I recently celebrated the fourth anniversary of bringing my dog Dany home from the shelter, aka the anniversary of one of the best decisions of my life. Before living with us, Dany lived with about 50 other dogs in some kind of tent situation (think animal hoarding). Almost everything made her scared, she needed lots of coaxing to actually enter our home, and she flat out refused to go up stairs. The shelter informed us that though she was only a year and a half old she had already had a litter of puppies. She ran away from any new person, but most gut wrenching was the way she would flinch anytime someone spoke a little louder than normal or happened to walk by her holding a broom. On her one year ‘gotcha day’ my husband and I celebrated and reflected on how far she had come-how much we had done for her. Now on her gotcha day I reflect on how much she has done for me.
There is a popular phrase in the rescue community, it goes, “Who rescued who?” Honestly, I always thought that was pretty sappy. I loved having a dog but she was, after all, just a dog. That was before. Dany absolutely rescued me in the days and weeks after my husband died. To the point where I honestly don’t know how people walk through grief without a dog. In the very early days all I wanted to do was stay in bed. But I would look over and there was Dany, patiently waiting for her breakfast, and so I got up. Once I was up I just wanted to lay on the couch and do absolutely nothing, but there was Dany looking longingly out the window. And so we took a walk. I can’t overstate how important it was to get some fresh air and move my body when I felt like just an empty shell of a person. I never would have done that without my dog.
Beyond just logistics, Dany made it easier for me to grieve. She would put off going up to bed and look out the door-I knew she waiting for my husband to come home. She would go to where his clothes were still on the floor and she would lie in them and I knew she was missing him too. Somehow having her there made it not so weird to also lie on the floor and just cry. But most importantly, her presence meant I wasn’t alone-even when the house felt so empty. It meant that there was still someone who was excited to see me when I got home-I wasn’t coming home to nothing. When I needed to cry she was always there to put her head in my lap and comfort me.
About two months after my husband died Dany needed to go to her regularly scheduled vet appointment. My husband had the more flexible work schedule so this was something that had always been his job. But Dany needed her shots, and I desperately needed to know she was doing ok, so off to the vet we went. Predictably, Dany was scared and basically refusing to step on the scale. I remember telling her, “Dany we have to be brave now.” In that moment the “we” felt so important-Dany wasn’t the only being that needed to face the scary world. Later, in the exam room, the vet very kindly said that Dany was a couple pounds underweight and I lost it. Through sobs I choked out something like, “My husband just died, routine has been off, she’s not really eating, I’m not really eating, is she going to be ok.” Sometimes being brave means going to the vet even if you have to drag your dog on the scale and have a small breakdown in the exam room.
As I worked through my grief and started to build a new life, Dany was a huge influence on how that life looked. I never had to worry about becoming a “crazy cat lady” because I had a dog. My dog loved hiking and I wanted to do something that would make her happy, even if just for a little bit, so we hiked a lot. Turns out I really love hiking too. So we became outdoorsy. To the point were multiple times this summer I told people, “take a picture of me here-I need it for my Instagram…you know, so people can see I’m outdoorsy now.”
So now on her fourth gotcha day I can still reflect on how far she has come. Today she has no problem coming in the house and runs up and down stairs with ease. Her favorite days are the days my piano students come. Dany runs to greet them and sits right next to them all through the lesson-hoping for extra pets. She is no longer afraid of new people. In fact, when my friends come over she will beg them for scratches and even jump in the chair and snuggle with them instead of me! What a diva!!! But now, when I see all the progress she has made I also think, “If Dany can overcome all of her trauma and have a beautiful life so can I.”
If you want to see this most perfect doggo be sure to check out the Instagram. Was this whole post an excuse to put up pictures of dany…maybe…