14 min read

How I Saved Thousands On Therapy By Getting A Dog

<p>Jimmy. Photo by Kate. B</p>

Adopting a dog was a completely emotional and irresponsible decision. I was living on my own for the first time, working 9-5, and had only ever taken care of a gerbil and a nasty cat, who once scratched me up so badly that the guidance counselor at my elementary school asked if I was having any "problems at home." My mom was the only one who actually fed the cat, paid for the vet bills and cleaned the litter, and I lost the gerbil somewhere in the house (R.I.P Snickers).

When it was finally time to take care of myself, I found an apartment that had the potential to be really cool. It had a good layout, a huge bedroom with a walk-in closet, steps away from the beach, and a nice shared backyard. Plus, an easy move being just a block away from my mom's place. But despite all this, for me it was just depressing. I didn't really appreciate what it could have been, and to me it was just a dark, quiet basement. Besides, when I learned my mother was extremely ill, decor was the last thing I cared about. When it got to the point that I realized she was going to die, I couldn't continue going home to a place so empty and dark. I didn't want a roommate, but wouldn't it still be nice to have something in there that was happy, warm, alive and breathing to greet me when I got in? Cats won't do that. I'm no cat hater but let's be honest, cats don't give a shit about us. I decided to look into this organization that had rescue dogs for adoption, might as well make a good deed out of the situation. I was smitten with this one curly little blonde mutt name Mulligan, but the process was lengthy and extremely thorough. I was interviewed twice, filled out detailed questionnaires, and they had someone stop by my apartment at a random time to ensure it was "dog safe". You'd think I was adopting a child. I was finally approved and ready to take Mulligan when I got a phone call from the rescue center telling me they were very sorry, but there was a mix-up and Mulligan had already been given away.

I felt like I was being kicked while I was down. The rescue center said they would find me a different dog, but I was so upset and angry that I wanted nothing to do with them. Almost immediately after that phone call, I went online and found some people in Lindsay, Ontario with puppies they were looking to get rid of. When they picked up the phone it became very apparent that English was not their first language. I asked what the puppies looked like: "Black dog." I asked what breed they were: "Black dog." Okay, I get it. The puppies are black, but what kind are they? "Black dog."

I didn't even care. The photos were cute enough and they had their first shots. My mom was terrified for me, even though she was the sick one. Even after a fatal diagnosis, what would happen to me was still her biggest concern...Only a mother...Anyway, she hated the whole idea and did not want me to get a dog or deal with the responsibility that would come with it. I promised her I was only going to go look at them, not buy one. But I had an envelope of money hidden in my pocket - just in case. Since she was no longer strong enough to drive, I hitched a ride with my aunt who was only taking me out of pure guilt and pity, and we drove out to Lindsay while we tried to talk about anything other than cancer or how scared we were.

When we got there, the couple watching the puppies were not the same people I spoke to on the phone. In hindsight, the whole situation was a little shady, but again - at the time I did not care. These people spoke English and were finally able to tell me that the puppies were Poodles crossed with Shih-Tzu's... "So, that's like a, pooshit?"
I had no idea what I was doing. When the woman brought this little black dog out, the very first thing I saw him do was run face first into a mirror, thinking it was another puppy running towards him. Thinking back to that initial phone call, I decided then and there his name needed to be Jimmy Page. Now it was too late, I had given him a name. I was done for. She kept asking if I wanted to see his brothers and sisters, but I didn't want to see anyone else. "I love him. I'm taking him." ... All while my aunt watched on sort of helplessly. We were only there for maybe 15 minutes total.

I was clutching Jimmy in a towel during the car ride home while he vomited repeatedly into my lap, when I was hit with an overwhelming guilt. I just promised my dying mother that I was not going to bring a dog home, and I am bringing a dog home...What if she dies angry at me? Or worse... Just disappointed. Suddenly, I was dreading getting home, and was now stuck with this strange little creature that was just as terrified as I was. My aunt parked back at my mom's instead of my apartment. I couldn't just leave Jimmy, I couldn't hide him either, and even if I did, I didn't want it to turn into some big secret. Jimmy and I waited on the front porch, literally in tears anticipating my mom's reaction. She came outside with barely enough energy to even walk, looked at me, looked at Jimmy, then carefully dropped to her knees to greet the puppy, and said "I love him."

I have never been more relieved in my life. I prepared to hold him back so he wouldn't jump all over her, but I didn't need to. He just sat calmly next to her, both of them on the ground, just looking at each other, and my mom looked so happy. They were totally having a moment. A memory that I still savour today.

The next day, the rescue center called me back again. They said the mistake was actually telling me there was a mistake in the first place, and that Mulligan was available after all. Un. Be. Lieveable. I hope he ended up at a good home, but it wasn't going to be mine.

My mom hung in for another 2 months after that, which included many visits with Jimmy. I've heard about therapy dogs before, but it wasn't until then that I really realized how intensely powerful the effects of animal companionship can be. During that time and the months following, taking care of Jimmy was the only reason I would ever go outside, or for walks to the beach, or socialize with other dog owners. And he didn't notice she was gone. He was always doing strange and clumsy things that could incite an actual, genuine laugh. For a long time, this was the only time I would ever really laugh. And he wasn't ever trying to make me feel better. He didn't know what he was doing, he didn't know I was sad, or what sad even was. He is incapable of understanding pity, an absolutely invaluable trait at the time.

I even found solace in his misbehavior, because for those first few seconds after discovering a favorite shoe had been eaten, or an iPod dock destroyed, you can bet you won't be thinking about anything else besides how angry you are at this little hairy bastard. And hey, any distraction was a good distraction.

Having never raised a dog before, I think maybe I just got lucky with his (usually) tranquil and passive demeanor. Or perhaps he turned out this way due to his first year being in a sullen environment. Who knows if it's nature or nurture, I just know that without Jimmy around, I likely would have sunk into an intense depression and become a hermit, living off Ruffles BBQ. Not to discredit the incredible support of friends and family during hard times, there's just something about the innocence of a pet that can soothe you on a whole other level.