CRESTVIEW — Singer and vocal music instructor Janice Marcus grew up in California in a family of pet lovers. Her childhood dogs and cats were integral parts of the family.
For her, a recent brush with death reinforced the healing power of canine companionship.
When Janice's husband Jim's aerospace engineering job brought the couple to Crestview in the early 2000s, whether pets would join them in their new home was not questioned; it was understood that their north county home would include both bipedal and quadruped members.
Today, their home is enhanced by the addition of Jasmine and Shane, two full-blooded collies whom the Marcuses rescued, respectively, from a shelter and from an owner who didn't want him.
"Both are about 7," Janice Marcus said. "It's hard with a rescue dog to know how exactly old they are.
"Jasmine is the protectress. No kidding. She makes me feel very safe. She's just Mama's dog and she's very protective of her mother. But Shane is my lover. He's so affectionate."
When Jim lost his job more than a year ago, a many-month quest for employment took a toll on the family savings, but the couple was determined that their situation would not affect Jasmine and Shane.
"Dogs can sense when there is a problem at home, and that's when they are sometimes most needed," Janice said. "Dogs are so sweet. They knew Mommy and Daddy needed them."
Strong faith, assistance from their church, help from friends and their collies' unquestioning love carried them through.
Then one day last autumn, Janice felt unwell. Jim left to brew a cup of tea for her; when he returned, his wife was comatose on the floor.
Life-saving surgery at North Okaloosa Medical Center for an undisclosed illness stabilized Janice so she could be sent via Life Flight helicopter to the University of Florida Shands Medical Center in Gainesville, where she began a month's battle for her life.
Jim, meanwhile, at last received a series of promising job prospects and interviews.
"He had been job-hunting for a year," Janice said. "This was such a blessing, but with such bad timing."
Thrilled to see their 'mother'
When Janice returned to Crestview, she had less than two weeks with her husband before he had to depart for his new out-of-town job, from which he regularly returns home each month.
Their faithful collies were waiting for her return.
"They were so thrilled to see their 'mother,'" Janice said. "I don't think any of the pets ever expected to see me again. They were so excited to see Mommy. Shane especially was barking and barking. Oh my goodness, he was thrilled. I only had Jasmine for a few months before I got so sick. She wondered what happened to her mommy."
Both dogs are even more attentive to her since her return, Janice said.
"They follow me all around the house all the time. I think part of it is to make sure I don't go away again," Janice said. "When Jim is gone, they are my companions. They're wonderful dogs. They watch TV with me. They especially like 'Lassie.' We have 'Lassie' on DVD for them."
While Jasmine is her "mommy's" bodyguard, Shane is the self-appointed watchdog, Janice said.
"Shane usually lies in whatever room I'm in," she said. "He also likes to lie against the front door like he's protecting me."
Her husband's rapid departure for a much prayed for job so soon after her return from Shands was difficult, but Janice's brother, Robb, arrived from the west coast to tend to his sister for several weeks. When their father took ill, he returned to California.
Weakness and loneliness took their toll, but Shane and Jasmine were with her every step of the way.
"That was hard," Janice said. "I wish I could've just gotten Shane to learn how to make coffee, but like he always tells me, 'I don't have opposable thumbs, Mom.' But he'd be willing."
The dogs — as much as powders, pills and tonics — have helped her regain strength, she said.
"They are very good medicine," Janice said. "The thing about dogs is they're so accepting. They just love you no matter what, and when they sense you need it, they love you even more. They are so calm and comforting. I don't think I could've made it this far without them."
Medical research into the healing powers of dogs has been proven in the Marcus residence, Janice said. Her steady recovery was bolstered not just by her faith and health care providers, but also by Jasmine and Shane's companionship.
There's some science to support that claim.
"Although dogs have been used for therapeutic purposes around the globe for years, today, particularly in the U.S., their use is driven by mounting evidence that dogs truly can heal," The Saturday Evening Post reports. "One look at a therapy dog strolling into a hospital room and a patient’s blood pressure drops, heart rate slows, and the corrosive hormones generated by stress that damage arteries and play a part in so many diseases and disorders plummet."
Canines' therapeutic effects are no surprise to Janice.
"There's a reason God sent us dogs," she said.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.