I'm always amazed at how pets read our feelings. As a volunteer with the Special Troopers Adaptive Riding School, in Sioux City, Iowa, each week I experience firsthand how a therapy dog or horse can communicate with a human. Each time I see the human-animal connection, I'm proud to be a pet owner. And while my oldest dog is not a trained therapy animal, we do share a special, therapeutic bond.

My Dog and I

My Bull Terrier mix, Orion, and I have a shared medical connection: joint pain. Since he was a young pup, his veterinarian has treated him for arthritis in his hips. For the past four-and-a-half years, I've battled inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Since we both live with joint stiffness, we help each other out.

It's not unusual for me to help Orion start his day with a gentle hip massage. This makes him more limber and able to traverse the staircase from the bedroom to the main floor. On days when his mobility wanes, I share my hot water bottle with Orion.

Orion Returns the Favor

Some days, Orion is a bundle of energy. When he leaps at the front door and nudges my arm to get away from the computer, you'd never know he was almost 10 years old. It's on these energetic days that I truly appreciate his enthusiasm.

It's as if he knows we both need to keep moving to reduce joint stiffness. To remind me of the benefits of exercise, he looks up at me with his pleading caramel-colored eyes and nudges at his well-worn leather leash and bright red harness hanging near the front door. Even after a day of work, Orion's wagging tail and energy push me to slip on my sneakers and take a nice long walk around the neighborhood. I know the gentle movement benefits us, and leads to a better night's rest, and sometimes I think Orion knows that, too.

I'm thankful for Orion's evening walk reminders just as he appreciates his morning massages. Together, we keep each other healthy!

Do you have an unofficial therapy dog, too? Tell us how he or she makes your days better in the comments below.