two miniature horses, four goats, and a flock of chickens moved in! Many of the animals are named after particular dogs that Catherine had looked after in England and was close to; saying their names each day reminds her of them.
Reilly Becomes a Medical Alert Dog
Meanwhile, Reilly had become a medical alert dog. When Catherine was on the long road to recovery, she would pass out unexpectedly at times. Amazingly, Reilly started to “alert” people before this would happen.
When they noticed that pattern, Reilly was officially trained to be a medical alert dog. Catherine says,
“Reilly is one of the reasons I’m still here. He was telling me when things were wrong, when my blood sugars were low. He enabled me to have the confidence to get out again.”
Now Reilly is 12 and a half years old. As it turns out, he needs Catherine’s help, because he developed serious arthritis two years ago. His vet suggested to Catherine that his time had come. But Reilly told her that he wasn’t ready yet.
Catherine gives Reilly natural supplements to combat pain, and purchased a Walkin’ Wheels dog wheelchair to give him support. Catherine says,
“Now it’s my turn to help Reilly fight. He’s no longer depressed. His eyes are lit up again, and he goes out and shines his light wherever he goes.”
Although Reilly is slower than he used to be, he’s getting along just fine. And he’s very curious when Catherine takes him on trips to the pet store!
The Canine-Human Bond
“Dog people” understand the incredible connection, the depth of emotion, that is possible between people and canines. Compassion is defined as the ability to understand another’s emotional state, and beyond that, the desire to alleviate suffering.
Catherine and Reilly share not only love for each other, but also compassion. And it’s a very beautiful thing.
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