Anyone who knows me, even remotely, will tell you that I love dogs. I doubt that anyone other than my family and closest friends understand why I am quite so devoted to these creatures. The answer lies in the necklace that I always wear.
Ok, wait. This article has dog in it, but that is very clearly a wolf. Yes, I know. Wolves are my favorite wild animals and have been for a very long time. What matters more, is what is inside the necklace, ashes, of my beloved dog T.J.
Growing up, I was pretty lonely, until we got a dog. At first, I was scared of her, as she would run around the house like a maniac and steal my stuffed animals. After a while though, I realized that I had the closest thing that I would ever have to a sister.
Once junior high hit, I became more like the awkward potato that I am today. I struggled to fit in. T.J. was always there for me though, no matter what happened at school that day. Hell, she probably knew that I was gay long before I did. She didn't care though, because I was her person, and she was my sister.
As time went on, I began to struggle mentally more and more. Looking back, I know it was a culmination of some pretty intense stuff, but, at that time, it felt like the world was caving in around me.
It all became too much. At 15, I didn't want to live my life anymore. Something stopped me from taking it. I would be lying if I told you I knew exactly what it was. I remember sitting on the ground, sobbing, wondering how I would explain things to my parents. They loved me and I loved them and I didn't want them to blame themselves for something that I thought was all my fault. (At the time, I did not realize the role that brain chemistry plays in depression.)
T.J. came bounding around the corner, climbing into my lap, trying to kiss away the tears. This dog did not cuddle, but she knew. The look in her eyes was one I will never forget for the rest of my life. She loved me no matter what. The dogs at the shelter where I had been volunteering loved me no matter what others (or myself) thought was wrong with me.
Looking back now, as a stressed out college junior, I realize that my attachment to T.J. surpasses that of any owner-animal bond. She saved my life that day. She reminded me that, no matter how messy things got with humans, dogs would love me, as I had nothing but love for them. Somehow, (probably with help from dogs from the shelter) she got that message through my thick, stubborn skull and helped me start on a better path.
Whenever my depression rears it's ugly head, I remember the look in her eye on that day. I remember the look in the eyes of the shelter dogs when they realize that this awkward potato of a human is only here to rub their belly, and not hurt them.
My dedication to these creatures comes from the dedication that one had to me during my darkest moments. I can never thank T.J. enough for what she did. She probably is too busy snacking on anything and everything to care.
Instead, I hope to honor her and make her proud, by showing dogs the same compassion, dedication, and determination that she showed me. I think that one of the best lessons she ever taught me though, is to never EVER underestimate the power of dog.