Guest Post: The Healing Gift of a Dog’s Love

by Meagan Hanley

Depression is a very real and debilitating illness. It can come and go, reappearing out of the blue, even when the sun is out and birds are chirping. The condition can be genetic, or situational, or both. For me, it was the culmination of too many stressors that came all at once knocking me off my feet. It was like I was fighting a tsunami mentally.

In 2015 my husband left me. One month later my epileptic dog, Buddy, passed away. I had to put him down at 3 AM by myself mid seizure because my emotionally incompetent husband said it was just ‘too hard to handle’. Around that same month, my alcoholic father relapsed and my mother announced her decision to undergo dangerous brain surgery for her advanced Parkinson’s disease. My husband and I sold our home and I had to find a rental. I left my job to start another that would allow me to afford the steep Boston rent as a newly single woman.

It was all too much. The three long months after Buddy passed away and I was ‘dog-less’, were spent in a zombie like state. Forcing myself to be social, I would go out to dinner with friends, only to cry my eyes out in public. I needed something or someone to anchor me or I would soon unravel in a very dangerous way. My doctor put me on medicine. It didn’t work. Some days I didn’t get out of bed, or go to work; the lights stayed off. Only a few friends checked in on me. The ones who had their lives intact, with families, were just too busy.

That September, I attended an adoption event for Last Hope K9 rescue. I knew I needed to experience the unconditional love of a dog, once again. After all, it was my first dog, Buddy, who kept me alive through my divorce when I wanted to give up on life. I decided to go check out a black lab named Lucky, who I spotted on the website. As fate would have it, I arrived at the event early, and Lucky’s foster mom was running late. So, I sat down on the lawn next to a little beagle mix named Acer. He started licking my face, and actually hugged me, wrapping his paws around my shoulders. This little 20 lb fur ball, grasped on to me so tightly and wouldn’t let go. Not in an aggressive way, but a way that meant we should belong to each other. Lucky was not the one for me.

I eagerly signed the adoption papers for Acer, now known as ‘ACE’. I wanted to sign up for a lifetime worth of his little hugs, even if only in dog years. It is now 2 and a half years later, and a dog, has once again, shown me the incredible healing benefits to caring for an animal.

When I open my eyes each morning, I am greeted by a happy tail whipping back and forth and a sloppy kiss on my forehead. I feel as though I have a reason to wake up. If my eyes did not open, his tail may not wag. He may not be so happy, and that is reason enough for me to keep going. He forces me to get outside on the days where I feel sad or have flash backs of some events from my past. He doesn’t care that I have gained weight. He treats me like a celebrity. After a long day at work, he meets me at the door with excitement, with his little wiggle butt. When a not so nice guy dumped me via text, Ace made the best stand in New Year’s Eve date ever. I didn’t even have to do my makeup. So for the people who wonder why I am ‘so dog obsessed’, or to those who simply don’t understand why my dog will always come first, I will tell you that if you love me, you should love my dog, because, it is due to his love, that I am still breathing.

My first dog Buddy, put my heart back together when the love of my life broke it. And my second dog, Ace, well…he’s my partner on this new journey, and he lets me be myself each step of the way. Adopt a rescue dog, they may just save your life.

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4 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Healing Gift of a Dog’s Love

