We’ve all heard the saying, “a dog is a man’s best friend.” And, while everyone who is a dog owner knows what it’s like to fully, completely, utterly love their fur baby into the deepest depths of their heart and soul, my dog saved my life. I owe her absolutely everything. It’s not your typical “My family had a dog and I grew up with her by my side from the time I could walk” type of story. In fact, I was one of those kids who envied every family who had a family dog while I watched from my dog-less windowsill, wishing I could have a dog of my own.
When I was finally old enough to move out on my own and make the decision to adopt a dog, it wasn’t easy. But doing so profoundly changed my life.
Look, I know how that sounds — really cheesy, corny, kind of dramatic. But rescuing my dog was easily the most profound and important decision I’ve ever made in my life. On paper, I rescued her, but in reality, she rescued me. She is the reason I didn’t fall into one of the darkest depression episodes of my life.
Originally, I had adopted my pup with my ex-boyfriend. I was a full-time employee who worked from home and was at the time in therapy for my anxiety disorder. My therapist was trying to find strategies for me to leave home more often, as I felt confined to my one-bedroom apartment in Queens, New York constantly. Working from home (mind you, this is pre-pandemic) made me feel isolated and lazy. I didn’t have a reason to get up and get dressed every day. Half the clothes in my closet were collecting dust. I was constantly trapped on my computer.
My therapist suggested an emotional support animal. I would have to get up and walk the dog every day. I’d have to train them and make sure they got enough exercise. When the pup was old enough, I would be able to take them to the park where I could meet other dog owners and make new friends and expand my social circle. It truly was an excellent plan. Of course, as someone who was dying for a dog of their own, my inner-child loved the idea.
My ex and I went to a local dog shelter, and I immediately fell in love with a brindle pit-terrier mix. She was in a crate with a giant blue ball, splashing her paws in her water bowl. Every dog in the shelter was barking except for her. She was carelessly splashing away. I was sold. The moment I had her in my arms and she licked my cheek, I said, “we’re taking her home.” Indiana became my best friend that very day.
Having a dog in a small, one-bedroom apartment wasn’t easy. She was a puppy, and for a while, she couldn’t go outside until she had all of her shots. Eventually, when she was ready for walks and the park, it became a bonding routine for us. I’d wake up, take her out, do some editorial work, and she would cuddle next to me. She’d sit by my chair when I had lunch and hang out on the bathmat while I showered. She’d curl up in bed with me while I read. It was a bond like no other.
A few months later, my ex and I had a really rough patch. We weren’t seeing eye to eye, and I felt like I was drowning in the relationship. I was losing my sense of self. I was partaking in new career choices, I was trying to expand my horizons socially, I really was trying to thrive — but my ex wasn’t. We were having financial arguments and general relationship woes. Nothing was working for us. Eventually, it came to a head, and I made the decision to leave.
Walking away from a relationship that you had once seen as your future with absolutely no plan ahead is not an easy decision. I made the decision rashly, out of anger and resentment and “I’ve had enough of this” pulling at my heartstrings. But I knew that for months we had both been lying to ourselves. I had been lying to myself.
When you’re with someone for three-plus years and you decide to leave, nothing falls into place easily. We lived together, shared everything with each other. Our families had intertwined, our friends, our entire lives. Walking away left a mess that I wasn’t prepared to clean up, and didn’t have a mop big enough to do so.
When I left, everything changed for me. I had never truly lived “alone” before. Before we moved in together, I was still living at home. After moving out, I knew I couldn’t just turn around and live at home again. I was in my late 20s and already out of college. It wasn’t the path I wanted to take. So I found a studio apartment in my price range and signed a lease. I got all new furniture, I re-structured my finances, I picked up new writing gigs. I was moving so fast that I never got to truly stop and grieve that I had just lost a huge part of me, no matter how toxic and unhealthy the relationship had been — it was still a major loss.
After I was finally settled into my new apartment, I fell into a deep depression. I was so proud of myself for living on my own and making the decision to do what was right for myself, but I was totally and completely alone. All of my friends were on their way to engagements and marriages, and I was starting over again, in my late 20s, in a dating climate where everyone swipes on you faster than they can say “Tinder.” I was scared. Sad. Heartbroken.
I spent that summer really consumed by those dark, desolate feelings. It was a shock to my system and, as someone who has mental health struggles, it wasn’t easy. But I literally could not sit in bed and drown in sorrow. I had a responsibility. I had a dog.
I couldn’t sit in my apartment and sulk all day long, Indy had to go out. I couldn’t stay in my apartment forever, she needed to get exercise. She needed to socialize. She needed to have a life, too. I couldn’t let my dog go neglected because I was struggling in my own life — she’s my responsibility as a dog mom.
I began taking her out on long walks in the morning, and then we’d hop in the car and I’d drive to get coffee. After, we’d head to the local dog park and she’d run for a couple of hours. It became a routine for us, one that she loved and one that got me out of bed and out of my head.
I began to make friends at the park, meeting new people and their dogs. Indy made friends and eventually, we became regulars there. I had a group chat where my dog-park friends would text and we’d make plans to go to the park together or share funny memes and jokes. It was something that felt lighthearted and nice. When we’d show up to the park, everyone was excited to see us, and Indy was so happy to be there.
Having someone else to care for and someone else to worry about kept me sane. I couldn’t let myself drown and I couldn’t let myself go because Indy was my baby. It wouldn’t be fair to her. I made the decision to become a dog owner and I owed it to her to give her a great life.
Rescuing her was the greatest decision I ever made. In the end, she rescued me.