This is my goofy dog’s photo when he was up for adoption at Best Friends Animal Society, Los Angeles. His name is Wally. Behind his smile and before the safety he found at Best Friends, was a history of probable abuse, living as a stray in LA with a broken leg and dead tail, and then waiting for the “Youth In Asia” in a shelter. I can hardly think about it without getting a choked up. I always said I would never say “My dog rescued me”, but… Wow. Despite his sad past, this little fighter had strength, inspiration and a bottomless well of love to share. As it turns out, just like countless other people, he is just what I needed. He’s kind of my hero, even when he brazenly parades around with my new J. Crew pump in his little mouth. That’s love.
Just before Thanksgiving last year, I had hit a low. Not a dangerous low, but a chronic insidious low that had taken over. Again. One I was well acquainted with. I had general sadness and anxiety, and ongoing issues with self-worth and self-image. All these things had plagued me for going on 20-some years in oscillating degrees of severity; all of these were things I thought I would outgrow, but just hadn’t been able to shake. I also suffer a great deal of stress at work that starts to take a toll on me in the outside world.
On November 15th, 2011, I was heading home, engaging self-destructive and negative thoughts. Then something rare happened- I had my own idea that grew into something more powerful. My husband, my sister and I had gone to Best Friends Animal Society to look at dogs the weekend before. We were on the fence about getting a dog, but I was happy to be entertaining the idea more seriously. We had seen Wally, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the little guy. Well, on November 15th, I took control. It was more than saying yes to a dog; I was saying yes to myself, and no to my insecurities. For some reason, I knew if I drove right to the shelter at that moment, I would be okay. If I could let in something that meant more than my compulsions and obsessions, I would heal. I would be safe. I finally made an active choice in favor of my emotional health and drove straight to Best Friends in Mission Hills.
I brought Wally home that day, and right away I had to push myself aside and start tending to him. We got through his adjustment period, we are working through his trust issues with men, we treated fleas and giardia, we started basic training and we fell in love. For me, it has been completely transformative. I was free from my anxieties and depression for the first few months, and completely immersed in caring for him. Little did I know he was caring for me, too. Gradually, the negative thinking found ways to creep back in, but I had changed. I had built new confidence from my ability and duty to care for Wally. I had gained the confidence and desire to care for myself. I’m not perfect, but I’m in love with this little guy and by virtue of that, I have learned to be worlds kinder to myself. It may seem ridiculous, but his trust and love for me has made me trust and love myself more. He has convinced me of things that humans (including expensive therapists) could not. Short term stress and problems also seem much more manageable when I am focused on making him happy and healthy; he really is the perfect escape and puts everything into perspective.
So yes, I too have a dog that “rescued me”. I can say this after years of trying to help myself, and pretty much failing. It’s quite incredible actually. If anyone reading this is feeling isolated, sad, lonely, depressed, anxious, and/or is struggling with eating disorders or self-worth; I recommend considering volunteering at an animal shelter. Maybe try fostering an animal, or even jump in and adopt. You never know; they may get to you in a way that the humans cannot.
Photo via Nick Carranza of Best Friends Animal Society