The Dog I Didn't Want
My best friend, companion, partner-in-crime, and, finally, service dog
When I was almost 13, I finally found the puppy I didn't want.
I actually refused to go meet her because my mom told me that she was a Golden Retriever/Border Collie - and I was not the child who loved Golden Retrievers. My sibling did. I thought they were happy, go-lucky, stupid dogs that lick way too much. I mean, of course I loved Buddy and all of those movies, but I had no interest in owning a dog like that.
Not only did I not like the breeds, but we had to drive several hours to see the litter of puppies. We had driven everywhere to look at so many different dogs. All of which had almost no interest in me. I tried to convince my mother that no, I did NOT need a new puppy. After all, I was almost 13. In 6 short years, I'd be getting ready to head off to college and that wouldn't be fair to a dog.
Mom said no to all of my arguments. However, she did concede that if I didn't get a puppy from this litter, we could be done looking. We had looked off and on for the last 2 years since my best friend, Chip, had been poisoned. I had finally stopped crying every day for him. I knew that I wasn't getting a new dog for a very long time.
Yeah, yeah, you saw that coming, didn't you?
To be fair though, I had seen all of the puppies. Except the one female who didn't want touched. They were all cute, but I was leaving them all there. Until that one female pulled all of her siblings off of my lap, crawled onto my lap, curled up and went to sleep. That was when I knew that she was, well, my "Beauty" was the one.
Training her wasn't easy. She was happy go-lucky and remember how my mom had encouraged me to get her? Well, mom did not like her. Mom is not a dog person. Mom is not a "lick me" person. And Beauty could not hold her tongue to save her life.
Not only did mom not like her, my dad didn't either. He shared my original opinion of Golden Retrievers. That opinion only worsened when Beauty decided that she loved to dig! Until of course, dad found out why. Then Beauty had a purpose. She was digging, catching, and killing gophers. That said, it was another reason for mom to not like her because she would then bury the gopher for a few days, let it "ripen," dig it up, roll in it, and come begging for pets from mom. Specifically, mom.
I had kind of hoped that she would stay small, this little puppy that had chosen me. She was the runt of the litter after all. But oh, how she grew. And she sadly lost her cute curls too.
But she and I were pretty much inseparable. Other than when I had to go inside as my family didn't allow pets inside the house. I could sometimes sneak Precious, my cat, in, but a dog? That was a whole lot bigger challenge.
Beauty tried to be good. I even taught her how to stay. Sort of. The picture (below) was "proof" that she knew how to stay, but in all fairness behind the picture was me pleading with her to stop inching her way over me!
The following year, Beauty learned how to pull. She loved pulling me on my bicycle with a harness on. My sibling's dog, Buster, was a year older than Beauty. Buster was not impressed with this newly found task. My sibling mostly used their bike for transporting her cats though - and cats (even uber-patient ones like Tiger) really do not like high speeds, just in case you were wondering!
Since Beauty loved pulling so much, my dad was nice enough to help me draw up a design for a 3 wheeled bike that my sibling and I could both ride while both Beauty and Buster pulled us. It was one of the last times I worked closely with my dad, and unfortunately, when we were building it, my hand got badly burned. I never wanted to work with metal after that and that was when my dad and I started growing apart even more.
When Beauty was finally over 2, she became a good dog. She finally learned to stay (for the most part), come, sit, lie down, roll over, and had plenty of other tricks. I was happy with her and she loved me so much. Even though she still couldn't help but lick everyone, mom even decided that she was a good dog.
You see, we had yearling cattle that we raised from the fall into the spring and then sold them. We were moving them by hand in the pasture one day. We being my grandparents, dad, sibling, and I - along with Beauty and Buster. We had done this several times. But this time, they didn't want to go into the next pasture. They decided I was the weak link in the chain and stampeded.
Dad was trying to head them off as he ran towards me - the me that refused to move because I didn't want to be the reason we had to start over. Dad was too far away though and the cow who was the ringleader was headed right for me with her head down. Beauty jumped into action, darted about 20 feet in front of me, and grabbed that cow by her nose. We had seen Buster do that move before - it was a classic Border Collie move, but no one had thought the Beauty was worth the pain she typically was when working cattle.
That cow had a bloody nose, but she didn't touch me. Nor did the rest of the herd. Beauty got a lot of treats that evening and even mom told her what a good dog she was! And that cow? She never put her head down to charge me again.
When Beauty was 3, I got interested in dog agility. She did really well, but still had trouble with focus and wanting to love on the other people. It took several classes before she was good enough to place in the top 3 at the "graduating ceremony." By the time she was 5 though, I could take her with me without constantly worrying that she would run over to everyone she met to give them kisses.
Things were going alright. Up until Beauty was 2.5, life was pretty good. Then my mom's mom (my grandma) died suddenly. I thought we had recovered, but I hadn't. My dad got tired of me crying and told me that it had been 3 months. Move on. So, I did... except, I didn't. About 8 months after that conversation, I had my first mental breakdown.
