I’ve added a new ally to my constant battle with my schizoaffective disorder, a dog.
I know this emotional support animal will be a great help, because a dog had been such a large part of my life before. Back when my disease was young and developing I rescued an Alaskan Husky. This dog, like me, was a bit of a handful. She was a highly abused, very skittish “fired” sled dog that was deathly afraid of just about everything, including me. It didn’t help that she was incredibly strong and a professional puller.
I made it my mission to rehabilitate this dog. I spent pretty much all of my time outside of work with the dog. We did a lot of leash training. We did a lot of hikes in the woods. A lot of exposure therapy around areas of Anchorage with a lot of tourists. A lot of trips to the pet-food store with a lot of other animals. I made a lot of friends through my dog.
It took several years, but eventually she grew into a, by comparison, confident dog that I didn’t even need a leash for. We also grew incredibly close. All my friends and family knew that if I was going anywhere where I could bring a dog that she would be coming with me. I preferred to go and do things with just my dog then with friends. We made it to the top of several mountains above Anchorage together.
I think that my disease was really growing during this time without much notice. As much as I was supporting this dog friend of mine in her emotional stability by confronting her anxieties, she was there for me too. She knew all of my moods and always seemed to know what kind of support I needed. She would even be so brave as to let her guard completely down and cuddle when I needed it the most.
And she saved my life once too.
I was fresh back from a deployment to Iraq. During that year, I began to become aware that something was wrong with me. I thought it was just depression. While deployed, I had all of my fellow Soldiers there. I grew close to several of them.
I hope things have changed since. At that time, there is a lot of redeployment training for Soldiers focused on reintegrating married Soldiers with their families. There was very little dedicated to the single Soldiers. My guess is that it is assumed that all of the single Soldiers will still have the same friends when they returned and didn’t face a big change. It turned out that most of my peer group was married and all of the friends I spent time with in Iraq were.
The wife of a friend in the unit watched my dog for me while deployed for an agreed fee. When we returned, my friend told me that they wanted to keep the dog because it was part of their family. When I said no he told me “possession is nine tenths of the law.” I told them the other tenth was I would burn their house down if they didn’t give my dog back. They gave my dog back.
So, when I returned home I was in a severe depression and alone as all my friends were with their families. It was the middle of winter in Alaska. It was just me in a house I rented and my dog. I was in a bad spot.
I don’t know why I went to a gun show and purchased a rifle cash-and-carry. I wasn’t into hunting or target-shooting. I did grow up in rural Midwest where gun-ownership is a way of life though. My dog, unsurprisingly, was terrified of the gun and wouldn’t be in the same room as it.
The next day I sat with that rifle across my lap listening to and talking with what, I would find out ten years later, was the early form of the voice I hear and know so well today. I believe I was within a few moments of shooting myself in the mouth. Then my dog, in an amazing display of courage for her, placed her head on my knee in a rare display of affection. I was amazed that she had even entered the room with the rifle out.
Suddenly I felt needed and valuable. I began to wonder what would happen to her if I were gone. I didn’t kill myself that day. I’m sure that I would be dead if it wasn’t for the love and compassion displayed by my companion. Things seemed to improve from that one fateful moment. Within two months I was putting Alaska in my rear-view for the next adventure.
A few years later I was married and my daughter was born. She was deathly allergic to dogs. I still feel a tremendous amount of guilt for giving this best-friend of mine away. She went to a great home with a Soldier in my unit. I’ve never could ask them about my dog since, it just hurts so much to think about her. She left a big hole in my heart.
After three years of allergy shots and another two of waiting we began to test her with dogs. She seems to have gotten over her allergy to dogs.
Five days ago, we got a new dog to be both a family pet and a companion animal to me. This time the dog and I went to get him certified as an official Emotional Support Animal. My apartment can’t make any issue of us having him. We are moving in a couple of months anyway.
This Dalmatian/Australian shepherd mix has some very big dog-booties to fill. This time though, I have a dog without as many issues. Training her will be my project. After only a few days I can already tell that we are going to get along great.
I am excited to have this new dog in my life. I intend to fully let him into my heart as quickly as possible. I’m hoping that, with time, he can become as perceptive of helpful to me as the last dog. It truly is amazing how rewarding a relationship with a dog can be.
What about you? Do you have a pet or companion that was or is a big part of your emotional health? How did it help you?