How My Dog Saved My Life

Photo: Courtesy of Amina Akhtar
It’s National Pet Month, another made-up rando holiday. But because I’m a crazy dog lady, I need to tell you about Beanie, and how she’s made my life better. As someone who’s always fought the twin demons of depression and anxiety, I never knew a little chihuahua mix would be the answer to making me feel less shitty.

There’s something I try to hide from people by covering it up with makeup, good shoes (okay, great shoes), and my bitchy resting face. And I’m admitting it now: My self-loathing has reached ridiculous levels.

I know, I know, everyone hates something about themselves. I hate everything. (Don’t worry, my therapist is working on it with me, but she’s so damn perky.) I hate everything I’ve ever done, every conversation I have had. I detest who I see in the mirror, and the words I type on my computer. (This makes being a writer even more difficult.) My number-one thing I want to change about myself? Everything.

It’s not about looks or weight (though I have a laundry list). I find my personality to be dreadful, and this isn’t a moment when I’m fishing for compliments. Nothing anyone else can say will convince me otherwise. So it’s really smart that I went into fashion, where I not only didn’t fit in (as a short brown girl with too-large breasts) but where I learned how to have a sharper eye about all my shortcomings.

The one thing I focused on to get me through life was work. I had a career. Not a job. Give me the business lady’s lunch special please! But then I didn’t, thanks to an industry that’s constantly in flux. (I was also half out the door mentally, if I’m being completely honest.) Now, I freelance and work on fiction — two avenues filled with rejection at every turn. It’s doing wonders for me.

Everything got worse, of course, after my mother died. She was my cheerleader, the one person who supported me no matter what. She loved me despite how loathsome I was, despite every awful thing I’d committed, despite every time I yelled at her. She loved me. And that, too, was gone. There’s a big hole where I used to feel comfort.

Sometime while my mother was still undergoing chemo treatments, I decided to get a dog. I had this genius idea that a dog would make me happy. So I perused Petfinder and found the face I wanted. Big, scared eyes, a nervous look about her. No question: She was my dog. And I adopted her, three and a half years ago. I regretted it right away. My dog (now named Beanie; she had a human name before, which was absurd) would hide under the sofa. The list of things that scared her included plastic bags, toys, me, the TV. What had I done? It was another bad decision.

But then, one night when I was crying yet again because I was losing my mom (it was a dark time), Beanie came over and licked my face. She cuddled with me, her little corn-chip-scented feet all I could smell. And it was heaven. I never let go.

If this sweet little dog can love me, why can’t I?

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I became a crazy dog lady, putting every ounce of love, hope, and compassion into my dog. Her personality shone, and she’s now a little drama queen. But worse than becoming a dog lady, I became one of those insufferable people who says, “I didn’t rescue her; she rescued me.” Cringe along with me, please.

Every rejection, every time a story is killed, every time I stare at my dwindling bank account, I go through my routine of self-flagellation. It’s almost become a bad mantra that I’ve repeated. Failure. Give up. Why bother? And then, of course, I try to do all the self-love mantras, I meditate — anything to add a sense of positivity to my skewed brain. I share self-help posts on Facebook: See! I’m being positive, people! Photos of sunsets with inspiring words will save us all! I try to project as happy an image as I can, knowing none of it is at all true. (But a girl can dream.)

But there’s one thing that does make me happy. It’s Beanie. When I sigh, she comes over and sits on me. Actually sits. It’s pretty hilarious. I dare you not to laugh if she does it to you. In the elevator, if I don’t look at her and smile to show her I liked her walk, she’ll stand right at my feet and stare holes in my head. And wag that tail so hard, I swear it might just fall off. It takes a lot to not laugh. She doesn’t judge me when I yell at my computer, or when I lose it and cry. Instead, she creeps over stealthily and cuddles. When I write, she curls up next to me and waits, her belly ready for a rub. Sometimes her snores act as white noise, drowning out the rest of the world.

Beanie loves me. And somewhere in my fucked-up brain, it has begun to dawn on me: If this sweet little dog can love me, why can’t I? It’s something I think about when I’m down in the hole, in the pit of it. If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about. And I pull myself out, climbing up inch by inch, and realize: Life isn’t so bad, because I have her. (And she is living forever because bad things don’t happen to dogs lalalalalala.) She may not realize it, but she did save my life.

So Beanie, have an extra treat — but not too many (because you're on a diet) — and as many belly rubs as you want. You and me, forever, Bubs.
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