At the time of my breakdown, I was in one of the best private high schools. It had programs that I wanted to take, it had people my age - and I so desperately wanted friends my age, it was a good start to a "college-like" experience, and it had strict enough rules for my dad to accept me going. I did not realize that people my age were cruel. I did not realize that I was, on one side "teacher's pet" and on the other side, hated by the other teachers.
I started failing classes - something that I had never done before. I started having full blown panic attacks. I started getting lost and not being able to find my way back or know how to get places. I started sleeping less and less. I listened to my teachers and peers but couldn't understand a lot of what they were saying. At the time, I couldn't have told you all of the signs. Several years later, I can look back and tell you the signs.
I asked for help: ways to get out of class when overwhelmed, a pet because I missed my critters - cue Houdini my rabbit, and, last but not least, tried my best to "spiritually" recover in order to stop struggling. The teachers at the school merely believed that I was a troubled teen doing attention seeking behaviors and had no interest in mental health.
The one sign no one expects to hear: my "invisible" friends left. My life was empty. I was alone. I started isolating more and more in my room because I couldn't handle anything. Then one day, I got the chance to watch Disney's "Brave" with my peers. I couldn't handle it and never finished the movie. That night, it was either a nightmare or a hallucination, but the bad bear from "Brave" was in my dorm room with me.
I guess people were trying to snap me out of it, but nothing was working. My mom didn't answer the phone for a few tries (because it was the middle of the night) and by the time she had answered, I wasn't communicating with other people. She told the adults to take me to the hospital. As soon as they got me out of the room though, the bear left.
I begged them to call her back and let me talk to her, but they refused and off to the hospital we went. I felt like my life was over. I was still grieving the loss of my grandmother. Now I was faced with dealing with my dad's anger because, as he saw it, I was being manipulative and dramatic. I was also faced with either going back or admitting defeat and going home.
I felt like the world would be better off without me.
The psychiatrist was nice and explained that all hallucinations were bad, that they were giving me medicine to help, and that I would get counseling. I hated every word that she said.
I decided that I wanted to return to school, but they wouldn't take me. I wasn't spiritual enough to be welcome there because that totally causes a psychotic break. If it isn't obvious, that was sarcasm. So, I was taken home and started going to counseling every week.
Remember those meds that were supposed to work? Never did get rid of my "invisible friends," but now I was terrified of them as well. I mean, all hallucinations were bad and continued to prove that I would never be ok again. Beauty stood by me through multiple medication changes.
When I would insist on my solitude, she would find me and be there for me - in whatever capacity I needed. She was my protector. She knew when I was getting "lost" in my own head again and knew how to snap me out of it. She would let me know when it was time to go back inside again.
I wasn't always fond of her interference. But she knew when I needed anything. She was still not allowed inside but would bark outside my window until I came to her if she sensed I wasn't alright. I started going outside to sleep with her on the rare nights I did sleep. She made sure I was back inside before my family woke up. I slept better with her lying next to me.
When I moved out after high school, Beauty came with me. When we were apart, I would start not doing as well. My then boyfriend and I got a place that allowed her to live with us. She went with me almost everywhere. I trained Beauty to take me home, or to my vehicle, from any location so that when I was out walking, lost in my thoughts, she could bring me back to point A.
Beauty would calm me by applying pressure to my body, snap me out of my head by insistently nuzzling my hand or jumping on me, and she was always watchful of people and traffic to keep me safe. If I couldn't take her with me to any spot, I just wouldn't go without another adult. But I couldn't explain why to my care team at that time.
After my son was born, I had some legal difficulties. Long story short, I needed to present my case as a speech. Those who were involved, refused every idea I had for accommodations for what we now knew was schizophrenia and that I was permanently disabled. I could not hold a regular job, even at 10 hours a week without my symptoms becoming severe.
I finally asked for legal help from the ADA and while I was on the phone with a nice representative, I mentioned Beauty. I was upset and Beauty was forcing me to stop pacing, sit down, and relax to focus on the problem. The gal said that Beauty, with all of the professional and personal training I had put her through, qualified as a service dog.
The meeting did not go exactly smoothly, but they decided that Beauty could come after I dropped the paperwork the ADA lady said to print off, fill out, and give to the opposing attorney in his lap. The meeting actually ended with the legal case getting dropped but without an admittance that they had made any error in refusing to accommodate my disability without the ADA getting involved.
From that day, anywhere I went without another adult, Beauty went with me. She learned how to exit buildings, she learned to do laps around me if someone was too close, and when my son got mobile, she helped me watch him. I was able to get out more. I made good progress with my goals and my life.
Last year, she died peacefully in her sleep after I had my next service dog trained in. She was with me for 13 years and was, not only my best friend, but the service dog I needed as an adult to function with schizophrenia and anxiety. I will always miss her, but her last couple of years were hard on her as she had arthritis. She always did her job though - even after she "retired."
Beauty was the puppy I didn't want and didn't know I needed. She was the puppy who knew I needed her.
About the author
I am a mother of 2 precious angels who drive me slightly more crazy
than I already am with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
When asked "are you crazy?!" my favorite come back is:
"yes! And I have the papers to prove it! How about you?" LOL