  1. I could not agree with you more. We have VERY similar stories. Right down to you saying your now ex was the love of your life.
    Your situations were certainly “more awful” than mine, but no less debilitating was my depression, and its dear friend, anxiety, both became. My story started years prior to yours, and I’m still recovering, with the latest diagnosis of C-PTSD, I was crowned with during/after my horrific separation and divorce. The divorce was “final” 8/2013, although there was nothing final about it. The day in 10/2011 when I had proof in my hands of cheating that could not be denied, albeit that he did deny it over and over again, until he moved in with that first woman the very next day.
    It was 2011 when we lost two of my very best friends, two loving Golden Retriever’s, Brady and Spencer. Brady had to be put down one morning in March of that year after not being able to use his hips at all. I’ll never not feel the pain of that day and the unconditional love Brady gave me. He was the “patriarch” of three, so to speak. None were related by blood, but we could have been. The bond was so very close. I laid with him on the floor of the vets examining room until I felt I could get up and our vet came in and lovingly scooped all 90 lbs of my “anchor” up, and carried him out.
    My husband waited outside until I could pull myself together and leave. There was not a dry eye there, as I sobbed uncontrollably out to leave. Brady was expected to pass away. You never are ready. Never. Never ever.
    Then less than 4 months later, Spencer had a noticeable strange lumpy stomach we both noticed at the exact time. It was Saturday morning, I called our vet and Spencer was seen, then sent to a larger animal hospital that could do a scan of his stomach. We did that asap and was told he had a huge fast growing mass in his stomach. They believed it to be only attached to his spleen and we had him there the very next Saturday for surgery. Expensive surgery. An expense beyond our means. I applied for credit through a company they use and was approved. My husband had to be pushed to do it. But did. He never paid the loan off either. I found it went unpaid and to collection. Ugh 😑
    Spencer wasn’t even 9, he had brought our home so much more love, I’d have sold anything to make it possible. Spencer had surgery, but when opened up it was seen that the mass had wrapped itself around his aorta. They asked that we give them the okay to let him go, while under anesthesia because his prognosis was very slim. We did. That happened from start to finish in one week. I don’t think I’ve ever sobbed so much. He was fine one week and gone nearly the next. He never showed any signs of feeling bad.
    The third of my three beautiful Goldens was at home waiting for us all alone.
    A first for Sophia, who came to us as a pup from a rescue in 10/2009. She didn’t have enough time with her canine mentors, she adored and pestered like a pup does.
    She became timid after the two males were gone, and arguments were escalating between my now ex and I. Spencer left us in 7/2011, just three short months later I asked that my husband leave. It was then just Sophia and I in a home that just earlier that year had 3 lively Goldens and two adults. Now it was her and I.
    I don’t think I’d be here today if not for her constant love and understanding.
    I lost my home. My husband left and I never saw a cent from him. Still haven’t.
    I stayed in the home for nearly a year until foreclosure was so real they posted the sheet on the door. I’ve never felt so worthless and scared in my life. My home of 24 years was no longer my home. He didn’t care and was relieved to be honest. My family blamed me for my divorce, and I was criticized and belittled by my elderly mother, (narcissist), until I stopped all contact with her.
    Did I mention my spouse had nearly every single trait of spousal narcississm? Yes, the only trait he doesn’t posesss is that many claim they’ll take their lives if their “victim” threatens to leave them. He’d already had a new supply. That wasn’t necessary nor do I believe he’d have ever threatened to. He loved himself too much for that. It’s hard learning the truth of these people and that they’re not capable of love or empathy. Awful things to learn after the fact and it all made so much sense. Heartbreaking, but true.
    I was then enemy #1, and to this date I believe I still am.
    I have no contact and no reaction to any of the attempts to get a reaction from me. He still tries. Almost constant. It’s imperative you don’t give in to theit tricks. I was lucky in that we had no kids together. For those of you that do, please have as minimal as possible while putting your child/children first. Your ex won’t likely do that. You’ll need to be the bigger person. Always. Be strong. You CAN DO IT.
    I’ve not told you many of the other things going on along with our relationship and work, etc. I’m sure you know there were many other things as there were with your story.
    The nature of this story is the unconditional love of dog(s). Without their love and affection I honestly don’t think I’d still be here, like you’ve stated. I do still see a counselor, Dr’s, etc. I am proactive in my recovery and healing. Let me say to anyone else who may be feeling the things I’ve felt to PLEASE REACH OUT FOR HELP!
    It’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of no matter what some may say. (The ones who likely have convinced others you’re crazy). You’re NOT crazy. You’re very possibly depressed. A very common but debilitating mental illness that can be treated. Please don’t suffer alone. I have no one in my family and just a small handful of friends I can call. It was hard learning that the ones you believed would never let you down, would never speak to you again, and are people that I found necessary to cut loose. They were making me ill as well as my now ex spouse and my elderly mother. It was a decision that didn’t come easy to go no contact with my mother and I still feel guilt but it was necessary to my own healing. That’s NOT SELFISH!
    My loving Sophia wakes me most mornings with her wagging tail and whimpers and she presses her face against me ever so gently, unless I act as if I’m still asleep when she does that, then she presses harder against me.
    It’s the sweetest thing! She brings a smile to my face each and every day. She is my “reason”, and I believe she knows it. I’m glad she does. I tell her everyday how much I love her and that she’s my first priority after taking care of me so I’m able to take care of her. But….I know she’s the one who’s really the one who’s taken care of me better than any human ever has, including me most times, and for that and her, and the two before her who were the reasons I have her with me today, I’m the most grateful. When we left our home and found a place to rent that accepted a large dog with no additional fees, she and I walked in here together, along with the two before her in their urns, I carried in my arms, and we were all “home” that day, because for me “home is where the dog is”, past and present. May sound sappy for some, but it’s the only feeling of love and security I’ve had for years.

    **FYI: my ex wanted to take Sophia with him, because he said she “deserved” to be happy, too. I included her in my petition for divorce, knowing he’d try to hurt me by taking her. He did but was denied. Possibly the only thing he was denied. She’s not and never was a “thing” to me.
    He ruined me financially with his lies but I won the continued love of my dog who is so much more than a dog to me. She’s been my life for the most part when people have failed to do so, over and over again.
    Thank you.

  2. Dogs are definitely amazing. My Maggie kept me moving when I was going through my divorce. My fiance does not fully understand the special bond between me and my dog.

  3. Thank you for sharing this story, because dog love is meant to be cherished. My dogs were way more loyal and comforting than my ex or the post-divorce rebounds. So, I abstained from human partners for a few years and focused on me and my dogs who loved me no matter what. I always knew that any future human partner would have to seriously love dogs. When my soulmate found me, he had three dogs who he treated like family. When we got married, we had five dogs in a 2 bedroom house. Over the years, as we’ve said goodbye to some of our old dogs, my husband and I have been thankful for the understanding and support we share. It’s so nice when someone understands the value of a dog’s love.

  4. I can relate so much to your story and your love for your dogs. My little guy has often been the only reason I’ve gotten out of bed, gone outside or smiled. Furry companions are such a wonderful blessing.

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