How A Broken Dog Healed My Broken Soul

Accidentally overcoming depression when my dog was diagnosed with cancer.

Snoozing On My Lap After A Long Walk

Accidentally Overcoming Depression When My Dog Was Diagnosed With Cancer

I met my dog, Princess, at the pound 5 years ago. I was living a life of smoke and mirrors, self-medicating to treat depression by abusing alcohol. My prerogative was to avoid reality, and I was doing a mighty fine job of pulling it off… or so I thought. I reasoned that, because I was able to hold down my (less-than-challenging) customer-service job, things weren’t so bad — and it was no one’s business but mine what was going on, anyway.

One day, at work, my sister, who was my roommate at the time, sent me a sad looking photo of an ambiguously mixed breed dog (I now refer to that photo as her “mug-shot”). My sister told me that we had to jailbreak this dog and give her a second chance at life. The dog was listed as five years old surrender from a “backyard breeder”. As in: some nitwit irresponsibly breeding uncared for dogs with zero veterinary attention to speak of. She had been dumped at the pound by the owner, who no longer had use for her, with a litter of puppies — all of which were adopted right away, leaving her alone to face her fate at a “high kill shelter”.

The Famous Mug-Shot

Admittedly, I figured this adoption to be quite a terrible idea — I had almost zero responsibility as it was, and was barely scraping by; caring for another life seemed wildly impossible. Did I mention that my sister was planning on moving out of our apartment and into a house with her friends? I knew I’d be left to deal with the dog on my own. I quickly shut the idea down, but could not for the life of me get that dog’s face out of my head. I wondered if I was losing my mind, but I felt the dog looking not just into the camera, but directly through to my soul.

After a night of emotional turmoil, I made up my mind that this little dog was going to be mine. She was in rough shape, I was in rough shape, how much worse could it possibly get? This bizarre reasoning led me to make what was quite literally the best decision I’ve ever made. The next Saturday morning, I went to the pound (located in East Los Angeles), gave the clerk Princess’s ID number, and waited in a courtyard for a volunteer to bring her out for a meet and greet. When she returned with Princess, tears instantly flooded my eyes. Princess was as scrawny as could be. Although I knew that she had never been properly cared for, I wasn’t prepared for her to be in such a terrible state. Her nipples were covered in black scar tissue from nursing litter after litter of puppies, her coat was extremely dull, and her skin just kind of hung off her skinny little body. I couldn’t tell if she more resembled an adolescent, or a senior — she just seemed so… unhealthy. Princess was shy — scratch that — she was terrified! She didn’t want me to touch her, she didn’t want me to sit with her, she didn’t even want the volunteer to make her walk — she was frozen in fear. I filled out the adoption paperwork on the spot..

The next several months were a blur. Princess, in one word, was awkward! She didn’t seem to do anything that any normal dog does. She had no idea how to go up or down stairs, how to walk on a leash, or how to eat out of a bowl. Yes, I actually hand-fed her boiled chicken for some time because she was glued to her bed in my living room. I was fortunate to be able to take her to work with me back then. Each day, I’d bring her to my office, plant her on her bed, and there she would stay until it was time to leave.

After months of caring for Princess, getting her used to being around people, and lying on the ground for hours beside her bed, just talking to her, there came a breakthrough. I was working at my desk and got up to walk across the hallway to the bathroom. As I walked through my office door, I heard a jingle of dog tags and realized that Princess had gotten up, and was trotting along right behind me — as if it were the most normal thing in the world. From that moment on, Princess has been my shadow.

Gradually, Princess and I achieved many milestones, the first time she licked me, and the first time she wagged her tail were big ones. I realized that I was changing as well; I was experiencing genuine joy, which had been foreign to me for some time. I wanted to get up and take walks, show Princess new places, and let her sniff new trees. I found myself feeling embarrassed to be intoxicated in front of her, as though her kind and trusting eyes were judging me and begging me to be there for her. I didn’t want to stay out all night or go to parties like I’d been accustomed to — I wanted to show my dog a better way of life than she had ever known, and it dawned on me that I was creating a better life for myself as a result.

The sky was the limit for Princess and I, however, our love and faith in each other was put through the ultimate test in May of 2013, when I found a dense lump on her abdomen. The vet ordered a biopsy and found that Princess had stage 1 breast cancer, most likely a result of the careless breeding from her past. She was going to need a doggie mastectomy, and it was going to cost thousands of dollars.

I was beside myself, Princess was my angel, my daughter, my best friend, but I simply could not afford this expensive surgery. I admit that I fell into a very deep depression at this time. I scheduled the surgery for July, and made a vow to Princess that I would find a way to come up with the money. In June, I hit my bottom, I had become so consumed by fear of losing Princess, the dreaded feeling that I might not be able to give her what she needed, and the horror of imagining living one day of life without her. After realizing that I wasn’t helping the situation whatsoever by being destructive, I became sober. Now, sobriety led to about a million other issues and anxiety that I’d say was off the charts, if I had to measure. I was afraid to go out in public, I was afraid to drive my car, I was still afraid of losing Princess, but because she needed me, I had to give it a shot!

With only a few weeks to go before Princess’s operation, I was running out of time! I finally came to my vet and told them that I did not have the money, but that Princess needed to have this cancer removed, and I was willing to sell my soul to get it done. They let me know that that wouldn’t be necessary, and informed me of an alternative — Care Credit. They told me that they accept this form of payment and that I was the prime example of someone who would benefit from using it. I applied that night and was approved for the total amount of Princess’s surgery. Not only that, but I found out about their handy interest-free financing plan that would allow me to keep my head afloat during this difficult time.

Thankfully, Princess’s operation went brilliantly. The vet did an incredible job, and her declaration that the cancer had been 100% removed was music to my ears. Princess’s recovery period was quick and relatively painless, and she has not had any cases of breast cancer since.

While there are many powers at play in this story, the bottom line is that I was without a paddle, in what felt like the most dire circumstances of my life, but I scheduled the operation anyway, knowing that I’d do whatever it takes to care for my dog. I now joke that Princess has her own credit card, and feel a true sense of protection by having it in my wallet. Perhaps the most impactful revelation is that the age old saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way” proved itself to be true, and will continue to be a factor in my decision making for the rest of time.

Originally published at medium.com

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