A woman snuggling on the couch with a sleeping dog

Don't Tell Me To Get Rid of My Dog

For years, I coordinated an Asthma Home Visit Program.

It was a cool idea really - doctors and hospitals referred patients to Public Health Educators (who could provide extra education).

Asthma home visits: Who, what, why?

Public Health Educators specialize in - you guessed it - educating! We have an extensive background in hard sciences, anatomy and physiology, human diseases, epidemiology, etc. But the thing that makes us great educators is that we also have extensive training in behavior change theories.

We help patients navigate chronic diseases, environmental health challenges, tobacco cessation, injury prevention, etc. and can guide them to any behavior change they feel they need to make. There are Health Educators who are also Certified Asthma Educators. It's a national certification that recognizes our unique knowledge in asthma education.

So Health Educators are a natural choice for Asthma Home Visit programs. My job was to contact referrals from clinics and set up a time to visit them in their home, where they felt more comfortable. I would determine why their asthma was not controlled and let the clinic know so the doctor could follow up.

Sometimes it was simple, they weren't using their inhaler correctly, or they would mix up their everyday controller inhaler with their reliever/rescue inhaler. Or they would take it once a day instead of twice a day.

Sometimes it would be an environmental trigger in the home (mold, cockroaches, dust or dust mites, strong cleaning supplies, etc.) I taught families a few simple tips to make their home allergy and asthma friendly. And that meant talking about pets. Which is always a hard subject.

I'm not going to tell you to get rid of your dog to help your asthma

I had an appointment with one referral who opened her door and said, "If you are going to tell me to get rid of my dog - you can turn around and walk right back out the door."


I assured her I was not like that, let's just chat.

Some doctors ARE like that. They tell their patients that they better get rid of their dog or cat, end of discussion.

I know that pets are like members of the family and that some families will never part with their fur babies. In fact, they will get rid of their doctor before they get rid of their pet! And if someone lives alone and their only source of love and companionship is their pet? You are going to tell them to get rid of it?

Let's compromise

One thing that worked when families had pets, was to see if they would be willing to have one "safe room" that was pet-free. Can the person snuggle their pet all day, but then have their bedroom be pet-free? Give their lungs a break during the night?

Would they be willing to try:

  • snuggling the pet before bed
  • showering and washing their hair to remove dander
  • changing into clean pajamas
  • close the door to keep the pet from sneaking into the room at night
  • use a free-standing air purifier
  • and then climb in a bed that was free of dog hair and cat hair?

Some referrals were willing to try it. They were at their wits end because their allergies and asthma were horrible - despite allergy and asthma medicine. But getting rid of their pet was not an option. They were also willing to bathe their pets, and wash their pet's beds, blankets, and stuffed toys. And keep the pet off their couches and bed. (Sneaky little guys!)

Did it cure all of their symptoms? No. But it reduced their symptoms enough that they were willing to keep a "safe room" aka a pet-free room.

Did it allow them to have comfort from a fur baby? Yes. And sometimes that can be more important than anything else.

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