We are the parents, friends, and family of Peyton Elizabeth Rudkin. Peyton was a loving, silly, passionate, smart, and playful six-year old when she was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).
She was an avid animal lover, especially horses, and had been riding since she was just three years old. As her mobility was limited by this disease, so was her ability to enjoy life the way she once knew. The animals she always loved, and a few new ones too, played a profound role in providing her comfort and improving her quality of life; shaping our mission to help other children like her.
As Peyton became more immobile, she became withdrawn, bored, and depressed. Our growing, six-year-old girl was suddenly confined to a stroller, left to observe her brother and friends play as she once did. Rapidly losing her sense of independence and confidence, her frustration and loneliness grew. Our hearts continued to break, as our ability to engage and connect with her diminished.
Children facing life-threatening illnesses, like cancer, live with bodies that don’t work the way they should or once did. They are unable to experience and interact in their world in the ways they had come to know. They feel isolated, angry, and depressed. They can often be in pain, carry anxiety, feel frustration, and become noncompliant.
“When a friend brought Peyton a rabbit to hold, suddenly she was engaged; she was smiling and interacting with us. Her pain seemed to ease and her anxiety greatly reduced. She started using her hands, which had become mostly paralyzed. She had a sense of calmness and peace. She was happy.” –Elizabeth, Peyton’s Mom
The experience was so powerful and positive that we continued those bunny visits as often as possible, becoming the highlight of her days and weeks. Between hospital visits, treatments, and lab draws, this interaction gave her something to look forward to and be rewarded with. We found that whether she was holding a bunny in her lap or watching it hop on the floor, the interaction provided a great distraction, relieved boredom, frustrations, anxiety and pain.
The extreme pride she showed when sharing her bunny with others was rewarding enough, but the interaction also brought her comfort and companionship, laughter and stimulated conversation. She was more agreeable and interactive with friends and family; more open when talking with doctors, therapists and her hospice nurse. With an animal in her lap, it was even easier to administer medication and improved overall compliance.
Other animals, from horses and puppies, to guinea pigs, hamsters and bunnies, also played a profoundly important role in Peyton’s quality of life during her last year. These animals were all shared by people in our community. To read more stories about Peyton and her Comfort Critters, please visit our Comfort Critters page.
The proven power of the human-animal bond and it’s palliative effect on relieving symptoms and promoting quality of life led us to develop Peyton’s Ranch & Comfort Critters to help other children like Peyton.