The Health Benefits of Pets for Individuals with FOP

With 16 animals in their home in New Jersey, Kathy and Chuck Ford are happily outnumbered. 

Since her fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP) diagnosis at the age of 10, Kathy has found a consistent source of comfort in animals. Now, she and her husband own three birds, four cats, and two dogs. Plus, they’re fostering seven more birds. 

"Our pets have given us entertainment and love,” Kathy says. “With everything going on health wise, we stay pretty secluded. With a house of 16 animals, we are never bored!"

A college internship at the Humane Society of Atlantic County led Kathy to adopt her first cockatiel in 2006, and she has since fostered many more feathered friends. Beyond caring for their in-house residents, the couple also regularly volunteers with animals.

"Animals can sometimes sense sadness or discomfort," Kathy says. "I had a cat, who recently passed away, named Momma Marigold. She was by my side whenever I cried out in pain. If my leg hurt, she’d lay on it. She knew where I needed her most. If I didn’t foster her back in 2008, I would have never experienced her powers."

Kathy isn’t alone in experiencing the therapeutic powers of pets. Research studies show that animals can provide humans with countless health benefits, from lower stress levels to increased physical activity. For individuals living with FOP, pets can be especially helpful in navigating the physical and mental challenges of life with a rare disease. 

Pets can provide countless physical and mental health benefits for individuals with FOP. 

According to the CDC, pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, feelings of loneliness, anxiety and symptoms of PTSD. 

They promote health in more roundabout ways, too, helping children and adults alike form positive habits. One study found that teens with diabetes who were tasked with caring for fish were more likely to consistently log their blood glucose levels than teens who were not taking care of fish. The regular responsibility of feeding the fish and checking their tanks prompted them to better manage their own health. 

Animals also promote social engagement, whether it’s found in the dog park or just through regular vet appointments, offering a natural mental health boost. 

"All of our pets offer stress relief," says Kathy. "Whether it’s petting them, giving them treats, having them fly around our heads or one in particular, Kermit, loves to mutter and banter with us back and forth."

Service animals can help individuals with FOP remain independent and find emotional support in their daily life. 

For many members of our community, service animals are essential — and very beloved — members of their FOP support team. 

With limited mobility, Miriam Rocke, who also lives with FOP, relies on her service dog daily to navigate life with FOP. This article from 2016 features Miriam's service Dog Yahtzee who is now retired. Miriam has a new service dog, Phoebe from Canine Companions, who came to live with her in 2023. “Having a dog is awesome,” she says. "They love you and are adorable, but he also has a job to do and knows it — we work together!"

Like non-working pets, service dogs also inherently provide special companionship and mental health support. "Service dogs do so much for people emotionally," says FOP mom Lori Henrotay. "They help build self-esteem, teach responsibility and provide invaluable companionship."

For more resources on working with a service dog and choosing the right companion, explore our resources on service dogs: 

  1. A person with FOP's Perspective: The Benefits of a Service Dog

  2. A Parent’s Perspective: Selecting a Service Dog for Your Child 

  3. Webinar with FOP community member Erin Danzer and a representative from Canine Companions: Life with an Assistance Dog & the Process to Find the Right Match

Share your pet story with the IFOPA.  

From companionship to physical health benefits, pets play a special role in our lives. And for individuals living with FOP or any other rare disease, the Fords highly recommend the therapeutic powers of a furry — or feathered — friend. 

"I encourage you to rescue a pet that’s adequate for your abilities,” says Kathy. “Are you afraid of what the future holds? No one says you have to adopt that 10-week old puppy and commit 15 years to him. You can rescue an older pup and commit two to four years to their senior life. We adopted a 14-year-old retriever mix named Honey Bear in March 2021. We gave her the best two and a half years of her life despite being blind, deaf and toothless!"

If you’re celebrating National Pet Day, we would love to hear how your pet has helped you in your journey with FOP! Email your pet stories (don't forget photos) to [email protected] or tag us on social media using @ifopa so we can share your post. 

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