Dogs have long been called man’s best friend, but for those fighting for their lives, dogs are much more than just a best friend.
When a California woman’s life was turned upside down by a terrifying diagnosis, she discovered that her family dog provided something that no other treatment or therapy could. After realizing what 1 Golden Retriever could do for her health, her friend started planning an unorthodox therapy session…
An Animal Lover
For as long as 1 California woman can remember, she has always loved all animals. However, of all the animals in the world, her absolute favorite is dogs. “I have always loved dogs and puppies,” the now 28-year-old explained.
“I love puppies and I’ve always just wanted to be surrounded by like 10 dogs,” the California woman said about her dog obsession. “Since I was a little kid, I’ve loved animals. Everyone knows, ‘Courtney’s such a dog person…’”
A Woman’s Best Friend
For years, the young woman thought she couldn’t possibly love her family’s dog, Clyde, any more than she already did. However, when she was 24 years old, her world was turned upside down and Clyde was the only thing that made her feel better.
Time To See A Doctor
While she was in her early 20s, the Sacramento native suffered from painful headaches. At first, she didn’t think anything of it, but as time passed, they only got worse. Headaches turned to debilitating migraines, and she couldn’t help but worry that something was wrong…
A Brain Scan
When Courtney Gessford was 24, she visited a doctor about her migraines as she couldn’t bear them any longer. The doctor sent her to get scans of her brain but figured it would probably come back fine since she was so young and otherwise healthy.
A Lemon-Sized Tumor
However, when the results came back, the scan revealed “that I had a cancerous tumor the size of a lemon growing in my brain,” Courtney said. That day, Courtney learned she had a grade II astrocytoma, a slow-growing cancer that can be difficult to remove and can sometimes return after treatment…
Fighting For Her Life
Courtney, who was a typical 24-year-old, was suddenly forced to fight for her life and began treatment in July 2014. Since her diagnosis, Courtney has undergone 3 brain surgeries, radiation, and now 12 months of chemotherapy.
A Key To Healing
According to Courtney, she had tried to stay positive, but some days can be more challenging than others. On those days, she has leaned on 8-year-old Clyde for support and comfort. “He’s been a key part of my healing,” Courtney said about Clyde…
“He’s comforting to me when I don’t feel well, when I’m tired. When I was recovering from [brain] surgery, he would just lay with me,” the now 28-year-old said. “I’ve always loved him more than I can express. After the cancer diagnosis, he became that much more important.”
A Therapy Dog
“He’s very therapeutic to me… He just makes me happy and he helps me relax. He also gives me a sense of purpose,” Courtney added. “He became such a healing presence in my recovery, treatment and coping. Simply being around him made me happier…”
A Genius Idea
Courtney’s family and friends could see how much Clyde helped her through every twist and turn of her treatment. At one point, Courtney’s childhood friend, Maris Loeffler, had an idea that more dogs could only help Courtney so started sending videos she found online of people being covered with puppies.
A Secret Plan
“Someone was in a pool filled with dogs or a room filled with puppies, and things like that,” said Courtney, whose dream was also to be covered with puppies. “I never thought it would happen. I never asked for it,” said Courtney, who had no idea that Maris had secretly started planning a way to make that dream a reality…
The Plan Takes Form
“I secretly started to manifest and plan my vision for Courtney because she is beyond obsessed with dogs,” said Maris, who started reaching out to breeders, but had no luck. Months later, however, Maris finally got the help she needed after reaching out to Ryan Hinderman, the Front Street Animal Shelter’s social media coordinator.
Ryan agreed to help and set a date with Maris to bring Courtney down to the shelter for her surprise. “We’re always looking for ways to make magic through the connection between people and animals,” Ryan said. “Our shelter’s mission is to improve the lives of both people and pets. This was a fantastic opportunity to not only bring joy to a remarkable young woman but also to raise awareness for shelter pets and brain cancer…”
Maris told Courtney not to make any plans on January 7, 2018, but refused to give her any other details. “I asked her what should I wear, and should I eat beforehand, and she said to dress comfortable and that I could eat if I wanted,” Courtney said. “I had no idea what we were doing, but I was super excited.”
Cutting Off The Senses
On the afternoon of January 7, Maris blindfolded Courtney and put headphones in her ears so she would have no idea where she was. Maris then drove straight to the Front Street Animal Shelter, where Courtney’s friends and family members were waiting with puppies in their arms…
The Blindfold Comes Off
“When the car stopped, I could smell animals — not zoo animals or farm animals, but the smell of animals like dogs and cats,” Courtney said. “I thought to myself, a vet clinic? A shelter?” Maris led her inside, sat her down in a kiddie pool filled with pillows, and then finally took the blindfold off and took the headphones out.
Overwhelmed With Love
When Courtney opened her eyes and saw everyone she loved holding puppies, she burst into tears as she realized her lifelong dream was finally coming true. “Once I realized what was going on, I was overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude and excitement. I was overwhelmed with the love in that room…”
A Dream Come True
Then everyone placed the puppies all over Courtney. “It was the best! I was ecstatic. You can see in the video [that] I’m shocked, I’m overwhelmed and I start crying. I’m so ecstatic because it’s just a dream come true… I never thought I would have an experience like that in my life.”
“My prognosis is positive at this point, but I will require routine MRIs for the remainder of my life to keep an eye on my brain cancer,” said Courtney, who still leans on Clyde when things get tough. However, Courtney hopes that by sharing her story, she can raise awareness about both brain tumors and how therapeutic animals can be. “I do believe animals are therapeutic and healing, and I encourage anyone considering a pet to visit your local shelter or SPCA so that you can save a life. See what a shelter pet can do for you,” she said. “We are all fighting different battles and if I can inspire people to keep pushing through their own personal challenges, I have succeeded. Life is hard, for all of us, in different ways at different times. We have to persevere.”