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How My Shelter Rescue Dog Ended Up Rescuing Me

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Never underestimate the power of an animal to change our lives — or save them from depression and suicide.

The shelter rescue dog that had been my companion for over 12 years died this July. She was not officially a service dog, or an emotional support animal, but she saved me from suicide more times than I can count.

I remember getting her when my daughter was only 3. The 35 pound Border Collie-mix was supposed to be a gift for my child for Valentine’s Day, and I picked her out at the shelter with those intentions. I brought her home and my daughter tried to give her attention, and the dog promptly hid behind my legs. 

My daughter tried to feed her, and the dog refused to eat unless I gave her the food bowl.

I told myself I didn’t want a dog. And the truth was, I didn’t. I’d had an abusive past with dogs. They had been used to hurt me. On at least one occasion a dog had been given to me as a gift when I was a child, only to be taken away from me as punishment for a small misstep in behavior. I never saw that beloved pet again. There were other times that dogs had been used to cause me emotional harm, and so I had a timidity about getting attached to this one. I recognize now, that it was part of my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), already rearing its ugly head. 

But the shelter dog that my daughter named Ruby (after her favorite children’s book) refused to have anything to do with anyone else. No one else could touch her or go near her with a leash, and if anyone raised their voice, she was next to me, pressing against my side

Her tentativeness subsided, but still she did not leave my side. And suddenly she became, instead, a stalwart protector. I was dealing with severe depression at the time, and she would lay over the top of me when I lay in bed. She would nose my neck and dig at the covers until I would get out of bed, and she would bring me her leash and insist I take her for a walk. She forced me to function.

She would refuse to eat food that anyone else set out, so I had to get up to feed her. And she had food allergies and sensitive skin issues, so I had to feed her small meals twice a day and bathe her with medicated shampoo in a complicated process twice a week. It took a lot of time. I remember at first thinking it was more work than it was worth. It never registered in my mind that she was forcing me to keep living.

And then the unthinkable happened. 

I was walking Ruby with my daughter, who was not yet 4 years old at the time, past a neighbor’s house. We were suddenly rushed by two St. Bernards. I’m not sure what motivated the two dogs, but they went after my daughter, knocking her down and mauling her. And they were so massive I couldn’t get to my daughter, and all I could hear was screaming — my daughter’s and my own.

The next thing I knew, Ruby was darting in and out of the mess, attacking two dogs that were massively oversized compared to her, to draw their attention away from my daughter and myself. She repeatedly bit at them until they were off my daughter and started attacking her instead. I was able to pick up my daughter as neighbors who had come outside began work to subdue the two St. Bernards.

My daughter was OK. She was lucky in fact. She suffered a lot of abrasions and bruises, a bump on the head and several lost fingernails, but nothing serious. After police arrived, my daughter was cleared as OK. Ruby, who had a head injury, was then given assistance. She survived, but as her badge of honor, had epilepsy for the rest of her life.

I then had to work harder to take care of Ruby. She required daily medication, and even with the medication, still often had seizures. But I no longer saw her as a burden. She was my companion. She was worth it. 

I remember there was at least one time when I considered attempted suicide. And then I thought, how could I do that to her? She has so much to live for.

And this also kept me alive during the darkest moments of my depression. Who would take care of Ruby if I died by suicide? I knew she would not let anyone else do it for her. If I died, she would die. And I could not let my companion die.

And so I did not give up on her. But moreover, I did not give up on myself.

I realize now Ruby helped me see value in life when I wasn’t able to see it for myself. That was her gift to me all along. She may never have been a service dog in the legal sense, but she saved my life every day for the last 12 years.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

 If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Thinkstock 

Originally published: January 27, 2017
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