When I was a little girl, I wanted a dog very badly. But I was severely allergic to cats and dogs, and so my family could never have a dog. I had a stuffed dog that was my favorite toy, and I loved her so much that my dad traced her onto a piece of wood and cut out her outline, so I could have a version of “Sharlee” outside without the stuffed animal picking up outdoor allergens and bringing them back to my bed.
One day (when I was probably around 6 years old) my grandparents, who lived about an hour away, picked up a lost golden-colored dog, and they and my parents decided that this new dog would be my dog, but live and Grandma & Grandpa’s, to keep me from getting sick. It seemed like the best way for me to get the taste of having my own dog without compromising my health. I named him Sunny Sunshine Sunset Delight, Sunny for short, and I loved him to pieces–from afar. If I touched Sunny with my bare hands, they would break out in hives so itchy that my hands would bleed from all the scratching, and if I got too close to him, I’d start to wheeze and I’d end up with an asthma attack. Sunny was a nice dog, a bit confused as to why the small visitor usually followed him around, but so patient that he would let me gently stroke him with a stick so that I could pet him from a safe distance. After some time had passed, however, my Grandpa’s rescued Doberman picked on him so much that he learned some self-defense, and the two dogs started to fight regularly. After a stay at my Aunt’s house, where Sunny immediately began to pick on their dogs, he finally had to be sent to the pound.
I was devastated. I knew about how pounds worked, and I understood that Sunny, as a problem dog, had a poor chance of being adopted. My poor little six-year-old self felt like my allergies, that prevented my family from giving my own dog a home, had killed him, and I resigned myself to never having a dog of my own again.
I was in high school before we tried to have a dog again. We took on a trained Labrador Retriever who had suddenly refused to work anymore. Her owner was baffled, and thought perhaps she would be happier with a family than as a working dog, and we took her on a trial basis for a month or two, with the agreement that she would go back if she didn’t work out. We had a great time playing with her while she was with us, but my asthma got increasingly worse and my hands were a mess. At the end of the trial, we called up her old owner. He had missed her, and happily took her back. Apparently, she had just needed a bit of a vacation, because she got right back into her training as soon as she returned, and was soon his top performer once again.
In 2003, I learned about a new breed of dog called the American Hairless Terrier, or AHT. I had looked into all the “hypoallergenic” dog breeds, but in person they all set off my dog allergies pretty severely. This new breed, however, was supposed to be the least allergy-inducing dogs out there, and there were all kinds of testimonials on the website of adults finally getting to own their first dog, after being allergic their whole lives. A particularly helpful website I visited often is dedicated to Sweet Lucy, an AHT whose allergic owner has compiled a ton of information about AHTs and allergies. There was a network of owners across the United States who had volunteered to meet with potential owners wanting to allergy test the breed, as they still did not work for everyone. I set up a test, played with a lovely woman’s dog for about an hour, and came away with no sniffles, no wheezing, and just a single hive on my arm from being licked. I was ecstatic–I had finally found a dog I could have! It took almost 10 more years before I had the right situation to actually get my dog, and then two AHTs were rescued together from a puppy mill situation by Ratbone Rescues, and came up on their site for adoption. Everything came together and I finally got my dogs: Crackers and Harriett.
AHTs are basically Rat Terrier mutants–the first AHT was born in 1972 in a litter of Rat Terriers, and this odd hairless puppy was given to a man named Edwin Scott. He and his wife thought she was an ideal pet. Scott then studied how to breed dogs, and spent years trying to breed more, with only a few successes. It wasn’t until the early 80’s that they had bred enough hairless puppies to really start a breeding program, and even today, AHTs are not all that common. The American Hairless Terrier was officially recognized as a breed for the first time by the United Kennel Club in 2004, and the American Kennel Club still does not. Most kennels have a wait list to buy a puppy that can be months or even a year long.
AHTs are really great dogs, especially for people like me who have allergies. The protein that causes allergies to dogs is found in their saliva and urine. However, with no coat to provide liftoff to the proteins, they don’t end up in the air as much as they would with a coated dog. I go through some extra effort to keep the house low-allergen, including fancy air cleaners, frequent dog washing, and lots of laundry with some special laundry soap. Contrary to what I expected, my skin has responded less and less as time goes by, and I can even let the dogs sleep in my bed without having any allergy trouble at all.
While my two dogs have very different personalities, they do love to chase small fast things. In Guam, this often means cane toads, which can be very entertaining to watch. AHTs do require a little extra care, like sunscreen for outdoors and clothing where it’s chilly (which means when the air conditioning is on inside). Their skin is a little more sensitive and of course can get scratched up pretty easily, but the clothes generally protect their skin much like their hair would otherwise. Rat Terriers are working dogs, so AHTs do get bored (which leads to problem behaviors) if they don’t have enough to do, but they also love laps and naps–so they have two settings: high and very low. This is an advantage over some other terrier breeds, which often just have the high energy setting!
Harriett and Crackers have been a great help to me with my CRPS. They are always cheering me up, making me laugh, and showing me that I am loved. They also get me out of the house for a walk at least a couple times a day, which keeps my ankle from getting worse by keeping it moving. It’s so nice to have them keeping me company during the day, and I enjoy animal training, so we have fun learning new behaviors together. I am so glad I have them. I’d like to train Harriett to be a therapy dog some day, so I can share her with others who could use some puppy love too. She and Crackers are both good therapy for me already! I hope all you readers with chronic pain have your own pets to help you out as well.