This isn’t exactly a Christmas story, but I’ve been so moved by this gift from my friend Art that I have to share.

Art’s company, Custom Body Pillows, provides a unique, hands-on way to cherish your favorite photograph, whether of the love of your life, your child, grandchild, your beloved soldier overseas, or a treasured pet like my Newfoundland, Shamus. My pillow now resides between the pets and the portraits, embodying a bit of both.

Gift Hint: It’s not too late to give one this holiday season. Wrap some literature from the website offering to print the photo of your recipient’s choice on this beautiful, huggable pillow!

Shamus Portrait


Freshly adopting Shamus in March 2009, visions of training Shamus to be a therapy dog danced through my head. I often fantasized about us working as a team to make a real difference in the lives of others and blogging about the journey. As it turns out, the person who Shamus became the greatest therapy dog for is me.

When he first entered our home, Shamus’ sweet manner and sensitivity offered great comfort while I struggled with a condition called frozen shoulder. Unable to lift my right arm more than 45 degrees for the better part of a year, I had to perform a series of painful daily stretches to regain full use. One day, as I laid on the floor straining to push my arm 90 degrees, our enormous dog lowered his head, walked toward me, and laid down. Unable to move, I shut my eyes and held my breath dreading the pain of his weight. When I opened my eyes, the Newf was pressing my arm with just enough pressure to stretch. I exhaled with relief. Thirty seconds later, he got up and stood over me as if to ask, “Did that help?” The insane thing is that it did.

Shamus' First Day

Fast forward two years.  I was diagnosed in October, the week before my 41st birthday, with 3 incurable diseases affecting my hands:

  • Psoriatic Arthritis, a chronic inflammatory disease, sparked my immune system to eat away at the connective tissues in my finger joints, painfully inhibiting my ability to sleep, fasten buttons, wring a sponge, brush my teeth, walk my dogs or even lay my hand flat. Thankfully, meds are finally doing their job.
  • Less of a big deal is Raynauds, a rare disorder that spasms the arteries which turns my fingers and toes ice cold and blue – even in summer.
  • The scariest, by far, is Dupuytren’s Contracture. Triggered by the body’s own healing process and genetic disposition, this chronic inflammatory disease formed nodules on the palms of both my hands after I got hooked on a chain link fence in February and required 9 stitches in my finger. Each growing palm nodule sent out what’s called a chord along the tendons of my fingers. When these cords shrink, my fingers will permanently curl. Options, only after curling, are open hand surgery, skin grafts, needle aponeurotomy, or Xiaflex injections but, since this disease is spurred by the healing process, recurrence is often triggered and the contracture comes back even worse.

Angry and devastated, it was Shamus who offered the greatest comfort. He was there when I discovered that the Germans have been treating Dupuytren’s Contracture with radio therapy since the 50s. He was by my side when I found 1 of 8 known doctors in the US willing and knowledgeable enough to do the same.

The only time he wasn’t with me was during the 5 days I spent in Richmond, VA last month receiving this treatment. I spent a lot of that time in tears and wishing he were there, allowing me to cry without being alone, without judgement, without trying to fix things, just being there and letting me hug him while stroking his soft black head. (I’m smiling in the photo below because I was going home that 5th day.)

Last Day - Round 1 - 2011.11.11

The good news? I can take my Newf for the second week of radio therapy in January. Granted, I can’t just plop him on a plane and parade him through the VCU Oncology Unit – but I can take his pillow.


Shamus' Custom Body PillowI chose to have Shamus’ life-size Newf face to hug on my 21″x18″ Custom Body Pillow. These run $59 while the full body size (43″x20″) is $89. I nearly got the big one picturing the Newf sprawled upside down, but I don’t need him hogging the bed on the road like he does at home. With a choice of backing colors, I selected the black faux fur, which is as soft as the Newf’s, and now hugging Shamus’ faux face feels almost real. Since the pillow covering is washable, I’m assuming a few tears won’t be any big deal if they happen to fall once more.


It’s easy. Create an account at Upload and crop your favorite hi-resolution image. Choose the color of your fur-like backing. Add text if you like. The design team is always available for assistance. And rest assured that Custom Body Pillows’ materials are made 100% in the USA. Delivery takes less than 15 days.

Since my photos don’t do this silky pillow justice, here are a few examples of what others have created:

Custom Body Pillows

Thanks for my emotional support pillow, Art!
Love, love, love it!

NOTE: When Art extended his gift, I offered to write a review because I thought others might find similar comfort from this pillow. I can’t help but think of friends who might seek ways to comfort ill children who often frequent hospitals or, far less complicated, people who just love fun and whimsy – like Caroline, blogger at Romeo the Cat. Yep, I’ve introduced Art to a few fellow bloggers to spread the word – but never for compensation of any sort. I just really like my pillow.