Fluffy Ball of Cuteness: My Therapy Dog, Francesca

Francesca and Bob Becker

By Bob Becker

­ “That’s not a dog, that’s a fluffy ball of cuteness!” This perfect description of our Norwich terrier, Francesca, was uttered by a neighborhood boy as he and his family bicycled past my wife, Lesa, walking Francesca one day. Francesca attracts her fair share of attention, but she is more than just a pretty face.

To back up, in 1998, life was good. I worked as legal counsel for a corporation in Idaho, was married to a wonderful woman, and had two handsome young sons, Sam and Joe. It was April, and we had just returned from a fun-filled vacation to Disneyland. One morning, while I was showering, I noticed that I had numbness in my feet and parts of my chest. A few days later, I started experiencing pain in my feet.

I later received the multiple sclerosis diagnosis. I felt as though life was over for me. I became very sick, very quickly, and went on medical leave from work. I developed unrelenting burning pain in my feet, fatigue, balance and bladder problems, and a bout of optic neuritis that blinded me in one eye for six weeks. I began injections of one of only three medications then-approved for slowing down the progression of MS.

I was finally able to resume working, but had several relapses that resulted in a worsening of my MS. I went from being able to hike, backpack, ski, and undertake many home improvement projects, to being able to… just exist. None of the medications prescribed for my neuropathic pain was effective. So, I just had to bear it.

To help me cope, we got a Yorkie puppy that we named Buddy. Buddy was the sweetest little guy, not a mean bone in his body. For over 14 years, he provided me with love and affection when I needed it most.

In 2009, my MS-related disabilities became so overwhelming that I had to retire from my job. Buddy continued to provide me with solace until his passing in 2013. After Buddy passed, we traveled frequently, but we were not then ready for the challenges of getting another dog.

In October of 2019, we scaled back on our travel, as I was dealing with progressively more serious health issues related to my MS. Then, in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, I suffered a heart attack and pulmonary embolism. I was hospitalized and underwent two invasive medical procedures. I came close to dying. After numerous other health issues and many tests, I was diagnosed with idiopathic peripheral neuropathy on top of my MS, causing several additional health problems. Overwhelmed, I felt hopeless.

Because of my mounting medical conditions, we decided to purchase a condo in Boise, Idaho, as a convenient place to stay for all my doctor appointments and medical needs. Our realtor friend invited us over to her home where we were greeted by her Norwich terrier, Teddy. He made a strong impression, showering us with gentle affection. We had never heard of a Norwich terrier, but decided that this breed would be a perfect fit for my wife and me.

Although we had to wait about a year, we were finally able to pick up our 2-lb. 10-oz. bundle of canine joy. We named her Francesca and immediately fell in love. On the way home, Francesca never looked back, settling into my lap as if she had been a member of our family forever.

Francesca is beautiful and very effusive. She is also hilarious, curious, quirky, attention-seeking, and endlessly charming. From her weird noises to her stout little legs – hopping around like a rabbit – she wins the heart of anyone around her.

Since I am unable to walk very far, I ride my motorized scooter on walks with Francesca and Lesa. As we encounter other people, Francesca strains on her leash to go up to them for some affection. No one can resist her.

The primary reason we got Francesca was to be my therapy dog. We have a morning and evening routine of mutual affection. When I am having a rough time, she somehow senses it. She will come up to me and lie down by my feet, ask to sit on my lap, or give me kisses on the neck. When she is up to her hat full of antics, my physical and mental burdens are relieved more effectively than from any medicine.

I cannot imagine how I would cope with my health challenges if I did not have Francesca by my side. While I pray that someday my suffering will be lifted, for now, I take immense comfort in my wife Lesa’s loving support and the unconditional love I receive from Francesca, my precious “fluffy ball of cuteness.”